Friday, October 21, 2011

Life Drawing at the Gladstone

I find myself wondering why I feel the need to keep this blog alive.. maybe because closing it seems like it would signify some sort of resignation about Cat-in-a-Box which I'm not prepared to do? It's been a hectic and roller-coaster-ish sort of year and the fact that my art has suffered a backseat through the ride is not shocking or unreasonable given the circumstances. Nor does it mean that my art is dead or without hope. Things are settling down now, and my right brain is quietly asserting it's position again. Fortunately I am better able to hear it than I have been at times in the past.

I am currently living near Toronto. Near enough that I was able to attend life drawing night at the Gladstone Hotel this week. Apparently the Art Bar at the Gladstone has had an ongoing weekly figure drawing meeting since 1957. Going down there took a bit of mental effort on my part. To be perfectly frank, the idea of interjecting myself into a completely new and unknown social situation is nerve-wracking for me. The stress can be alleviated somewhat by knowing exactly what is expected during said situation, however in this case I could find precious little about the life drawing session other than the location, date/time and cover cost (can we say 'stressful' boys and girls?) But life drawing... I LOVE life drawing!

I NEED to sometimes do some structured gesture drawing (is that an oxymoron?). Left to my own devices I know too well what will happen... after a long break in making art I will dive in to a complex scratchboard or something similarly detailed and demanding, I will of course fail miserably because I've been living left-brained for so long, and then I will quail and give up. The left brain will tell me that I have more important things to do anyway, and my right brain will wither and fade. I know this, I know how far this can go, but I also know the solution.

After a hiatus (all the time really, but especially after a hiatus) I need gesture drawing to work the art muscles. I need low expectation, fast paced, right-brain directed activity to loosen up, build confidence, and get the creative juices flowing. The more I do it the less stilted and stiff my work is, and the more I enjoy what I do. My work turns out better and it smooths the pathway for doing the complex and detailed scratchboard. It's like an athlete warming up, in a way.

So armed with the conviction that this was necessary and good for me, I decided that I WAS going to this session. Social anxiety or no. I plotted the location into my iPhone and set off with plenty of time to get there (and a secret plan to scope it out knowing that if it was too much I could always run away and go back home :D). Of course I somehow got the wrong address entered into my phone and spent some confusing minutes wondering if the whole thing was a hoax as I drove around a slightly scary downtown area of Toronto. iPhone to the rescue though, the correct address was found and I arrived... late. Nothing helps the social anxiety of putting oneself into a new situation like showing up late, interrupting the session, and oh... entering through the wrong door.


Yet despite all of that I made myself press on, I went around to the correct door, slid in as quietly as I could, and despite some annoyed looks from a few people the suffering ended there. And what I can say is that the anxiety was well worth it. I arrived in the middle of a pose, quietly took out my art supplies (which were kind of sad since my spectacular organizing skills have resulted in being unable to find most of my dry media stuff since the move) and started sketching. The room was quiet and every five minutes or so the leader would announce the change and the model would reposition herself for the next pose.

I say 'quiet' because there was no talking - there was a background supply of jazz music and the scratching of pencils or occasional swish of a brush in water, but no human speech. There is something about being in a room of a dozen people who are all in right-brain mode. It is out of the ordinary, for my day to day life at least, and it is really, really refreshing. There is no chitchat, almost no interaction, everyone is focused on the model and the page in front of them. Unlike so many other social interactions each person is doing their own thing, being in their own mind, you don't have to measure and weigh what you say, how you look, what the other person is thinking, how they are responding to you. You can sit and enjoy the presence of other humans, sharing an experience, in some ways likely sharing a similar state of mind - and there are no expectations or judgments.

I remember such situations throughout my life fondly - sitting on the periphery of the group, drawing, resting in the right side of my brain where there is no need for speech (indeed, sometimes it's hard to deal with speech when I'm really into the 'right brain'), but also soaking up the energy of people being nearby whether they are engaging each other or, as in the life drawing session, each in their own right-brain world. I wonder if it's an introvert thing, or an art thing. I wonder if other people enjoy that sort of interaction. I have to assume so, but perhaps it's a sign of personal growth that at the end of the day I don't care anymore whether other people do enjoy it - as much as I'd like to know that I share this with someone else, even if I don't it's enough for me to know that I like it.

So one point to the Gladstone, one point to the right brain, and one point to blogging :)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Random day at the Museum...

So here's the first post of my non-art blog. What's it about?


I am going to choose to ignore the irony of that and push onward.

I am only going to be in Chicago for a limited period of time, and one of my goals this time around is to not repeat my own history of living here for years and not partaking of the city itself. I adamantly do ~not~ have a 'bucket list', because although I love lists, I really don't use them properly. That being said, one thing I ~did~ want to do was take the Metra from the burbs where I live to the City (that's City with a capital 'C' mind you) and go dink around the Chicago Institute of Art.

Going to the museum by myself was awesome, and also interesting. I will ask you this - do you know how you would experience a museum if you were in complete control of the pacing and route? If you do then share it with us in the comments section. If you don't know, I urge you to go by yourself someday and let loose, then observe what you do and report back here!

My pace and pattern can best be described as... erratic.

I had looked at the website in advance and I knew I wanted to see the Arms and Armour exhibit. What? I love fantasy, so sue me. So that's where my feet took me first, straight there without so much as a slow-down for what lay between me and my goal. I was a woman on a mission. It turned out that the Arms and Armour was a bit disappointing - a bunch of polearms and a few suits of armour.

The armour was interesting enough, I found myself wondering how much of the pieces they had were ceremonial or if they truly put that much craftsmanship on every footsoldier destined to have his spleen poked out with a sword.

The polearms were actually fascinating... I recall diagrams from my old D&D books of the different types of polearms, which various male friends actually paid attention to while I was (and am) content to lump them all together as 'sharp bits on long stems for enemy-poking'. I'm sure my husband will not be surprised to read that, but possibly just a tad disappointed (sorry hon!). What I can say, after today, is that a halberd looks like this:

I still don't know if it's just the pretty shape that makes it a halberd, but I guess I am of a peculiar generation that I have to remind myself that these items were used for slaying enemy humans long before they were used to slay orcs.

So the arms and armour section didn't take much time (actually I have no idea how long I stook there sketching.. it could have been hours for all I know). Then I really didn't have a plan.. so I wandered. And when I started wandering with my no-plan I began to just follow my eyes. I stumbled into rooms with italian paintings from the sixteenth century. Well, I love me some Caravaggio.. my eyeballs dragged me from room to room - and that's how I discovered my pace.

After blowing through two or three rooms (man, people walk slow in museums!) I would come across something that piqued my interest and spend 15 minutes studying it. Like "Still-Life with Dead Game Fruits and Vegetables in a Market by Frans Snyders, 1614".

It is huge! I was first was invited into the painting by the very amiable merchant and proceeded to look over his wares, marveling over the textures in the fur and feathers and the handling of light and shadow around the collander on the right. I couldn't help but note that the game was all so clean and pristine and the blood, where present, was very fluid and light red (none of this dark, congealed clotty stuff or other 'liquids' that would in reality have been present). Then I see the cocks fighting. Then oh! There's a sneaky cat looking at me. Clearly he's seen that I spotted him and is watching to see if my eyes move on. Then I spot the pickpocket on the left. Oh cheerful merchant, you will be cursing whatever epithets were appropriate in 1614 when you realize your day's profits have disappeared into thin air!

Though pure morbid fascination caused me to pause my steps to look at several medieval pieces, and appreciation of beauty paused them in some other areas, I wasn't really brought to a halt again until I stumbled upon Jules Adolph Breton's 'The Song of the Lark'. I promptly sat down and sketched:

Now clearly my quick sketch doesn't do justice to the original piece by any means. Sketching the painting was almost a way to commune with it, to really 'see' it. Looking over it inch by inch, paying attention to the proportions even as the repeated viewing helped me to figure out what it was that captivated me.

(Thanks to Art History Daily)

The obvious things - I love the color palette, her pose is lovely and has a spiritual feel to it, and she is beautiful in an unpretentious way.

Then I realized that she is doing something. Later I noted that I was attracted to paintings where the subject is doing something mundane. The heroic poses of the biblical paintings of the renaissance are very intriguing, but this girl walking and singing I liked even more. I was also drawn to Camille Dissaro's 'Woman bathing her feet in a brook' (even if it is impressionist).

Then it occurred to me that the girl is entirely in shadow. The colour palette is muted. The whole thing creates an effect of serenity and quiet. You can almost hear her voice cutting through the soft quiet of predawn with the first birdsong of the day. I more often encounter this time of day when I stay up way too late than actually getting up early, but that does not make me appreciate it any less.

And finally I realized that the rising sun, painted in almost fluorescent colours, draws your attention to the upper left of the painting which causes you to see her face in your peripheral vision. I wonder if that was intentional? Using averted vision to see the low contrast of the subject differently?

I'm probably reading more into it than necessary. But suffice it to say, I enjoyed sitting with one painting for the better part of an hour much more than I would have dividing that time among many other works that didn't intrigue me as much. I also have a new artist to add to my favorite list and will have to look over the rest of his stuff.

I was getting a bit tired by that point though. After some aimless wandering through the impressionists (beautiful, yes, but just not my cup of tea). I was kind of lost and stumbled into the Alsdorf Galleries containing a collection of Indian, Southeast Asian and Himalayan art. I didn't really have any intention of doing more sketching at all, except that Ganesha called to me.

This was an Indonesian sculpture of the God, and the serenity of his face is what made me pause. Then after looking at it a few minutes I had to sketch it. And as I started sketching I read the plaque that identified Ganesha as the 'Remover of Obstacles'. Well hot damn! I do have a few obstacles that need removing. He is also the Lord of Beginnings. This just gets better and better.

Here is my meagre homage to Ganesha:

So overall this was a very pleasing day. I figure it's a good thing this isn't an art blog anymore. It's nice to explore 'other things' :)

~ Pam

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Schroedinger's Blogger

New look! New 'about me'! New name (sort of)!

Yes, I disappear for months and come back to claim that this is no longer an art blog - the nerve! This is not a permanent change, but rather a way to manipulate the current situation such that I can keep blogging, maybe provide some entertainment or insight for anyone who wishes to read my words, and possibly even grow a bit as a blogger (or a person.. who knows?).

My initial reason for starting a blog was to support Cat-in-a-Box because, well, every artist needs to have a blog right? It turned out to be a good thing though; it was easier and faster to get going than my website and a nice way to ease in to having an online presence. Then I realized how much fun it was to share art-related things that I often don't get to tell anybody about (except my poor, beleaguered husband :D). Showing my works-in-progress, or ranting about right/left brain theory, discussing shows or any old artsy things.

Alas, much has changed recently - there has been less time to devote to art and thus less to post about. The result is that the posts get fewer and further between, and then the pressure to put up something 'worth posting' rises. And then... no posts at all. Just a sad, lonely blog sitting here dreaming of bygone days.

But! Life is still really exciting, and even if I don't have much new artwork to show you just now I do have a bunch of other crap (er.. very interesting things!) to share. This demotivator about sums it up....

So for the indeterminate 'next little while' this is Cat-out-of-the-Box. The cat has been loosed and is going to go nosing into all kinds of things. Art may be among them, but for the time being this is an 'anything' blog rather than a dedicated art blog. I don't think many would disagree with me if I say that the best way to kill creativity is to force it... well that's the place I am right now. However, the reverse is that if you don't try to force it sometimes you get the very, very best of creativity. Let's see how it goes!

So if you're looking for only art-related stuff then watch for the blog banner to change back to the old logo. If you're up for something new then stay tuned!

~ Pam

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Moving is such hard work for kitties!

It's tiring, all this driving... note the plains of Wyoming/Nebraska/Iowa/Western Illinois (take your pick) in the background. Ginger is particularly pooped in this shot - having spent an hour telling me just what she thought about this whole 'moving' idea and then maintaining her place as Queen Bee in the Seat of Honour the rest of the ride (at least Michael didn't vomit on her this trip! Go meclizine!).

The official cat of 'Cat-in-a-Box' stalwartly guarding the coffee and skittles on the long drive...

And Nessie - taking her turn on the Seat of Honour (yes, the Seat of Honour is a dog bed on half a vari-kennel in the back of the car - comfy as well as being a good vantage point!)....

Surprisingly (or perhaps not) the cats didn't care one bit about the snowstorm in Nebraska, they mostly just slept. Now they have happily claimed all sunbeams that enter this house - apparently sunbeams in Illinois are just as good as sunbeams in Colorado! :)

~ Pam

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Scratchboards and weather....

We have arrived! Cat-in-a-Box is officially based outside of Chicago now!

It's been a slightly hairy week, moving across the country is rarely a pleasant experience but this was actually the smoothest move I've had yet (and let's just say this wasn't my first rodeo!). Generally my husband and I take a Uhaul trailer to tote the more delicate items like computers, monitors, and art. I had the forethought to package my unused scratchboards separately with the intention of being extra-cautious about climate control. Scratchboard is a pretty hardy substrate, however I have on one occasion taken a board from the west (dry Colorado climate) to the midwest (colder and more humid) and back again. That board became more difficult to work and I was never certain if it was the humidity change or the temperature change that affected it.

Well this time I had my plan all laid - however as usual, life got in the way. It's all well and good to make plans, but when you arrive at the hotel four hours late because of the severe winter storms in Nebraska (after we'd passed 3 semis and over 15 cars and trucks off the road I stopped counting) and then wrangle four cats and their associated paraphernalia into the hotel room let me just say that the last thing you are capable of doing is digging out that special box of scratchboard from a pile of other stuff and suddenly your faith in the durability of scratchboard and whiteboard takes a huge upward leap!

Winter Storm - (c) KMTV Action 3 News

Now, more rested and arrived at the other end, I am regretting a little that the sratchboard got so cold. Only time will tell if there was any ill-effect. The one board that I had that was affected was still workable, it ended up turning into this piece:

"Ginger" (c) Pam Boutilier

When I get to working any of the boards that have traveled I will let you know how the surface is!

I also am able to share another commission I did shortly before the move, this is little Jessie. Her portrait was done in pastel, which was really fun to do after working in scratchboard so much recently! She is such a pretty little girl!

"Jessie" 5x7" Pastel (c) Pam Boutilier

The studio and supplies are piled in boxes - the next couple weeks are going to be just as busy as the last few!

~ Pam

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to workshop I go!!

I'll save my usual apologies for the lag in posting - in my defense there is a whole heckuva lot going on around here recently. The overarching biggie of them all is that Cat-in-a-Box will be moving from snowy Colorado to snowy Chicago in the very near future. Any of you who have ever moved (and especially those of you who have a habit of occasionally moving twice in one year) can sympathise with the descent into chaos that is occurring here currently.

Although I must say it's heaven for a certain boxaphilic cat....

"I can haz bubbelrap?'

However - there's nothing like moving to light a fire under you. So among the other things I've been up to (which I plan to use as further blog-fodder in the upcoming weeks so I can show you some new art) I'm also giving an Introduction to Scratchboard workshop next week at the Wyly Community Arts center in Basalt, CO. So if any blog-readers out there are local think about signing up at! The workshop with cover the basics of scratchboard origins and techniques, with some practice exercises and a fun valentine's Day project on day one and a more in-depth discussion of advanced techniques and starting on a 5x7" board on day two. Be sure to spread the word if you know anyone in the Roaring Forks Valley who might be interested!

In other news, I have had a piece accepted to this year's Art Show at the Dog Show! Rosie's whiteboard portrait (titled 'Petulant') was juried in from a total of 462 submissions, it will be making the trip to Kansas to compete against other canine art in the show this spring. If you'll be in Kansas in March or April try to check out the show, the schedule is here.

"Petulant" (Rosie) 9x12" Whiteboard (c) Pam Boutilier

And another piece I can post now is this tiny scratchboard done for a friend as a Christmas gift. This is dearly beloved Ellie who passed away a year ago, isn't she just beautiful?

"Ellie" 3.5 x 5" scratchboard (c) Pam Boutilier

I have some more work that were gifts and so could not be posted earlier, keep a weather eye and I'll get them up in the near future! I'm also pondering the direction of this blog... so be prepared for the possibility of some interesting sidetracks!

Thanks for reading!

~ Pam