Indulge in the Process - Work from Joshua Tree

This fall I was selected to be one of six artists to spend three weeks as a resident at the Lost Horse Ranger Cabin in Joshua Tree National Park. I was excited when I got this opportunity to explore a new place, but also to have three weeks to myself to work on my artwork. At the end of the summer of 2015, I made the decision that I needed more time for art in my life, but it took longer than expected to get to the point where that decision could become a reality. For the past year I’ve been writing in my journal in the mornings and carrying around a book of blank paper to sketch out ideas for work that I want to make. I’ve been incubating ideas in my brain and on flimsy paper (as opposed to drawing paper). The thought of three weeks to put those ideas into my fingers and onto fine paper was exciting.

Above: Joshua Tree Flowers- left: watercolor on paper / right: gouache on cyanotype print

Let me say here that it would be easier to write an artists blog about successes, and finished pieces. However what I really enjoy reading about is the process and the struggle to get to that point of creating finished work. A part of me wanted to save this post for later, when I had more time to finish what I started during my artist residency. Then you could see the end result and probably part of the story of how I got there. But today I am sharing the story of unfinished work. It is scary to share unfinished work, but we’ll see how this goes.

Packing up my work from Joshua Tree

Packing up my work from Joshua Tree

Three weeks seems like a long time, but I can tell you that it isn’t very long, especially when you shift gears from a busy summer to all of a sudden having 24 hours a day to work on art and to sleep. It certainly wasn’t long enough for all of those things I was thinking about for months to manifest themselves. I spent a lot of time being in a new environment, observing my surroundings, looking up plants, and getting to know the desert. I worked in my sketchbook. This was very much within my comfort zone, and what I’ve done hundreds of times before. I don’t want to discount that, it is an important part of my process and how I learn to observe and interact with my surroundings as an artist.

Above: Sketchbook work from Joshua Tree

But what really excited me was the opportunity to work on something new. The place where I chose to start was to bring in a new process of cyanotype printing. This seemed fitting because cyanotypes are exposed by UV light and the desert sun is very strong. For a while I have been interested in creating prints with my drawings so that I have multiples to work with. I made negative drawings on Duralar and taped them to pieces of watercolor paper that were treated with chemicals. My process was very rustic and my image quality varied a lot based on how well the paper was taped down and if the sun moved. I chose to embrace this.

Above: Cyanotype "blueprints" from drawings on Duralar

I wanted to paint on top of the cyanotype prints the same way that I paint on top of my pen drawings, but it is different because I am working from dark to light, instead of light to dark. I love the way gouache works with the deep indigo color, and it makes sense to work from dark to light with gouache, which is more opaque than watercolor. Cyanotypes appealed to me because that color reminds me of night and deep water, or of dreams and memories. It is an old process that was used to create blueprints, and I like the idea of my drawings being blueprints. I started with this series of cottontail rabbits.

Above: Rabbits

While painting the rabbits, a coyote walked through my backyard and I felt compelled to draw him next. I loved the way he interacted with his shadow. When I see the coyote dance with his shadow it feels like he is talking with another world. I became interested in playing with positives and negatives, having a dark or a light background. I wasn’t really sure why I was drawing rabbits and coyotes, but them my friend Mollie came and visited me for Thanksgiving and had me read the poem by Joy Harjo, Rabbit Is Up To Tricks. Both of these animals play important roles as tricksters in stories. Humans have had spiritual relationships with them for a long time.

Above: The coyote and his shadow

I am also interested in dormancy in the desert. Plants with dried flowers will bloom again. Plants that seemed dead are not. I was hiking in the morning and I saw a lizard who got cold in the middle of the path. It was still in the cool morning shade and it would not move when I was right next to it.

Like I said, this is unfinished work and I’m just starting to scratch the surface. As an artist, I often have an idea of what I want to say, maybe it’s more of a feeling. I think about it and an image comes into my head. I draw the image, but it isn’t quite the idea I was thinking about. So I think about it more trying to get closer and another image comes into my head. It’s a process. Maybe in the end I will get to where I am going, maybe not. If I keep working I know that I will get somewhere interesting. Right now I want to share more of my process and also my gratitude for being able to indulge in it.

Lizard. Mixed media on cyanotype print