Thursday, April 6, 2017

Things Are Getting RED HOT on Flash-Back Illustration Friday!



Yay! It's Friday! Illustration Friday... well... Flash Back Illustration Friday


      This week's topic was HOT and, for some reason, my mind traveled back in time to my days in the Illustration Department at SCAD. 


      I was taking a watercolor class, which I loved, and learning alot about a medium that I was aware of, but never really used before that time.  This was also before I really had an idea about any kind of style or aesthetic that I wanted to claim as my own.  I really was just experimenting with each and every project.  I would approach each one differently, therefore yielding a collection of college work that didn't look as if it were created by the same artist, if I could really call myself that... maybe more fledgling artist.  I really didn't have firm feet on the ground, then, nor was I confident about what I had crated to that point or what I was creating then.  Regardless of whether I felt like I identified with any certain titles, I do look back on those years, fondly.  I enjoyed the work and I enjoyed learning about the medium.


      Watercolor is a medium that can be both friend and foe, both easy and difficult.  I guess it's ability to work well with others tends to ebb and flow, much like water itself does.  When I work with the medium today, I like to imagine there is some deity in the charge of deciding whether the water color will flow well onto the page or not.  I imagine her having the personality and qualities of the astrological sign, Cancer. It's a nice daydream to dream, but most of the time I think I'm just projecting my own Cancerean qualities to her so as to think she might garner me more favor because we are more alike than unalike.  In either case, sometimes she garners favor, sometimes she doesn't.  So the painting will either go well or you just might find yourself pulling out a new sheet of watercolor paper to start over with. lol.


      To be quite honest, watercolor is actually more predictable than unpredictable.  There are rules and techniques to using the medium, obviously, but also there is just somethings you need to keep in mind when working in the medium.  Things like weather/humidity, paper weight (absorbency), quality of the paint itself (is it vibrant? is it mute) etc.  You also have to be very very patient with watercolor.  You work in layers, and you have to allow each layer to dry (most of the time depending on the technique or visual effect you are wanting) and depending on the complexity of the image, you could be weeks of painting layers.  This is not really a medium for instant gratification.  There are some things out there that do allow this medium to be more ready to use and in some cases, using watercolor pencils or watercolor brush pens could create a very nice "watercolor" effect in a short amount of time.  But again, it depends on what you are wanting to do with the medium that determines your coarse of action in using it.

      For this particular project, I remember that I was just really practicing one of the techniques that we recently learned.  I no longer have my syllabus, so I couldn't quite tell you exactly what technique it was.  Its difficult to say looking at this piece and its even more difficult to try an remember exactly what it was.  I do, however, remember the reason for my choice in subject.  One of the prominent Illustration Annuals was holding one of their prestigious illustration competitions and our assignment was to illustrate an image based on the topic "RED HOT."  Even my 20 year old self knew at that time, that I was in no way far enough developed in my craft to think I'd have any sort of chance at placing in that competition. I don't recall even entering my piece (it wasn't required that we enter, just that we create something that we could enter.)  


      I also remember that I was all about creating conceptual imagery, not necessarily controversial, but conceptual and very modern.  I love modern art (even to this very day) and studying Art History after the year 1950 changed my world then. I was kinda sorta obsessed with modern art and allowing certain principles to leak over into my illustration concepts.  Aside from Artists that produced work from 1960-1990, I also adored the poster work of  Toulouse Lautrec and Edward Penfield (influenced by Lautrec). I'm still a very big Lautrec fan today.  So I decided that I would create an image that I could turn into a poster, and since I didn't really have an illustration style of my own then, I usually emulated whatever imagery I happened to be really "into" at the time.  I was like an artistic chameleon trying to figure out where I needed to be.  Visually, I really was all over the place.  It wasn't until I was literally in my last class in the the department, that I realized how much of a hodge-podge artistic mess I really was.  But that experience is a story for another time.  Lets go back to the Pepper Lady, shall we.


      I remember quite clearly that I wanted to draw a connection between food/spice, temperature and sensuality/sexuality.  To me, the idea of Red Hot anything all had fuzzy lines. There really was no barrier between how the human body might experience and process eating a spicy pepper or lying in the summer sun or sensual pleasure that comes form a lover or from one's self.  Our daily mind tells us that these things are different. In a way, yes, they are different.  However, they are also very similar, because our brain, our thoughts, our reactions and our reflexes are just electrical impulses. When it comes right down to it, Our brain sees all of these RED HOT representations as electrical impulses; "Burns" on the Brain. It's exactly like the "Blanket Truth" in I Heart Huckabees: Everything is the same, even if it is different.  Though in the film, it was discussing the existential theory that since everything is made up of matter, everything is connected because all molecules touch each other on a molecular level. So we all are touching each other in some way, even if we stand on separate sides of the globe... ANYWAY (Great Movie! But lets get back to it shall we?)


      At that time, I was really into collage work and the influence of it could be seen in most every project I did. I was really into Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg big time. I also was falling in love with the Color Field Painters that I discovered around that time.  I just loved the idea of tactility and color as a means to evoke and provoke.  I must say that those 2 elements are 2 main ingredients in my work today in both style/aesthetic and technique.  You can see this sort of fascination in my execution of the Smoke piece that I shared last Summer.  It was a physical manifestation of what I was working out in my mind, what I was learning and what I was discovering.


       It would be years before these seeds would blossom into what I eventually settled into as an artist. So I decided that I would select my imagery to represent the human experience of Hot and I would figure out a way to modify the watercolor technique we learned in class to create a "watercolor collage" work... whatever one of those looks like. lol.  I don't remember much about the technique, as I said before. I do remember that it lended itself well to my mission of creating a "collage" work out of water color.  Now since I would not be pasting layers that I create separately together then working on top of that afterwards (which was one of my methods of working at the time), I would have to plan out the image in a series of layers.  I would have to plan which layers get drawn when and where and in what color because you can't "go back" with a water color painting... only forwards.  I remember being quite laborious about planning this piece.  I did several "test Patches" to practice how I would create the effect I wanted to create. Trouble is, since I have never seen anyone attempt to create collage out of watercolor, there really was no frame of reference to help out.  


      The final image that was used in the poster is actually one of my test patches that I did before the final illustration.  The final piece did not turn out well at all. I remember not only was I very disappointed with it, my professor was also.  I remember she liked the idea of a "collage" work created in watercolor, but ultimately my attempt flopped.  We both think I went too "dark" with the color, both in selection and in heavy paint application.  The final work just didn't have the airy "breath" and life that the test patches had.  So...  I just moved on to the next project, didn't enter my painting, and locked it away along with the test patches. I never again attempted to create a collage out of watercolor after that time.  I think I was too depressed about not being able to deliver something that seemed so intriguing and interesting in my mind.  The outcome just didn't live up to the concept's potential promise at all. So I buried it, decided maybe collages weren't meant to be made with watercolor, and moved on.  

      Years later, as I was putting together my (then) new artist website, I gave RED HOT another chance.  I was putting together a gallery of selected Posters I had created up to that point. For some reason, I pulled out one of the test patches and decided to make a concept poster with it.  I thought it would be something Fun to do with it since, at the time, that group of illustrations weren't doing anything else. I always liked the way the test patch for that piece looked. I thought it had a striking visual modern appeal to it and hat it would be a great poster for a Broadway Play titled Red Hot. So I created the poster you see above.  It wasn't a very long or involved project, to be honest. Just scanning in the test patch then adding text, playing with font styles that I thought would represent this imaginary play.  One of the most fun things about the project was allowing my mind to day dream about what the play would be about.  Is it about the life and times of a group of prostitutes on one Hot Spanish Summer?  Is it about A chef that finds herself in the middle of a murder conspiracy/sex scandal that involves one of her spicy dishes, her husband and alot of poison?  Or is it a mock-umentary about a competition pepper eater who can only orgasm by eating alot of Hot Peppers?  



      What do you imagine that this play could be about?  It's a curious question that perhaps you can ponder over the rest of the day.  Feel free to share your revelations on the subject. I'd be interested to know. lol.   In any case, that is the Red Hot story behind the Red Hot poster.  I encourage you all to do something Spicy, Red and Hot this weekend... Whatever that would be... 

Until next time, friends,
Keep sketching, keep thinking, keep laughing and most important of all, 
keep making art.
Cheers,
LEWIS

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