La Fleur de Paris was an adventurous artistic journey for me. I began creating this piece in conjunction with six other pieces at the same time for an art show that I was participating in last month. To be honest, I’d procrastinated a bit in creating some new work for this show since returning from teaching workshops the previous month and everyday life had taken precedent over having some quality studio time. I also wanted to challenge myself to see how much art I could actually create while having a deadline looming over me, something that I’d never attempted before. Many times my pieces take weeks, if not months, to evolve to the point where I’m happy with them and think that they’re “finished” to some degree. It was actually exciting to work on multiple pieces at the same time, at least in their beginning stages because they began to play off of each other while completing the same stages in tandem.
I didn’t really have a roadmap nor real vision of the final concepts when I began creating these works, I just simply went into the studio and started making. With all of these pieces, I started with a variety of different background collages of different ephemera and just tore, cut, pasted and layered them down to form the basic backgrounds to the work. I then began to play with different mediums to add some basic textures that I would later develop more with color washes and highlighting.
Because I had chosen my focal point of this piece (the large vintage brass fleur de lys) that I would be putting in the lower corner, I made the decision to balance this out by using the title block of a Parisian map in the opposite upper corner. The decision was made to add a nice crackle finish to this part of the piece (image: upper left) to give it an antiqued look.
To bring out the flowing lines of the fleur de lys shape, I wanted to add some other flourishes into the background of the piece and made the decision to use heavy gel through a stencil to create both the pattern but also “windows” that would show the pattern through (image: lower left). In the areas where the stencil work was absent, a few layers of wax (image: upper right) was added so that I could bring out that texture later with additional texture and color.
Once all of these elements had set and fully cured, I began to add the background texture onto the background (image: bottom right) to give more depth to the background while at the same time providing a contrast for where the imagery below the stencil work would show through.
At this point of the process a conversation took place that I want to share with you that ALL artists have with themselves – when to STOP. I’d actually began adding the beginning color washes to this piece (about a week later in the process) but was just starting to post pictures to my Instagram feed which were of creating the backgrounds of the pieces. Before I began adding ALL of the basic background mediums to all of the pieces I was working on, I stepped back from the collage work for a moment and asked that one question – “Are these good enough NOW? Should I just leave them as they are?” I often find myself doing this in the studio, and as artists there are these critical moments while working that we ask this question, that one moment standing at the fork of the creative road that in some regards is the determining factor of which way our work should proceed. I did indeed have this moment when working on all of those pieces and for a moment I contemplated leaving the backgrounds as the simple collages. But that little voice in my head (aka doubt) began rushing in with “It’s too boring” and “It looks too much like so and so’s work” so ultimately I made the decision to head down my “usual” path of adding texture and layers.
What’s interesting about this was that when I posted these images on Instagram, I was having dinner with some friends and one of the hosts complimented me on my recent work that I’d shared on my feed and how she loved the collage work and couldn’t wait to see what the finished piece would look like. These friends of ours have a stunning home with beautiful artwork spread through out and I have always admired their opinions so I was intrigued by her comment and was excited to share with her the progression of the work so I showed her some of the pictures of the work with the texture and beginning colors added to the pieces and her reply was “Oh – I liked it so much better when it was plain. Don’t get me wrong, the texture and color are amazing but I think that the collage looks perfect by itself.” No, I wasn’t insulted by her comments at all. In fact, I actually laughed and told her about the conversation with myself about this exact topic.
Being a working artist that sells their work is always a balancing act between making art that I want to make and making art that will sell and help pay the bills. At times that fateful and sometimes gut wrenching decision has to made of whether to throw all the rules out the window and let your voice and expression run free, or having to reign that in a bit to pay the mortgage. Whether this is a conscious decision or not, I don’t know of an artist who doesn’t make this decision somewhere along the process even if it’s as simple as making the piece more aesthetic for people to like it. This conversation with my friend made me realize two important things about some of my future projects – always listen to that inner voice as a new path to take your art, and some new ideas of “simplicity” for me to explore on future works.
Since I was already past the point of no return with my work, I’ll share with you more about the process of creating La Fleur de Paris. I began adding color washes to background textures and layers, each time “removing” some of the color to allow the background patterns and imagery to show through. Because I like to play peek-a-boo with the underlying layers in my work, I often use color washes instead of undiluted paints because it allows me to remove the color easier while at the same time allowing me to slowly build color in more subtle ways. I also think (at least with my work) that the colors blend together more naturally. In my past work, I was always wanting to go with that stark contrast between colors to give more drama but I have slowly evolved into giving more subtle nuances of tones and highlights to allow more of the texture and imagery to take precedence over just the color differences.
One “criticism” of my work in the past from myself and others was that it was “too dark” or even “too goth” looking especially in regards to color which takes away from the imagery and in some of my previous work the found objects and other elements that I incorporate into the pieces. Part of this may come from my precious endeavors of being part of a design team promoting products that tended to have more of this aesthetic. At the time I felt that I was creating this magical art and I’m not here to discount that journey and the opportunity to explore new techniques and ideas. But looking back now I realize that it was actually limiting my creative process and frankly I was simply recreating the same look and feel of the other artists in ultimately creating the same repetitive projects that couldn’t be differentiated from one another. Sometimes prospective can be a funny thing!
In my recent works, I’ve consciously tried to challenge myself into using new colors for exploration. For this particular piece, I began with a lighter palette for my base colors and even used a purple variation (mauve?) to switch things up a bit. Since I was working on other pieces at the same time, the colors in this piece happened to be the “melting pot” for the others, the middle ground between a couple of the much darker pieces using mostly browns and black and the lighter colors that were using more greens and blues. In many respects, this ended up being an indecisive and sometimes confused color adventure of taking colors I liked from one of the other pieces and simply adding it to this piece. I placed this piece up on the easel, gave it a good once over and decided that something was missing.
Don’t get me wrong, up to this point I felt that this color palette had served it’s purpose for creating a lighter colored background. I’ve found myself lately drawn to greens and I wanted to explore the different shades of this color so I grabbed all the variations of greens that I had in my studio and started creating color washes from olive to teal. Around the areas of the stenciling I wanted to give more of blue/green color to draw out more of the imagery beneath the texture, while around the elevated areas where the other elements were found on top of the corrugate and my encaustic layering I wanted to use more olive which had less of a contrast especially in the areas where I’d used the encaustic.
Because I had used a clear crackle over the title block of the map in the upper corner of the piece, I continued the crackle texture around the corrugate that would frame the fleur de lys in the opposite corner. There’s something magical about using any type of crackle medium, whether it’s clear or opaque simply because you never know exactly what you’re going to end up with! For those of you that haven’t used crackle mediums before, the thicker you apply the medium the more crackle texture you’ll (hopefully) end up with. Unfortunately this also means that you have to wait longer for the crackle medium to cure and it can’t be sped up with a heat tool to get amazing results. On this piece, that meant waiting for two unbearable days for the crackle to form and set.
The focal point of this piece is the antique brass fleur de lys, which is topped with an antique art deco euut felt that it was perfect for this piece because it just needed something extra. I’m glad that I used my STOP instinct when adding color to the background because it was the perfect tone for the embellishments placed on top.
Many artists have something “signature” about their works that differentiate them from others, and over time I have found that I’ve been layering patterns (for clothes making) more and more into my work, from my larger pieces like this one to even my jewelry. I love the play of the lines and text found on patterns and I’ve found that this is my style of mark making that I like to incorporate. And I couldn’t have planned the placement of the lines and text beneath the fleur de lys anymore perfectly even if I wanted to try! And with a couple of layers of wax on the pattern, it created this perfect texture that I find myself obsessing over!
For those who know me and my work, I generally shy away from using gold and often instinctively reach for silver (or copper when appropriate). Perhaps it’s because of the fact that I am allergic to yellow gold jewelry and it’s my automatic reaction to the color. I contemplated changing the color of the fleur de lys in this piece to silver at one point, but after I had all of the color set I came to the realization that it needed gold to complete this piece. Silver would have made the tone too cool where the background that I’d created needed a more warm tone that only gold could provide, where using copper would have been too much of a contrast for this piece.
With that thought in mind, I slowly began highlighting some of the texture with gold wax. I don’t know about other artists, but it’s always hard for me to use a “light hand” when working especially when it comes to highlighting with metallics. For a long time, I used to think “more is better” when it came to adding metallic to my work which frequently meant that I would use too much and then have to go back in and add additional layers to try and tone things down a bit. I always have to remind myself of what I tell my students in workshops – “Soft kitty, warm kitty…” when applying metallic highlights LOL
As with all of my works, when I THINK that I’ve completed the piece I allow it to rest for a couple of days before applying the varnish. I actually take the piece out of my studio and place it in another room so that we don’t make eye contact because I know that if I look at the piece during this time I’ll want to add something more to it or possibly make some kind of change to it. It’s similar to cooking a nice steak – you never eat it right out of the oven or directly off of the grill. To get the true flavor, you have to allow it to rest for a few minutes before savoring every bite
It’s also during this time period that I allow myself to detatch from my work, to try and break that emotional bond that I’ve created with the work and allow the process of emotionally separating myself from my creation, my baby. When spending so much time, emotion, love and sometimes frustration creating a piece of artwork you become very attached to the piece and it’s hard to let it go out into the world or even allow it to be purchased by someone. This resting period also allows me to see the finished work in a new perspective and appreciation for what I’ve accomplished.
La Fleur de Paris is a mixed media fusion dimensional canvas measuring 16 x 20 inches (41 x 51 centimeters) in size, created on a birch wood panel (lightweight). This piece was inspired by Parisian themes, along with the iconic symbol of the fleur de lys which adorns this piece.