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Mini-tours of my new paintings!

“Holding On & Letting Go” by Norah Soughayer Christmann. November 2020. 30 x 48. Acrylics, inks, pastels and oils on canvas
“Holding On & Letting Go II” by Norah Soughayer Christmann. November 2020. 24 x 30. Acrylics, inks, pastels and oils on canvas.

All of the paintings that I’ve worked on in October and November will be on sale at my Etsy shop next week! Message me if you want to reserve any of them before I post in the shop.

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Who needs brushes anyway?…
More progress on these paintings.
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Today’s WIPs

Today’s works-in-progress… A commission and a just-for-fun painting… painting out some loneliness and stubborn sadness today. Glad to have paint and a studio of my own to sit with these feelings. Take care of yourself and your loved ones.

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Evolution of an intuitive painting

“Love. Magic.” by Norah Soughayer Christmann, November 2020, 24 x 36, Acrylics, Pastels, Graphite, and Chalk on Canvas

One of the questions I often get asked about my paintings and the intuitive painting process in general is, “How do you know when a painting is done?”

My answer is always, “When I no longer feel like I need to change something” but that doesn’t take into account all I have learned about color, composition, balance, contrast, texture, value, line, and the general energy of the painting. All of that, whether I think about it consciously or not, supports the intuitive sense of “done”.

Over the last few days, I’ve been working on a commissioned painting and I thought I would share the progression of it’s many layers from the first energetic lines and marks to the final step back when I say, “Yes!”

Step one… Choosing colors and tools

I had a fairly clear idea of which colors I wanted to use going into this painting. My 9-year-old daughter recently painted this…

Aren’t the colors beautiful? I’m not a big fan of stencils but these stencils used with gold paint are gorgeous, so I decided to try stencils in this painting (I can always cover them up if I don’t like them). I picked the colors, adding a few to the four she used for balance and contrast, and came up with this jewel-toned palette…

I then choose my mark making tools, pastels, pencils, pens, chalk, etc. in the same colors as my palette. Even though I won’t necessarily use all of these, I like having options…

First layer…

The client wanted a 24 x 36 landscape size. I use a pre-gessoed gallery-wrapped canvas with a depth of 1.5 inches because I love the look of the painting wrapping around to the sides… it looks polished and adds even more interest. I “activate the canvas” by using as many of those pencils and pastels as I can as well as drips and blotches (very painterly term: “blotches”) from the wet paint left after making the palette strip above. I never waste paint… if I have any left over on my palette from a project, I’ll pull out new paper or canvas and offload my brushes and palette and call it the first layer of the next painting. These first lines, drips, and blotches give me something to respond to in the next layer and give the painting both texture and a history that you may or may not be able to see peeks of in the final piece. Here’s layer one of this painting…

Second layer…

While sitting back and starting to contemplate the direction of the painting, my 9-year-old bops into my studio on “recess” from remote school and decides to add to the painting… what’s more fun than scribbling? So very helpful, huh?

Third layer…

After my assistant’s recess was over, I decided to use gesso to activate all of those marks… they are made with water-soluble drawing tools, so adding wet paint moves the marks around. I really went at it and smeared all those pencils, pastels, and chalks with a foam brush. It was very satisfying at the time.

Interesting experiment. I don’t love it but learning to be fearless and to be willing to let go is one of the reasons I paint this way. The beauty of these paints and drawing media is that I can continue to paint and cover up what I don’t like and keep what is starting to ring true for me. It’s a continuous process of learning what I like and what I respond to and of trusting my intuition.

So… there is always an “ugly stage” in every painting and sometimes more than one ugly stage. Part of painting intuitively is learning to trust that the piece will come together eventually and to sit with the ugly for a while until a mark or a color push you past it into creating with joy and energy again. It’s a life lesson for me… to take my time and sit with what’s uncomfortable or difficult and let the path forward unfold in it’s own time.

The composition of the painting is starting to develop here but this piece hit it’s “ugly stage” really early in the process! Moving on…

Fourth layer…

After that layer dries, I start adding paint with brushes, sponges, and my hands. I love the sensory nature of painting with my hands. I turn the painting 90 degrees and add drips that will run across the painting in it’s final orientation. I end this painting session with more mark making, lines and scribbles, into the wet paint so that prior layers peek through.

I am loving the colors and blending the paint directly on the canvas. It’s taking shape now but I need to let this layer dry in order to avoid making muddy colors with all that wet paint.

Fifth layer…

(Wow, I really need to get a good camera for taking these photos… my camera phone is not making the grade.)

In this layer, I’ve added more paint and layered more drips. I also added stencils of a middle eastern geometric design, the sacral chakra, and a lotus with gold paint. I know that I’m not done yet, but I’m making progressively smaller changes and stepping back from the canvas more and more to look at it from different angles and depths. I like the addition of the stencils but I don’t want them to pop too much, so I’ll partially hide some of them behind paint and may cover some of them completely. More layers add more mystery and interest to the painting and I find that the layers invite viewers to look at the piece closer and spend more time with it.

Sixth (& Final) layer…

In the final layer, I’m looking at the balance of dark and light, thick and thin lines, the “flow” of the painting (composition and movement) and the intensity of color and paint quality (i.e. is there enough paint on the whole painting and it’s not too thin in any areas). I also ask are there enough marks but not so much that it’s distracting, do I want to add words or collage (not in this painting but I do add them in many of my paintings), and do I need to add a color or two for additional pop or to draw the eye through the painting?

Damn, that’s a hot painting! I love it. I love to look back at the ugly stage and pat myself on the back for sitting with the discomfort of it until something beautiful like this emerges. I learn that I can make tough choices, do hard things, and love what comes, whatever it will be.

Here are the edges…

To finish the painting, I get the final sign off from the client (done), I’ll sign and date it, my husband will take professional photos of it for the website and so that I can make prints of the painting for my Etsy shop, then I’ll varnish in multiple layers to protect it from fading. A few days more work and I’ll hand it off to the happy client.

Every step of the process gives me joy and I learn more about myself as an artist and a human, and about my style and what I love. I trust myself more and more every time I paint. I am so lucky to do this work!

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Today’s Works-in-progress…

Soothing myself today with rich color and large areas of calm and quiet. Take care of yourself today! ❤️

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Silicon Valley Open Studios Sale to Benefit Second Harvest

I am so excited to be participating in the Silicon Valley Open Studios Art Show & Benefit Sale for Second Harvest. At least 15% of all sales will benefit Second Harvest, helping to feed those in need, especially hard-hit by the pandemic.  New artists and works will be continually added until the show ends on November 30th and as items sell. My work, along with so many others, is on display at shop.svos.org… it’s like having Open Studios from the comfort of your home. To view and purchase my work, go directly to https://www.shop.svos.org/products?By%20Artist=Norah%20Christmann

Here’s the official blurb:

Just in time for holiday shopping! Silicon Valley Open Studios (SVOS) is pleased to announce that in place of this year’s traditional Open Studios event, we are sponsoring a Virtual Open Studios for our artists and art fans in the Bay Area and beyond, benefitting Second Harvest of Silicon Valley to help feed those in need, as well as supporting our artist community which has also been hard hit by this pandemic.

Our artists are offering a selection of their work for sale on this website from October 15th through November 30th, and 15% or more of the proceeds will be donated to Second Harvest.

  • Help those in need in the region
  • Support Silicon Valley artists and the local economy
  • Do some holiday shopping from the comfort of your home

There is a wide range of works from over 150 artists available to browse and to purchase. You can choose to pick up your purchase locally from the artists, or arrange to have them shipped to you in some cases. You can learn more about the artists and connect with them via phone, video chat, email, or social media.

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Today’s Work-in-progress

It’s been a long time! While I am planning a longer post soon, I wanted to hop on quickly today to show a series I’ve been working on and wrapped up today.

“Dreaming of Rajasthan”, Acrylics, pastels, inks, oils, and collage on 4 10×10 cradled wood panels

I am calling it “Dreaming of Rajasthan” and it’s inspired by a gorgeous book I came across called “Patterns of India”. It’s full of really juicy color, pattern, and texture.

These paintings are hopeful, dreamy, and inviting. I love painting on the cradled edges of these panels so that the paintings are interesting from every angle.

I’ll post these for sale later this week on my Etsy shop. Until then, please take good care of yourself.

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Composting and My Muses

To express myself, I sometimes write, I often paint (collage, draw, etc), and many times I just stare… out a window, at a blank canvas or a partially completed piece. Staring seems pointless to many people. Staring is a vital and crucial part of my creative process. The judge-y critic in me, whose voice is very strong, says I’m wasting my time, wasting the ONE DAY I HAVE THIS WEEK WITHOUT KIDS, and, in my most melodramatic moments (so many of those!), wasting my life.

Ugh, that’s so much pressure. There is nothing so effective as pressure to stifle development, to stamp down fresh work and new ideas.

Lately, I have been making very mindful, thoughtful efforts to be kinder to myself, to take things less seriously, to lighten my spirit, and to just enjoy life more. I am trying to recognize that what’s happening is enough right now, that who I am is enough just as I am.

I am trying not to try.

It’s hard but it’s full of peace and trust that everything will be ok. It will all work out.

So when I stare out the window, in the garden at the fig tree, at a speck on the floor, my kinder, higher self knows that while my body is still, the part of me where creativity resides is doing some serious sweaty grunt work. I am turning compost, checking for new growth, planting seeds, nurturing my creative spirit. I may look unproductive, but as a creative, as an artist, stillness is an incredibly profound part of work.

I would argue with anyone that stillness encourages productivity more than pressures of time crunches and negative self-talk. I am far more able to meet a deadline or paint quickly when I’ve let myself rest and compost and experiment and play… all that stored energy, like in the garden, encourages inspiration and a rush of new growth. I am creating only for myself, to make myself happy and to follow where my instincts guide me. Then I create the work that I am happiest with, that is the most meaningful to me, and that is often most well-received by others.

And look what’s been coming out of that stillnesss… so many faces! Who are these people? I think they are my muses. My strange, peculiar muses full of the spirit of nature, animals, and sacred symbolism, from deep in my imagination, deep in the compost.

(The top painting and the simple drawing it’s based on further down are very literally my rendition of my muse. I painted them in a wonderful class taught locally by Asia Morgenthaler, a lovely earth mama artist with the most generous spirit, that I had the pleasure to meet recently. Check her out at www.asiamorgenthaler.com )

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Being seen…

I am so excited to announce my website, online portfolio, and Etsy shop! I’ve spent a lot of time in the creation of an online presence and it caused more soul-searching and required more fortitude than I could have anticipated. But I am so glad to be here.

Something curious occurred to me as I was looking at the dates of the finished pieces ready for sale or already sold… I realized that I went through a few very prolific years and then it seems like I stopped making art.

But that isn’t true… I didn’t stop making art, I stopped finishing art!

This burst of creative painting energy around 2016 was preceded by many equally prolific years of making textile and fiber art (dyeing, felting, art quilting, sashiko stitching, shibori, and weaving, and lots of sewing, knitting and crochet for my girls when they were babes). I am also very passionate about textile and fiber art and will no doubt pick it up again in the future.

So what happened after years of art-making? Toward the end of those years, I slowly realized that I was doing a lot of copying of others’ art, of some very inspiring and charismatic art by creative and energetic artists. I had gone to classes and learned from artists who I consider my brief mentors for a day or two or three. I absorbed and learned (and learned and learned) from these generous people. I sold some of my work quietly, without much fanfare, almost apologetically. But I needed to explore my art using my voice, pull in all these influences and countless others, add my own hand in subjects that were personally meaningful, and let it flow out of me. I gave myself the permission to play without the pressure of my work being seen by others.

That’s a big deal for me… Being seen by others isn’t very comfortable, is it? Exposing what’s in your heart and soul, what you believe is sacred and art-worthy, and what you think is beautiful, despite popular ideas of beauty and worth, despite how messy and unfinished it may seem, exposing your self through your work is really so… very… hard. It’s scary. You need armor. You need conviction.

I am a self-taught artist. I learn from my influences and by lots of trial and error and working and reworking. And, really, I wouldn’t have it any other way. As a good friend who happens to be an insightful career coach recently told me, it’s the process of making art that I love. So true. The pleasure in a finished piece can be fleeting especially when you are selling your art.  I love the process most of all.

I embrace the messy background, the rough unfinished sketch, the glue on my fingers and paint in my hair, and sometimes, even, the glitter up my nose.

Art as a process is both expression and retreat. It is intuitive, and it lays bare the soul. When art is a process, I get to know myself after decades of trying to please only others. I get to soothe myself, nourish myself.

Art as a process is physical, emotional, and spiritual. Color and texture and layers and mess…. it’s real life and, yes, I love the process!

So in that vein, I decided that my first blog entry will be to show my many works in progress and to give a peek into my art journals. This what is what I’ve been doing and where I am going… but it’ll change.

Because I trust in the process.

And I’m finally ready to be seen.

Owl is one of my shamanic spirit guides and often represents grief and keen perception. Here the owl is flying away symbolizing Owl’s medicine retreating from my life after many years of trying to see through the darkness of grief and sadness. I am currently spending lots of time in my sketchbook doing studies of owl wings… wow, are they a challenge! Lots of detail still to add in this piece.

This little 8×8 painting is so pretty… the photo doesn’t do it justice. I’m experimenting with layers of inks, mica, glitter, and a homemade beeswax-type varnish to get glowing radiant effects. Almost there.

Not sure where this one’s going, but I love the strong contrast and the peaceful quality of all that white.

I see an owl emerging in this one. Do you?

Oh, this one makes me smile! My daughters love bright neon colors and asked me to use them in a painting. It’s big too… 30×40. When I finish this painting, I’ll tell the story of furtively shopping for these crazy colors in a “serious” art supply store…

This one, still in it’s background phase (and possibly upside down, I haven’t decided yet!), is tentatively titled “Under the Golden Gate”, an homage to the aquatic beauty and cultural diversity of San Francisco.

These little 3×5 cradled wood panels were collaged with some gorgeous lokta papers and old book pages. Sometimes I just collage backgrounds because it’s so fun to do and wait for inspiration to strike sometime in the future. They’re hard to cover up!

And here are some sketches and painted backgrounds from my journals:

Now we’re all caught up!