Code or Paint?

Lately I’ve been more than a little obsessed with learning to code.  MOOCS (Massive Open Online Courses) make this possible for me; something that I’m more than grateful for.  Living where I do, going to college is not even remotely possible.  It’s too far for me to drive.

These days I want to learn new things so that I can use those tools to make something.  I’m not sure if it needs to be ‘art’ or just a way for me to communicate an idea. Likely both.

I’ve been trying to learn to code for a long time now.  Not always successfully.  The first course I tried was on Coursera and I was blown away by the quality of the course, but I didn’t finish it.  After about week four I just couldn’t keep up and after a while I finally gave up on that one.  Even that little bit helped to build a foundation to learn on though.

With ‘The Introduction to Computational Arts’ course offered by Stony Brook University on Coursera I started to learn Processing and things slowly began to make sense. Dan Shiffman’s videos on Vimeo are really helpful and entertaining too.  I’m still working through them.

A processing exercise - a screenshot of my first interactive program - UFOs. . .
A processing exercise – a screenshot of my first interactive program – UFOs. . .

There are so many resources for learning to code online that I think I went a little bit crazy after that.  Decided that maybe I should learn some Java as that’s the language that Processing is based on.  Found a fantastic course on Udemy – Java for Complete beginners by John Purcell that I might finish some day just because I think the course is incredibly well done.

And long before all that I learned some HTML and CSS just to make building my own websites easier.  JavaScript: Understanding the Weird Parts by Anthony Alicia is what I’m working through on Udemy right now.  That and FreeCodeCamp which is one of the most thorough and well developed free educational opportunities that I have found on the web.

So much to do.  So little time.  But I am focusing on my goals in spite of myself.  And not making a choice between painting and coding, though I have finally narrowed down my choice of languages to Processing and JavaScript.

I’ll still be doing both.  One day hopefully combining it all!



Paint and directions

I’ve always enjoyed painting.  After a winter of mostly working with paint and drawing materials on paper, I’ve been getting back to working with acrylic paint on canvas.

The problem has always been though, that I will develop one style on paper, one that feels more like drawing than painting even though I will use paint there as well and then when I turn to canvas something else emerges and I’m back to square one.  I end up feeling the need to develop a completely different style with paint on canvas. I think that is because I enjoy the textures that acrylic paint will allow me to create.

Last week I spent much more time than I had planned on a simple, small triptych.  In this painting I created textures using Golden Fiber Paste, their Coarse Molding Paste, Self Leveling Gel and Gel Medium in separate areas of the painting.  Since I was also working with contrasting areas of bright color the contrast in textures is not always that strong, but it gave me a feel for the different possibilities.

Detail from 'Pink Moon Triptych' by Elma Schumacher. Landscape image with a large pink moon over colorful hills and pond.
Detail from ‘Pink Moon Triptych’ an acrylic painting by Elma Schumacher

I’m not sure where this piece will fit into my new body of work, but sometimes it is important just to explore possibilities.  And maybe this piece will be a backdrop for a video project I want to try next winter.  Who knows?  But I’m sure it was time well spent.




Watercolor vs Acrylic

Last week I finally gave in and bought a set of watercolor paints for myself; Windsor and Newton Artists’ Water Color in tubes.  I love them.  Great quality and I also got lucky and found most of the colors I wanted on sale.  Now that I have a good variety of pigments and colors it won’t break the bank to add to the set once in a while.

Tubes of water color paint and an underpainting created with watercolor washes depicting a spray of flowers.
My new watercolor paints and the beginnings of a new mixed media piece.

I have been holding off buying them for years because I just kept telling myself that I could achieve the same results with my acrylic paints. Admittedly I was telling myself little white lies to keep a tight lid on my art supply budget.

While there aren’t huge differences between washes created with acrylic paint and washes created with watercolors there are certainly some.  I didn’t realize how much I missed working with watercolors until I started working with them again a few days ago.

The textures are finer and more varied with a watercolor wash than with a wash created with acrylic paint and I even find it easier to manipulate the washes because the binder in the acrylic paint does not seem as fluid.

Since water colors don’t become insoluble in water once they dry you can also blot off some of the color in an area that you find has gotten too dark, even after the paint has dried.  Not possible with acrylic paint.  The paper also remains more absorbent with watercolor than it does with an acrylic wash; I found it easier to draw over the watercolor with ink than I did over an acrylic wash. With pencil and conte though, I don’t find much difference.

There are times where it might make more sense to work with an acrylic wash though; for example if you are trying to seal in an area so that it is no longer water soluble.  Since I’m always mixing up my media, I have also found acrylic paint useful when I am working over an area of pastel or conte with my brush.

I don’t think that I actually prefer one over the other, but I did miss my watercolors and am happy to have them back.



Because I can’t stop. . .

A mixed media drawing of bell-shaped flowers hanging from a vine with leaves in the background.
‘Bell Flowers’ by E.M.Schumacher, mixed media on rag paper. Water color, gouache, ink and pastel.

I don’t know how many artists are workaholics but I suspect quite a few.  Maybe I don’t fall into that category, but once I get started in the studio, I really don’t want to be anywhere else or do anything else.

I have been lucky lately though as there have been some very good reasons to get myself out of this work space.  Since Christmas I got to attend to the International Festival of Animated Objects in Calgary, I took part in Art Battle 252 in Edmonton a few weeks ago and had a wonderful Easter weekend with family.

It’s harder to get myself away from a particular painting though, because if I’m not satisfied, as long as it is pinned up on my wall I can’t leave it alone.  That’s what happened with ‘Bell Flowers’ a mixed media piece on rag paper that I’ve been adding layers of media to for weeks now.

I even signed it and kept working on it because I couldn’t stop.  The paper won’t likely accept anything else now as layers of watercolor, ink, pastel and gouache have been added so many times that I’m sure that it weighs as least twice as much now!

Most of the time when I can’t stop, I just put it away.  Sometimes for months.  This time though, I enjoyed building my drawing up and making endless changes, some subtle and others not so much.  There are times when I can’t stop that I get frustrated and destroy my work, but this time I know that I found something more:  new directions and maybe a new way of working too.


Working with layers

This mixed media work has just been started.  The first layer consists of watercolor washes.
This mixed media work has just been started. The first layer consists of watercolor washes.

It’s been busy here in my studio lately.  I am on a roll.  Painting and drawing and building up layers.

The walls, where I tack my work in progress so I can stand back and get a good view, are finally filling up with new work.  It feels very good to have so many pieces there, but now I need to finish some so it feels like I am really making progress.

Looking at what is up on my wall and the incomplete canvases stacked around the studio made me realize that although my style has changed over the years my way of working hasn’t ever really changed at all.

I have always built up my images with layers of paint and drawing material.  Starting with a layer of watercolor washes keeps me in my comfort zone. When I work on canvas I am not nearly as comfortable as I am when I start with those washes on paper.  It seems to be easier to go back to the beginning, back where I started to experiment with mixed media.

But no matter where I start, I will build up those layers until I get to where I want to be.  Or sometimes until I realize that I won’t get there at all ever, with this particular painting.  And that’s okay too.  We all learn from the pieces that don’t make it and trust that our work will just keep getting better because of it.

Mixed media work on paper on the studio walls.
Mixed media work in progress is pinned up on the walls of my studio.