Compsagnathus is a series of three paintings about childhood. Click the links below to see more.
The ideas for my third piece came around the same time as the second, and thus it was created at the same time. Compared to the others, this piece focuses more on shape, color, texture, line quality, and materials.
I created it by gessoing a square of unstretched canvas and hanging it on a board on my easel so I had a solid back to work on. My process of painting was very quick, and the result was very in line with my vision. I like the instances of beauty from incidental sloppiness, like where shapes overlap or lines stop short of the edge. The messiness of it creates an informal feel that compliments the themes. Once the painting was done, I stretched it on a wooden frame in reverse, and cut off the excess canvas. This decision came from a desire to push past conventional methods of framing and displaying in the art world. It wasn’t until in-class critique that I realized some of the conceptual implications of this. Having the frame in front creates an illusion of the painting being directly on a white wall. One classmate said this reminded her of a child drawing on a wall with crayons, while another said it looked like it was hung backwards– an innocent mistake a child would tend to make.
Some of the artists this series was inspired by include Robert Nava, Katherine Bernhardt, Colin Chillag, and Robert Rauschenberg. Without their influence, I never would have created this. I encourage you to look them up!
After finishing my first piece, I felt satisfied with my work so far but lacked ideas going forward. I was experiencing, ironically enough, another creative block. I started doodling, doing thumbnail sketches, and looking at composition via shapes in Photoshop.
The result is a smaller scale portrait, showing a similar photo from childhood. The expression has a sense of curiosity to it, and I love how it relates to Compsognathus I when displayed side-by-side. It’s as if i’m looking at myself– a thought-provoking concept in relation to the larger themes of the series. These unintentional, unexpected additions to existing themes were a fun result of my process.
Overall, the process for this piece was much more reactionary than my first piece, which I had planned out more prior to starting. Almost every decision was spontaneous, which led to some feelings of uncertainty but encouraged me to be expressive and carefree. One example of this was my decision to work on raw canvas. I had never done this before, and was surprised how much it affected the process. It took longer and process and produced a different effect, but ultimately I am happy with the decision because it adds variety to the series. Using spray-paint and heavily-watered down acrylic paints was another impulsive choice. It was somewhat nerve-wracking, as it could have ruined the piece. I like how it turned out though, as I feel it adds interest to the piece and helps tie it together with the series.
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Starting a new painting always comes with a sort of creative block that I have to push through in order to produce something. This often comes in the form of not knowing what to create. I realize doodling on my own is useful for overcoming this– when I am doodling I am less concerned with the subject of what I draw and more interested in things like line quality and tend to express more random and creative shapes and figures. This has led me to take interest in art created by children, which I feel has similar qualities. Art by children is seen as wholesome and innocent, and is accepted for what it is. It is among the most pure and direct forms of art because, for a child, there are no expectations of what “good” art should be. Instead, imagination is expressed without the limitations of learned obstacles. To me this is the antithesis of the fear that limits self-expression as an adult. Inspired by this recognition, I chose to create my latest painting in a way that directly references childlike drawings.
Compsagnathus is a series of three paintings that uses images from my own childhood to encourage reflection on childhood innocence. The title is an intentional misspelling of a type of dinosaur. In Compsagnathus I, a self-portrait of myself as a child is the focal point. It is created in a realistic style, and in grayscale. Making this painting self-referential was important, because the themes relate to my own experiences so much. I think by placing myself in the artwork in this way, I connect myself as a 4-year-old to myself at the time of this painting.
The dinosaurs in the foreground are taken from drawings I did when I was little. Dinosaurs make the perfect subject because they are seen as a childish interest (how many adults do you know who openly admit an obsession with dinosaurs?). They are painted in a very loose and messy style, which is an extension of the theme of innocent carelessness. I love seeing them at such a large scale because it goes against expectations. It recontextualizes them in a way that places them on a pedestal and highlights their good qualities.
The materials in this work include oil paint, acrylic paint, charcoal, graphite, oil pastel, and marker on gessoed canvas. I love the interplay between materials– how they overlap in areas to create unique textures and colors. This quality is one of my favorite things about painting (as opposed to my digital work). The texture provided works well in spaces of the painting without a dominant figure, where large blocks of color and countless random gestural marks give balance and add visual interest to otherwise empty spaces.
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Lately I have been thinking about the ways my digital presence relates to myself in reality. Are the people I communicate with online the same people I am friends with in real life? Is my identity on social media an accurate representation of myself? These questions prompted me to paint a self-portrait of sorts. The inevitable duality of an online identity and real-life identity is represented by two line drawings. An expressionless face appears in the upper left, while a face with a somewhat sinister grin dominates the center of the work. Although distinctly different faces, they are rendered in the same way, connecting them.
To create the background of this piece, I applied very thin oil paint with a brush and then scraped over it with a squeegee. This process, learned from German painter Gerhard Richter, creates some unique textures and marks that are visually interesting. I then began with my line drawing. With charcoal I drew on the canvas, making up the composition as I went. I like the spontaneity of the line, as well as the childlike rendering of the figures. I painted over this charcoal line in black, and while the paint was still drying, I carefully blended the edges to create a blurred effect. Lastly, I redrew the original drawing with white oil pastel. I tried to replicate it closely, but intentionally made it off-registered to accentuate the shadowy effect. This decision places visual emphasis on the line, making it appear as an object off the canvas.
For this project I was prompted to create a large piece containing a number of smaller pieces. As I cleaned my palette, I was intrigued by the texture of the dried paint. Using a razor, I started to scrape pieces of paint off and collecting it. I decided these dried paint chips would work well as my smaller pieces. Conceptually, this repurposing of materials is fascinating– I like the concept of using what is seen as useless and is typically discarded to create something new. I started by painting my panel surface with thick layers of white oil paint. By applying the paint with a palette knife, I was able to create some unique textures. While the paint was still wet, I carefully applied the paint chips. I paid careful attention to the distribution of them, both in size and placement, to create an even field of texture. I then applied a layer of white spray paint, and a layer of spray-adhesive, to make sure the chips would stay attached to the surface.
After finishing the texture, I traced the outline of a large circle into the wet paint. I first painted around the circle, choosing a very light pink for the outside and inside. The outline itself was painted light blue. The color relationship is an important part of this work. These colors are very subtle, and on their own they may even be mistaken for white. By choosing colors so light and close in contrast an effect is created– staring at a single point in the painting creates an interesting result where the colors merge together. Additionally, the visual impact of the circle is reduced, which keeps it from controlling the attention of the viewer. Altogether, the soft colors, texture and shape create a balanced piece, where no element dominates but instead exists in a harmonious relationship with the other elements.
Excited to share that the Ad Club selected me as the winner of four ADDY Awards including Best of Show! Thanks to Brian for encouraging me to submit.
Images of my winning projects will be posted soon.
You can see the complete list of winners here: