Process Shots

I want to show some of the process shots that I take as I create a piece. Taking quick photos of artwork unexpectedly helps with composition and color decisions. There is something that the camera does not pick up - maybe it is the micro marks and colors that we pick up - that helps pull me out of the "making" mode and into the "solving" mode.

Completed painting: "   A Shallow Estuary (Earth Day 2018)

Completed painting: " A Shallow Estuary (Earth Day 2018)

Once the primary area blocks were defined, I started adding the white gesso. I am find that using a panel instead of paper forces me to think of the white areas as the highlights. Normally with paper and water color mediums, the paper is the white. Kill the white and it kills the luminosty of the work. Immediately. And it sucks to have that happen.

Process for the painting: "   A Shallow Estuary (Earth Day 2018)

Process for the painting: " A Shallow Estuary (Earth Day 2018)

The images above show the topography mapping and then the build up of white. I am painting straight onto the panel, so the gesso sinks in and I have to build layers of white on white to get the luminosity. I can seal the whole panel when I am done. Painting on the wood without the sealant gives a nice affect when the color bleeds into the wood grain.

Process for the painting "   A Shallow Estuary (Earth Day 2018)

Process for the painting " A Shallow Estuary (Earth Day 2018)

I added the blocks of colors based on a grid, which I decided to highlight more. The mandala (inspired mandala) is then encircled with a pattern of more white, letting the wood be a major star of color, texture, and composition.

12" x 12" | watercolor, ink, gesso, graphite on wood panel | ©Beth Ortman 4/2018

~b

 

Art as Offering

For the last 3 + years I have been adding pictures of the sunrise to Facebook, Twitter and more recently Instagram. I live on the beach in south Florida and it has always been an impetus to share this view and some inspiring quotes.... some meaningful, some funny but always inspired by the mood making itself known that morning. Earlier this year I decided to make a book about some of these moments and used the book "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" as a jumping off point for my title, "Zen and the Art of the Sunrise". I self-published the book and put it on Amazon. Though I have a great support system of friends, the book has not done well. I keep thinking and hoping it will do better but it is what it is. I wonder if I somehow missed the point that this is an offering in the midst of the "doing" to make this thing a published event. I wonder if I focused too much on what it meant for me to have an ISBN and lost where it was always about sharing and offering.

Recently I was listening to a great show on On Being with Krista Tippett with Matthew Sanford, a yoga instructor in MN. He talks about an accident that took away his ability to walk. Ultimately the interview is about his ability to reconnect with his body. The impetus is exploring what trauma, physical or mental, does to the body and how sometimes, as the result of traumas, we disconnect our minds and bodies. Now bear with me here because this connection is a long shot but it hit me like a ton of bricks. I have listened to the show three times to work through this revelation. I have an absolute disconnect in Mind and Body. I think one of the ways I work through this is by doing art. But in the end, art can be very intellectual. What if the connection between the mind and the body happen as an offering? What if living or art becomes the offering and it pushes the emotion outwards? I strongly believe that we work through personal belief systems and create a visual language in our own practice of art and the moment we are able to transcend the egotistic self our vision becomes universal. It becomes something that may benefit others. It becomes that offering, something that is shared or adopted and made into something else and hopefully something more.

In the face of the fear and rejection and the emotional rehash of traumas and beauty, the moment the artist's work becomes universal is the moment they surrender it outwards. There is a tenuous thread here that matters and it feels connected to something deeper and more universal. Maybe that is why it can be healing. I have always wondered why art is revered, protected and placed on a pedestal throughout the ages and it does not support Food, Shelter, Sex (a minimization of Maslow's hierarchy of needs). Why is it that we look to the humanities to solve the big questions? It is such a shared experience and it happened with the cavemen, Plato and it happens with the us in the now.

What if art connects as an offering and the moment the artist (writer, musician, philosopher, yoga instructor, etc...) let's go, it goes into the universal space where we are all existing? Maybe it transcends the object and becomes transcendent? It causes us to emote, react, to think and feel. Sometimes it is uncomfortable and sometimes it is dis-jarring, but always when the connection is made, it rearranges something in us.

I think of Matthew Sanford's place on the mat using yoga as his voice and I can only think that his re-connection to Mind and Body is art and it is empowering to me to explore where I am broken. And that is truly a powerful message.

~ b

 

Links for inspiration:

On Being: About >>

Matthew Sanford Interview "The Body's Grace" >>

Matthew Sanford's amazing book: "Waking"

"The Train": A thought-provoking movie on protecting art in the time of war IMDB >>

 

Exquisite Detail: Getting Lost in the Repetition

 

Detail of Indra's Net II, in progress|  © Beth Ortman Studio

What exquisite place do we touch when we disappear into our work? I love and am completely inspired by reading and learning about other artists' spaces and work habits. What is it that made them who they are? What are their fears, their doubts, their losses and wins, and break-through moments? I look into the lives of other creatives to look at what shaped them to find some correlation to my own work. Not only from an aesthetic place but more from an acknowledgement that choosing the path to make art is difficult and worth it. Are artists the voices of their generation or maybe the flag holders of a compassionate connection to the self? Making art is all about stripping the layers of the self to zero and then building it back up with a slightly different version, vision and way of seeing. In this scenario, are artists a channel? Is there something working through the artist? When one is compelled to make things that no-one needs for survival, what is behind that drive?

The artwork that I create demands that I am constantly moving into and out from repetition and practice. I read a lot. I look for an idea that stands out or causes me to sketch something. I am always taking notes and sketching little visual connections to whatever series I am exploring. I am always behind what I want to accomplish because the work is tedious and time consuming and the ideas roll faster than I can create - a perfectly awesome state to be in.

"The difference in men does not lie in the size of their hands nor in the perfection of their bodies, but in this one sublime ability of concentration: to throw the weight in one blow, to live eternity in an hour." ~ Elbert Hubbard

I ramble on in this post as I ramble through my artwork. Weaving myths, legends, media and symbolism into new things. What I think this does, or at the very least, what it has done for me is open the conversation of the spiritual. Are we the ones making the art? What is the muse? When a writer, a musician or an artist talk about a great achievement, many will narrate their part of the story and leave a part for something else to weave itself into it. There always seems to linger a legend of not being completely present. It opens a discussion that there is faith that they are a channel. If you show up and do the work, the muse will work through you. Time disappears and when you start bringing yourself back to "the moment" things feel surreal. When you are in intense creation you are in the mode. It is you and your art, your music, words, whatever your medium. So the question gets stripped down a little more to become "What is it to truly come back to the moment?". If time speeds up and slows down all at once, the human moves out of the way, what third mixture comes into play? What is that energy that comes forth?

There is something magical that happens when two things come together to make a third, Hegel refers to it as The Calculus of Fresh Thinking. He described it as the dialectic process whereby one idea - a thesis- truly engaged with another - an antithesis- can yield a third, a new idea - a synthesis - that is born from both but which is wholly neither. This sums up something that I have long ago explored, and even altered some to my own thoughts about the muse and the artwork created. I love the open question "Who really creates a piece of art/music/writing/mathematical formula, etc...?" and I love that it is like a koan that is unanswerable.

~b
 

 

 

 

 

Doubt, Faith and Resolution

 

Photography by © Beth Ortman Studio

Photography by © Beth Ortman Studio

I am very interested in the idea of vocation. I think of vocation not as a job but more like a career. I have been a User Experience Strategist for over 16 years (in a simplification, I make websites more usable) and I am also an artist. No matter what I do for the online world of websites, navigation and usability efforts, I will always make art. The ultimate question is, "What are we meant to contribute to?". How do I align and organize my job and art output into my vocation? Is this possible or do I merge the two somehow? I am the only thing holding both concepts together, so is this even a valid question?

I am always searching and seeking for the optimal "Flow" as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi talks about it in his work of creative psychology and research. When I am in the studio making art - whether it is a struggle to sit down to do the work or whether I jump out of bed anticipating a day of making something, I find myself in this flow and there becomes an ease in the work. I lose time and I am not 100% able to say I alone am doing the work. I find it to be a coming home of sorts. Over and over.

In the Bhagavad Gita, at the scene in the beginning of the Great War, Krishna tells Arjuna that "Doubt afflicts the person who lacks faith and can ultimately destroy him." I was struck the moment I read this. Even out of the context of this book (which I have not read, so my context has been outside of the book), I had a welling up of questions come to the forefront. What is faith? What is doubt? Is faith tied to religion while doubt is tied to skepticism? Or is faith an internal move to trust in one's instincts and doubt allows for reviewing of all outcomes and setting the path for getting things done? Can you strip the concept of religion away from faith so that it becomes an internal compass? Does it come down to a judgement of what is successful? I just launched a book last week, "Zen and the Art of the Sunrise" to a spectacular wall of silence. At the same time, I have been overwhelmed by the support of friends and of people I don't know that have faith in the book and have gone out of their way to share it and become a part of it. Now I have to look at what this book is for.

I have put the book "out there" and all of a sudden I am faced with the faith that it will do its part. That does not mean I am not utilizing social sites and pushing it and hoping for it to do well, but it also means that I have come face to face in the mirror with faith and surrender. Surrender is an active state of being, not of giving up. I have to have the knowledge that I was in the "flow" when I created it. I have to have "faith" that it will find the person that needs it the most and that all of this will happen outside of my knowledge. In other words, outside of my ego and my desire to be "seen". I have to understand that I need to surrender it to what is next and that may be nothing. But I did my part in its creation and so I am back to faith and doubt and the swirling of these two states in my head.

I have no answers and this week has been a roller coaster of emotions and questions. This coin of happy/sad has flipped back and forth for me. In the end though, I released this new piece of art into the world. I am proud of the book and I think it will make people feel a sense of hope and it supports the seeing of nature - and in these times that is a necessity.

My book on Amazon: "Zen and the Art of the Sunrise" -->

 

Some additional great reads to pursue:

Stephen Cope "The Great Work of Your Life" -->

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi "Flow" -->   and   "Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention" -->

Lewis Hyde "The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World" -->

 

A State of Flow: One of my pieces of art in progress:

 

 

Jackson Pollock's Blue Poles: humans caring for art

 

from the book: Jackson Pollock's Blue Poles  |  National Gallery of Australia

from the book: Jackson Pollock's Blue Poles  |  National Gallery of Australia

I was struck by the flurry of care in this image during the receipt of Jackson Pollock's pivotal painting, "Blue Poles" to the Brisbane Town Hall in 1974 - taken in the above photograph by an unseen person monitoring the scene from above the action.

Just to the inside of the door there are 7 men moving the painting inside the main area. One can think there are an equal number, if not more, on the other side of the door. Everywhere reporters and photographers are capturing the moment. I think about the creation of the wooden crate - the care that went into it to make sure this piece was not torn or ripped, dented or broken. The sheer weight of the crate. The amount of wood necessary to build a shell of protection. The amount of money, men assets it took to get it from the US to Australia. It had to cross in a plane? A boat? Was the temperature maintained to a perfect degree? How did the paint breath as it moved from climate to climate? How was this piece suspended in the wooden crate to ensure the canvas held?

Why do humans care so much for art? Art in itself is not going to provide shelter, food, water or sex - referencing Maslow's hierarchy here. Art is an opinion, a subjective statement - a way of life for some and a commodity to others. Though this painting is a historical look into a shifting of the way we perceived art at the time, it is still a mystery to some and a disgrace to others. It is something that has and always will cause controversy. The man who created it was plagued with depression and alcoholism, yet he had the grit to pursue his authentic vision.

What is it that as a collective consciousness we would take the care of such a thing that physically adds no value to our bodies?

How does art affect the human soul? What is it about a soul - this unnameable, intangible, untouchable thing that surges with emotion when coming in to contact with something so esoteric as a painting that we may intellectually never understand? At the time, his particular art represented a shift in a way of traditional painting and it was symbolic at the time to a pretty seismic shift in what was considered to be art. It became a captured image of energy and emotion caught in a jazz-like reference. There was little at the time to prepare for this explosion of energy, angst, color and splatter.

I go back now to why the above black and white photograph struck me. It made me proud and feel good about the inherent care that was provided to a dead man's vision. A relic that caused questions, controversy and open hatred. It meant that there was a select mindset that values art. Art that that elevated our human condition from a physical realm to a spiritual one. By taking care of art, it says that we value what we create. We support co-creation, the bringing into the world something that did not exist before. We value culture. As an artist, this made me content.

 

~ b

 

detail from Blue Poles

detail from Blue Poles