What’s It Like to Collaborate with a Poet?

What’s It Like to Collaborate with a Poet?

At the urging of a long-time friend and colleague, I submitted my application to the Red Wing Arts 20th Annual Poet Artist Collaboration. I have created under similar parameters before where I would create the art after being selected based on my previous works. I love combining images with stories and so this felt like a natural.

I didn’t expect to be thrown out of my comfort zone (always a good thing, right?), nor did I expect to do a watercolor that is far removed from my usual approach and technique. More than anything, I wanted to do right by the poem I chose and to the woman who wrote it.

HOW DOES A POET ARTIST COLLABORATION WORK?
It goes something like this. After being notified to participate, artists are provided poet-submitted poems that have been jury selected. Artists pick their top seven poems, ranking the order of preference from one being the top poem pick and so on down the line, choosing the poems that move and inspire them to create a work of art that will accumulate into a group exhibition. The poem lists are emailed in and through part lottery, part diplomatic process, and timing of poem pick submissions (kind of a first-come-first-served situation), artists are then emailed the “their” poem and then create a work of art based on their impressions of that poem.

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Besides being moved out of my comfort zone, there was considerable thought that went in to create a piece behind my poem choice. For the 20th Annual Poet-Artist Collaboration exhibition, here is my final watercolor painting inspired by my poem choice, Planted by Deborah A. Goschy, and my artist’s statement.

i-rode-the-breeze-as-children-will-and-took-root-somewhere-else-watercolor-painting
I Rode The Breeze, As Children Will, and Took Root Somewhere Else.
(Inspired by the poem Planted, by Deborah A. Goschy)
Watercolor on 300lb Fabriano Hotpress watercolor paper. 2021 © Kristin Maija Peterson


THE POEM

Planted
by Deborah A. Goschy

At the plant nursery

grass seed lived in barrels,

silent and sleeping,

a cool soft touch 

when I plunged my bare hand

into its silky abundance,

but we bought it by the bag,

this promise of lawns, lush and green,

and it spiraled in fanciful trails

from the seed broadcaster

onto the stubborn soil behind the house.

One warm summer day I carried it in a metal can.

My fingers savored the feel of the steel,

my eyes, the stripes: orange, brown, and tan,

behind the words “Butternut Coffee”

as I let the seeds drop from between my fingers,

and observed their curling descent on an eddy of wind.

“The wind’s coming from the southeast,” I said.

Dad said that meant rain, one of those facts

he had gleaned in his youth among farmers.

That night after the ballgame, the predicted storm came,

a startling shower of cold drops that pelted us

as we ran to our cars across pavement

washed as black and glossy as polished jet,

rain that came down miles away,

wetting rows of scattered promises…

the roots grew down and

the leaves rose up and it was home,       

but my life carried me like a current.

I rode the breeze, as children will,

and took root somewhere else.



ARTIST STATEMENT
I have a confession. The initial painting I created for this poem was wrong, a failure. The work was too literal that it made it creepy — it didn’t feel true to me, nor did it feel true to the poem. On top of it all, the painting lacked movement.

Poetry, after all, is about movement. It’s how words move through the body and move through those listening. It’s how a poet moves when performing their work. Many poets talk about their process of writing involves walking. Poets like Mary Oliver, Maya Angelo, and others walk or pace, letting the poem’s words wash over them. After a month struggling with the first piece, I recalled what the artist Harriet Bart wisely said, “you don’t have to show the work if you don’t like it.” With that, I remember I have agency. And a deadline.

I got busy with a new and different approach. This one relied more on feeling and instincts than needing actual references to guide me. I went through all the lines involving movement again and again “spiraled in fanciful trails,” “their curling descent,” the wind, we ran, “the roots grew down, and the leaves rose up.”

Because I am curious, I tend to research as part of any project I am working on, and in doing so, I found connections to grasses that play a role in Planted. I vaguely remember the brand Butter-Nut Coffee, not so much brewing in our kitchen, more just an old can storing the odd assortment of nuts and bolts in my Dad’s basement workshop. In looking into Butter-Nut Coffee’s origins and its disappearance from store shelves, I discovered it began in 1887, in Omaha, Nebraska, a state I think of having prairie grassland as far as the eye can see. In one interview I read about Butter-Nut Coffee, there was a comment that before being gas-roasted (as opposed to coal-roasted), the beans smelled very much like “freshly cut grass.” But like so many things we take for granted, coffee not only starts our day, it alters the places where it is grown.

I also found diagrams labeling the many parts that make up a grass plant. The offshoots from the parent plant are called daughter plants, apropos to the poem’s author.

Planted is also a poem about memory, and because of that, I wanted colors that felt nostalgic. Six layers of watercolor paint created this piece, perhaps to mark each decade I have lived and suspect the poet has too. In the end, it feels more like a tapestry than a painting. If you tilt the work just so, you can see the “fanciful trails” swirling across the surface.


EXHIBITION DETAILS

The opening reception and poetry reading will be held online on Friday, April 30, 2021, at 7:00 pm. All are welcome. Poems and artwork have been published into an exhibition clap book available through Red Wing Arts.

IF YOU GO: In-person viewing of the Poet Artist Collaboration exhibition is possible during gallery hours, NOON-4:00 pm, Thursdays-Sunday at the Red Wing Arts, 418 Levee Street, Red Wing, MN 55066. The Red Wing Arts gallery and shop are located in a historical train depot situated behind the St. James Hotel. In-person poetry readings are being planned for each Saturday afternoon starting on May 1st through June 19th. Check out the RWA’s Facebook page for details. The Poet Artist Collaboration runs from April 30 through June 21, 2021.


ABOUT THE POET

Deborah Goschy is a member of Southern Minnesota Poets and the League of Minnesota Poets.  She has won awards for her poetry at the state and national level and has had her work published in Encore: Prize Poems 2020, The Martin Lake Journal, and in The Mankato Poetry Walk and Ride Project, which exhibits poems on signs along Mankato bike trails.  Deborah is also a freelance graphic designer, a painter, and a digital photographer.  You can find excerpts of her poetry and images of her visual art on her Instagram and her graphic design portfolio on her website.  

It’s All About Layers

It’s All About Layers

When asked “what do you do?” I will say I am an artist. (Note that I answer “who I am” versus “what I do.” Art is who I am and art what I make). The first question is followed by “what kind of art?” To which I typically answer with a medium. “Watercolors” I’ll respond. “Oh! they’ll say, Watercolor is so hard. You have to work so quickly. I could never do watercolors!” I smile. Everything takes practice and lots of it and I will encourage them to try.

I practice a lot at my art and I am never too old, too experienced, or too perfect to seek out instructions or new techniques. A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon YouTube videos on negative painting. Instead of painting inside the subject, you paint around it. I’ll show you the process so it makes sense.

watercolor-grass-pattern-step-one
NEGATIVE PAINTING STEP ONE: Start by getting your paper wet. Then add a wash of colors that you like. Some people carefully select their color palette beforehand but I just picked colors that play nice together. At first it doesn’t look like much. Let each layer (Step) dry before proceeding.

watercolor-grass-pattern-step-two
NEGATIVE PAINTING STEP TWO: Next I draw in a loose grass pattern. i then paint around them in a color slightly darker than the previous colors in Step One.

watercolor-grass-pattern-step-three
NEGATIVE PAINTING STEP THREE: I continue to add more grass shapes as well as circles. I am such a circle girl. Then I paint around all the blades of grass and circles with a slightly darker shade of green. With each layer of paint, you gain more depth.

watercolor-grass-pattern-step-four
NEGATIVE PAINTING STEP FOUR: I continue the process by adding more blades of grass, overlapping them in each step, and then paint around each blade with an even darker shade of green.

watercolor-grass-pattern-step-five
NEGATIVE PAINTING STEP FIVE: You get the idea. Continuing the process, the watercolor is coming together. This is really meditative.

watercolor-grass-pattern-step-six
NEGATIVE PAINTING STEP SIX: I almost stopped at Step Five but felt it needed one more layer of paint to make it complete. By this time, I was using a deep blue-green color I think I’ll title this one “Wondering Where The Lions Are.”

There you have it! Super effective once you get the hang of it. I did not get too fussy about pencil lines but you might want to erase yours with a kneaded eraser (no eraser shavings) so your lines are much lighter. It was pure play and I can see incorporating this method of negative painting with layers in my work. I am a little bit on the fence though with these studies. They were such a joy to make yet at the same time they feel a little like a Hallmark formula. That could be because I started super simple and trying this out for the first time.

Project Notes: I used 300lb Fabriano Bright White hot press watercolor paper. The thickness of the paper held up to all the paint layers really well and did not buckle from the water. Watercolors are Winsor Newton and some inexpensive cake watercolors – any brand of watercolors will do! It is important to mix colors and not just use colors straight out of the tube ~ you get a much richer effect that way. There were really small paintings, too, about 5 x 7 inches.

watercolor-layered-forest-foliage-pattern-one
This is the first negative watercolor painting I did. It is so pretty but it has that Hallmark card gleam to it. So I call this one either “Dentist Office Reception Area” or Holiday Inn Lobby, Ames Iowa.” It just looks like something that would be hanging in one of these locations.

Watercolor vs. Gouache

Watercolor vs. Gouache

I have worked with watercolors for decades. It’s my first love next to drawing. Gouache, which is more or less a cousin to watercolors, never piqued my interest until I saw what other artists were doing with it.

2021 is my transitional year. Since I made the bold move to end my tenure as a full-time graphic designer working on projects for clients, I knew I wanted to devote a portion of my studio practice to pure experimentation.

Instead of buying up an expensive gouache set, I settled with an assortment of Artist’s Loft tubes. The first rounds of experimentation left me deflated. Then I started poking around YouTube for a bit of instruction.

Then I started to breathe. I remember the quote from Ira Glass from “This American Life,” who said something to the effect that you are not satisfied with your efforts at first it’s because you have taste. Your taste drives you to keep practicing, and through practice, you will reach the level of your taste.

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.” — Ira Glass

I settled on my experiment. Since I knew watercolor and what it would do when paint hit paper, I would create a comparison painting with gouache. I chose a simple subject, our Christmas Cactus optimistically sprouting pink buds. I would paint the cactus first in watercolor and then in gouache.

At first, I thought I would be bored painting the same subject twice. (I never do that!). It turned out to be a good exercise. For one, I had been doing large-scale detailed drawings for some time and had such a limited color palette it was liberating to get back to a lot of colors.

After those earlier terrible first stabs using gouache, guess what? I like the gouache version of the Christmas Cactus best, enough to use it in a thank you card.

A couple of practical notes: It’s a good idea to paint a swatch set of your colors – no matter what medium you use. You’ll have a visual reference of what a color looks like on paper, which can look different than what the color looks like in the tube. Make a note of whether the paint color is transparent, semi-transparent, or opaque is helpful, too.

watercolor-palette-swatches
My Watercolor Swatches with notes.
gouache-color-palette-swatches
My Gouache Swatches with Notes.

Your results are so much better if you don’t use color straight out of the tube when painting with gouache. Mix your colors and establish a color palette for your painting before you put brush to paper. You’ll be so happy you did.

What to do with the results? Make a greeting card, of course! Hope you enjoy it. What mediums are you experimenting with these days? Jot your questions or comments below. I’d love to hear what you are working on.

See what a lovely card it made!

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