My Plans for 2014

In an effort to be accountable to myself, I am sharing what I hope plan to accomplish in the coming year. Comments and suggestions are welcome.

  1. Collective Ink (Feb 15 - March 16, Popcorn Gallery @Glen Echo Park) 
  2. Vale Arts Show (May 2 - 4, Historic Vale Schoolhouse in Oakton)
  3. Have a solo show of watercolors. (Fall? After Vale Arts show in May)
  4. Have a solo show of bird prints. (ASAP after Collective Ink)
  5. Enter at least three national or international shows.

  1. Stick with January "30 in 30 Challenge"
  2. Spend at least two days a week at Crystal City Studio (11:30am - 3:30pm)
  3. Make enough pieces to do Art Cards, Vol. II (52+), if Vol. I looks good.

  1. Get mailing list into ONE file that is label ready.
  2. Add Paypal buttons to ALL website items.
  3. Standardize size of work to fit standard frames. Choose 3 or 4 sizes. Use up all frame inventory that doesn't conform.
  4. Implement an inventory system.

Marketing/Commercial Pursuits
  1. Find at least one out of town gallery to sell my work. (Santa Fe? Florida Panhandle?)
  2. Convert some designs to fabric.
  3. Make some commercial retail products by stealing my own designs.
  4. Complete a painting of The Little White Church and participate in AUMC bazaar.
  5. Complete Destin watercolor and show it to group that asked to see it. Make notecards.
  6. Approach Keever about selling notecards.

  1. Try Yupo.
  2. Try alcohol based inks.
  3. Try fused glass. (January 8th)


My Process for Watercolor Painting

Invariably, when I say I am an artist, I am asked what medium I work in. "Watercolor" often elicits comments of, "Oh, watercolor is hard." I don't find it difficult, so I thought I would share my process:

1. Take an intriguing photo. This one is of the Pope Leighey House in Alexandria, VA. It was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and is an example of Usonian architecture.

2. Convert the photo into a line drawing. "Back in the day" I used to photocopy it over and over lighter and darker until I got the result I wanted. Now, I use Photoshop or Photoshop Elements. Each photo is different, but typically, I adjust the lighting to increase middle contrast, convert to black and white (adjusting each color to my liking), then apply a filter (Find Edges is my favorite).

3. I like to paint on very heavy, very rough watercolor paper that does not have to be stretched. I use a soft lead to measure the border and tape it off with masking tape or painter's tape. Then, I project the image onto the paper. I do not try to acurately render the image, but prefer to draw interesting shapes based on the image.

4. My favorite part! Start painting. I start with a wet brush and wet the whole shape that I want to fill in. Then, I pick up the color with the brush and feed it into the wet shape. I do not use any masking fluids or frisket.

5. As the image becomes more complete, I try to use each color to draw the eye across and around within the painting. Each shape is next to a contrasting color or a white space. If colors next to each other are similar, then I want them to read as one mass.

6. Once I "think" the painting is finished, I remove the tape and view the painting from across the room. Especially if the tape is blue or green, it may look completely different. I often need to add a few more dark areas to strengthen the composition. Done!


January: 30 Paintings in 30 Days

I wrapped up Christmas preparations yesterday morning ("wrapped"....get it?), so I spent some time in the afternoon packaging art note cards and listening to Artists Helping Artists podcasts on Blog Talk Radio. Doing so inspired me in many ways, including joining Leslie Saeta's 30 Paintings in 30 Days Challenge. It is possible that I have lost my mind, but if my friend Patti can do it while taking 18 semester hours, I should be able to do it too!

I've decided to do watercolor paintings most days, but may venture on to alcohol ink paintings too. I will do 4" X 6"paintings on watercolor postcards, but plan to eventually mat them, not mail them. I am excited! Stay tuned!

180 people have signed up so far; join us! Besides motivating you to paint, you will see increased traffic on your blog or website. You will probably also sell a few!


Georges Braque at the Phillip's Collection

It is not optimal to post thoughts on a show that has already closed, but in the case of Georges Braque and the Cubist Still Life, 1928-1945 that is how it worked out. I had to make a really quick zip through the museum before work one day. I would have liked more time to linger.

Georges Braque was a co-founder of the cubist movement with Pablo Picasso, whom he met in 1907. They painted many works side by side from 1911-1914 and these are difficult to distinguish which artist painted them. Braque enlisted in the French Army in 1914 and left to fight in World War I. When he returned in 1917, he resumed painting and developed a more personal style. The exhibit at the Phillip's featured forty-four canvases painted later in his career, many of which were very large (particularly ones painted in the 30's).

I remember studying cubism in college, and was intrigued by the fact that it was entirely "new" and truly the first abstract movement in art. That said, I found the subject matter boring and the colors dark and drab. Part of the reason I wanted to see this exhibit was to challenge this memory and see if it held up to seeing the works in person rather than in a book or on a slide. I found that I truly liked some of Braque's paintings aesthetically. I would love to design my living room around Large Interior with Palette (approximately 56"X 77"). I can see lots of beige/black/white geometric patterns on the furniture and smart black piping. The green of the chair would be a perfect accent color! Obviously, this is merely a whimsical fantasy, but it goes to show that I no longer find cubism "dark or boring."
Two smaller paintings that caught my eye were more about the details in the paintings than the overall effect.  In Still Life with Pink Fish, I liked the abstracted (generic) fish shape and the energy of the patterns on the wallpaper and the yellow fruit bowl. The tablecloth is entirely convincing by the waviness!
Perhaps my favorite painting in the exhibit was The Dessert. I adore the basket holding fruit. It suggests woven rushes, but it is just a wonderful pattern or motif all on its own! He painted many baskets, but this one is the best I've seen.
Braque often used sand and ground rock in his paints. I did not find this intriguing or particularly effective. When I tried to determine why this was the case, all I could come up with was that I've seen this technique used on walls in what I see as an attempt to hide flaws, usually in hole-in-the-wall restaurants and the like.

Braque worked on as many as ten canvases at one time. This is something I would like to try! I will have to get permission to borrow the ones used for classes at my studio one evening and give it a go.

Many of Braque's works were x-rayed by the curators and revealed that he painted over previous compositions, sometimes leaving small portions visible in the final work. Don't many artists do this? I do. I don't think I like the thought of others examining my finished product and revealing what I found unsuccessful and painted over. It feels invasive.

I am so glad I went to this show. I've changed my mind about cubism; there is much to value and enjoy in the works. I'll leave you with a quote by Braque: "A still life is no longer a still life when it is no longer within arm's reach." I am not entirely sure of his meaning, but perhaps he means that he is flattening still life objects and abstracting them to the point that if you were reaching for them, you would not be certain where they exist in space. It brings to mind the optical illusions eye doctors use where they tell you to grab the wings of the fly that appear to stand up off the page on the eye test. What do you think he means? (Comment on the Nancy Murphree Davis Art page on Facebook.)


Kerry James Marshall

The National Gallery East Building has towers. One of these towers houses a show by Kerry James Marshall at present. I was not familiar with this artist, but I'm a very curious person, so of course I had to check it out.

My first impression was visual. His work is large and colorful, which I enjoy. On closer inspection, I realized that the paintings are on canvas, but hung by grommets like a tarp; (you can see this clearly in the third photo). I wonder if this was a choice was supposed give "meaning," was an aesthetic choice (?) or if the artist merely chooses to buy actual tarps to paint upon.....
(Since I had just viewed the Ballet Russes exhibit which featured stage back drops, the similarity was perhaps more striking.)

My favorite piece in the room was "Great America."

It was visually stunning. I love the way Marshall paints his figures. They are black, and I mean BLACK with no shading, but with facial features and body parts in outline. It may sound simplistic, but he gets all of the shape and proportion perfect and it is a powerful effect. The displayed information noted that the waves at the front of the boat are painted in the style of Japanese prints. He has also included some veves; these are symbols of Haitian voodoo, but they are quite whimsical in appearance.

Born in 1955, in Birmingham, Alabama, but raised in a Chicago suburb, Marshall uses his work to document what he feels is the African-American experience. Many of his pieces have water in them, and almost always he has bodies, heads, or skulls in the water referencing the many Africans who died in the passage to America on slave ships. I found this element powerful and it made pause to consider and reflect on the truth of that. Below, are two more works from the exhibit, "Plunge" and "Our Town." Both are full of narrative, but leave some ambiguity for the viewer to discern what is happening, so I will leave that to you.


Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes

Since I was already at the East Building of the National Gallery, I decided to tour the current, much publicized exhibit, Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes, organized by the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. I've seen the images on the Metro buses and had not really thought I would take it in. Obviously, I had not done my homework.

The Russian Ballet was closely tied to artwork of the early 20th century. Diaghilev persuaded amazing artists of the day, including Picasso and Matisse, to design the sets and costumes. I was not previously aware of Leon Bakst, but for me, at least, he was the star of the show. His sketches for costumes were gorgeous, saturated with color. It was interesting to see the actual costume displayed alongside for comparison.

I loved the use of gold on the sketches. It was three-dimensional and gave the drawings a solidity that I don't think would have been implied without that addition. My favorite was "Temple Dancer."

It didn't hurt that one of my favorite artists, Modigliani painted a portrait of Leon Bakst that was also on display. Funnily, until I happened upon it, I had given no thought to what Bakst might look like. Here he is, at least as Modigliani saw him. 

Each of the many rooms of the Ballet Russes exhibit contains a screen with scenes from the ballet playing, featuring the backdrops and costumes displayed in that room.  I barely watched; I was much more entranced with the artwork used to plan the shows. What little I did see, brought to mind a movie about Joan Miro that we watched in college. It was a bit chaotic and loud, but not in a bad way.

Not only were the costume designers amazing artists, but the backdrops and sets were fantastic too. Henri Gervex did some amazing "sketches" of what the stage should look like in different scenes. I'm sure they were considered incomplete  by him, but I loved them. I think this is one of his.....pardon me if it is not, there were quite a few who designed the sets and all were incredible.

In one of the final rooms, I was transfixed by the sketch for the front cloth for "The Firebird" by Natalia GoncharovaI stood for a long time staring at it. When I finally turned away, the ACTUAL front cloth was in front of me. Thirty feet high and probably fifty feet long! (I think I uttered a "Woah.")

You can probably tell that I did not consider my time in the exhibit a waste. I encourage you to see it. Although I was most interested in the art, anyone with an interest in fashion design, theater, or ballet will find things to love and contemplate. I'll end with a quote from Serge Diaghilev, "There is no interest in achieving the possible." It shows.


National Gallery of Art, East Building

Today, I visited the East Building of the NGA. I have been there several times when we last lived in the area, but much of what I saw was new or was seen with new eyes. I will write another post about the Ballet Russes exhibit that you have seen advertised on the sides of buses if you live around here, but this post is going to be about just a few pieces that captured my attention in this home for modern art designed by I.M. Pei.

I visited the gallery today to hear a fellow artist give a tour, but arrived late (long story) and only caught the last Nan Morrison's insights. That's okay; I enjoyed seeing her and hearing about the gestural side of abstract expressionism and its other branch, the Color Field movement. I am familiar with these areas of art, but I always pick up on something new. Today I learned about the Rothko Chapel in Houson, Texas. It has also been a very long time since I thought about the shift of the global art world from Paris to NYC. I enjoy looking at something I've just accepted for a long time with fresh eyes. It brought to mind this magazine cover:

After the tour ended, I continued to explore. I had more questions than answers about most things and took many notes about artists to explore further and pieces that I needed more insight on than just the artist, title and date on the wall. That is what follows...

I spent quite a bit of time looking at Glenn Ligon's piece shown below.
I had no idea the context. The museum has the original artwork on display and the printed copy complete with artist's proof marks. As a printmaker, I looked them over carefully, but was no less confused. Once home on my computer, I discovered that this phrase was a common one from the civil rights era. I found an article by BVA very helpful in explaining the piece. I do think it speaks to all of humanity and exemplifies the need to be heard by all in society.

A piece by Byron Kim also perplexed me. Synecdoche looked "interesting" and I was convinced immediately that there was a concept behind it other than a bunch of painted wooden rectangles.
The placard next to it had a diagram of the squares, each containing a name. No lightbulbs illuminated. I felt a little stupid to learn that each was painted to represent the skin color of the person whose name was in the rectangle. I should have been able to figure that out (or should have rented the audiotour).

I was happy to rediscover Robert Delaunay today, too. I remember his work from school, but had forgotten his name and spent quite a bit of time trying to come up with it a few months back while writing my artist statement a few months ago. I occasionally hear comparisons between our work.
My BAR Tower 2012
His Eiffel Tower 1926
I also enjoyed being reacquainted with Lyonel Feininger;
I've always liked his work. Modigliani and Giacometti always bring me joy as well.

Get over there and see everything. The East Building is scheduled to be closed for renovation beginning in January 2014. Time is of the essence. Besides, how can you resist the sparkly and bouncy moving walkway that takes you under the road between the East and West Buildings? They had better be keeping that!


Days Like These

I had a phone call last week about a monoprint that sold a few weeks prior (shown above). I told the caller that I still have the printing plate and can try to closely replicate it.

Yesterday morning, I found the plate (and a few others that I had not seen in a while). After coffee with a friend, I left the house. About a mile down the road I realized that I left the house without the print that I was using to reference the colors she said were "too dark" in another version of the artwork, but decided not to go back for it. Then, I noticed that I had only 50 miles left on my tank of gas. The studio is only 11 miles away, but I knew that I would be returning in 5 o'clock traffic, so I detoured over to the cheapest gas station in our area and filled up. After that, I decided that I should just drive the extra 1 1/2 miles back to the house and get the print for reference.

Thirty minutes later, I'm at the studio. I take my stuff upstairs. It is busy. People politely make a place for me to work. I get out the paper and put it in to soak. I take out my inks and prepare them for the "a la poupee" process used to make this print. I look for the plate. It isn't in the stack. I go to my car. It is not there. Argh!!!

I take out the arrow prints and get to work on those. I had fun. I like the results and will post them soon.

I will go back today and print "Faces on Parade." (I already put the plate in the car.)


A Good Narrative

This past weekend, I participated in an artshow. On Sunday, just after I arrived, a couple came in. I could tell that the wife was interested in one of my framed collage pieces. It was hanging way up high. It was difficult to see any detail. After they moved along to another part of the show, I took it down and moved it to better spot. A few minutes later, the couple was standing across the room, again viewing the piece from far away. I went up to speak to them.

The wife was a retired English teacher and she asked me what the piece was "about."

I replied, "Well....do you remember last year when the moon was really close to the earth and they called it the Mega Moon? This piece is meant to capture the feeling I had taking pictures that night."  
The husband said, "So, it's more about the moon than the bird?" 
I said, "Well, my collage pieces are more about composition and juxtaposition than an underlying story, per se." 
Then the wife said, "From this distance, I see a white path, but it is blocked with that obstacle. I think it would be a great conversation starter to see what different people see when they look at it." 
I said, "I have never viewed it from this distance; it does read completely differently." 
The husband said, "Now, she is finding meanings in it that you didn't even intend."

(I don't think anything is wrong with that. I think it happens in art, literature and music all the time. In fact, I enjoy having a chuckle when people see really "deep" symbolism where the creator likely didn't intend to convey it.)

I don't think either of them liked my answers. The husband didn't even care for the piece visually, but the wife prevailed and they purchased it.

Do you remember the writing prompts in late elementary when you would draw a card from a box and write a story from one of the choices provided there? I felt like that is what they wanted from me and I could have done it....but, I'm not really one of "those" artists. I like to explore subjects that mean something to me, play with techniques and color. I try to make my art compositional sound and to draw the eye around the piece in an interesting way. I wonder if two years of classroom critique in college where I had to verbalize the meaning of every piece of art has made me unwilling to really explore what each piece means to me or if after the fact I should contemplate writing out a narrative of some sort to display with the piece. I think in the absence of getting to meet the artist, the more information they can get about a work of art, the better.

I do not post comments on the blog, but feel free to comment on this post on my Facebook page Nancy Murphree Davis Art.)


Artist Statement

Galleries ask for these things. They are really hard to write. Unlike a resume, where you show yourself in the best possible light based on accomplishments and facts, the Artist Statement is supposed to reveal something about the artist or the artist's work. So far, my work doesn't have an underlying political message; it doesn't seek to challenge beliefs. I paint what interests me and hope that my "take" on them will be appealing to others. Most artist statements use big and important words. They are often in "artist speak." I found this and gave it a try. It cracked me up. Even if you are NOT an artist, fill in the blanks and check some boxes and read what it gives you!

Update: 8/27/15 I've moved to a whole different state (FL) and will soon be rewriting my artist statement. I found an article with examples of some good ones, so I thought that I would link to it on this post for inspiration, both for myself and readers.


What's Hard About Art?

I love to make art. Here are the steps that I go through to make a watercolor.

1.) With my camera, I take a photo that I like (both in subject matter and composition). (Occasionally, I will be given a photo. I have also emailed people online to ask if I can do a painting of a photo of theirs that I like; I can't say that anyone has written me back, though. Oh, well. I have plenty to paint as it is.)

2.) Use Photoshop to enhance the aspects of the photo that I like best and convert it into a black and white line drawing using filters. Print fairly small on printer paper.

3.) Draw the boundaries of intended painting onto very rough, very heavy watercolor paper or sometimes onto a watercolor block. Tape around the boundary with painter's tape or masking tape.

4.) Set up my enlarger and trace what I can see of the drawing using a soft pencil. Occasionally, I "embellish" as I go if I think it is needed.

5.) Get out my kneaded eraser and remove all but the faintest of the pencil lines that I just drew. (I know...I could use a lighter pencil, but then the lead would be harder and would "dent" or scratch the paper. I have issues.)

6.) Paint. Let dry.

7.) Remove tape. Erase boundary lines.

8.) Title the artwork and sign.

9.) Frame or shrink-wrap artwork

10.) Put a price on the artwork

Which step do you think is the hardest? It would have to be either 8. or 10.

Because I paint primarily from photos that I took, I know where they were taken. I could name them after the place, and sometimes I do that, but I wonder if that ties them so much to that one place that someone who might like the painting, but have no emotional or sentimental tie to the place decided not to buy it. Sometimes, I name a piece of artwork after a mood it conveys. I am especially fond of phrases (ex. - Rainy Morn, Toward Georgetown). It sometimes takes days to decide what to call a piece. I supposed that I could stop putting the title on the piece itself (on the actual paper), but that seems a cop out. I like for them to have names.

As far as pricing, that is hard too. I wish I could keep all of my paintings, but that is sort of like trying to eat all of the zucchini or tomatoes from your garden by yourself. At some point, something has to go. I take into consideration, the amount of time spent on a piece and its size and then I price them at the point where if someone loves them enough to buy them, I am willing to let them go. It is a tremendous feeling to sell artwork! I hope all who have bought mine enjoy it daily.


Flocculation, Granulation and Oozies

A few days ago, I went by my favorite frame supply store to pick up some acid-free foam core for matting artwork. I had several paintings on full size watercolor sheets to shrink-wrap and could not remember what the dimensions were, so I used my phone to Google it. I ended up on the Wikipedia page about watercolor painting. Granted, the last instruction I received in watercolor was from Mrs. Markle in 1990 or so, but I learned several things.....

I found out that techniques that I incorporate have names! One of my favorite colors to use is cerulean blue because of the "granulation." This is where you can see the pigment particles. I also learned that the effects of ultramarines is called "flocculation."

The capillary action of watercolor when I paint "wet in wet" is the reason that I love it. I never tire of watching the paint move into wet areas and "bloom" (also called backruns, blossoms or oozies); I enjoy adding additional water or wicking paint off the paper back into the brush to manipulate where the color goes. It was fun learning some new terms for what I've been doing for years!

Oh, and a standard full sheet is 22"X 30".


2013: Let'er Rip!

I'm dedicating this post to my favorite podcaster, Lian Dolan. Lian declared 2010 her year to Let'er Rip. Although I enjoyed following her adventures that year "putting herself out there," I wasn't at a mental or geographical place to do that then. NOW I AM!

After spending 2005-2008 doing mostly printmaking, in the years since, I have gotten back into painting. This began due to the lack of having an etching press. Now, I have fallen back in love with watercolor. I also want to do some large acrylic pieces and learn to oil paint. This led me to the conclusion that I really need to find studio space in which I can paint and leave half finished projects at the ready. (The LAC is one big shared studio space, not individual artist studios.) I'm maintaining my membership at the Lee Arts Center to do printmaking, though.

I have art friends around the area in several studios. I inquired as to openings. Several require artists to reside in the county where they are located (not my county). Several friends told me to come see an available space at Stifel & Capra in downtown Falls Church. At first, I was put off by the small size of the space. Ideally, I was looking for room for a large desk, multiple easels, a flat file, canvas storage, etc. S & C is a gallery space and vintage shop that also rents out space to artists. Eventually, I came around. I decided that potential customers in and out of the business all day made the space worth trying. So far, I've enjoyed working, meeting art enthusiasts and conversing with other artists. It is a joy to go there to paint. Now, I just need to make the space financially viable.

In the Let'er Rip vein, I'm making the most of my Nancy Murphree Davis Art Facebook Page, I've set up a Twitter account @nmd_art (which I have to learn to use effectively) and had an interview with Examiner.com! I also made it into my third Art League Gallery show, which means I can show work in the "bin gallery" fulltime beginning this summer!

The painting accepted into the show was titled "Pope Leighey House,"painted from a photo of the Frank Lloyd Wright Usonion house that is in Alexandria, VA.

New Studio Space in Falls Church

If you are looking for me or my art, you should come by Stifel & Capra and visit the Little City Studios on the second floor.

This is my cute little alcove.

I even have a view of Broad Street out my window!

Second Half of Two Thousand Twelve

As I mentioned in a previous post, we moved back to the Northern Virginia/DC Metro Area in July. As soon as the moving trucks left the driveway, I jumped back into the art world. The first thing I did was to start entering the juried shows at the Art League Gallery in Alexandria, VA. Happily, the two works pictured in previous posts, "On Denby Avenue" and "Point Sur Light Station" were selected for exhibition in September and October respectively. Second, I attended a meeting of the Arlington Artists Alliance. It was great to touch base with friends that I had not seen in several years and I hope that I can participate as a member soon.

My third step was to put in an application to return to the printmaking studio at the Lee Arts Center in Arlington, VA. It was accepted and I moved my plates, papers and assorted materials back into their old home. I have done a couple of monotypes and mixed media pieces, but most comprise elements from several years ago or such. Hopefully, I will have some to post soon.

After spending 2005-2008 doing mostly printmaking, I have gotten back into painting in the years since. This began due to the lack of having an etching press. Now, I have fallen back in love with watercolor. This led me to the conclusion that I really need to find studio space in which I can paint and leave half finished projects at the ready. (The LAC is one big shared studio space, not individual artist studios.)

I have art friends around the area in several studios. I inquired as to openings. Several require artists to reside in the county where they are located and I live further out. Others told me to come see an available space at Stifel & Capra in downtown Falls Church. At first, I was put off by the small size of the space. Ideally, I was looking for room for a large desk, multiple easels, a flat file, canvas storage, etc. S & C is a gallery space and vintage shop that also rents out space to artists. Eventually, I came around. I decided that potential customers in and out of the business all day made the space worth trying. See more in future posts!