Talking Heads: Well, how did I get here?

What It Takes 36"x48"

What It Takes 36"x48"

    Here I am painting portraits. How did I get here? This is not my art…. or is it? That song is about the passage of time and how it just zips by sometimes, and then we stop and ask ourselves; how did this all happen, and is this really me? When I look around my studio lately, that’s what I am asking myself. I wasn’t always aware that I was making so many decisions until I look at how much has changed within my work over this last year. In hind-sight I understand so much about each decision I was making and how those choices developed the artwork I am creating today.
    My paintings have evolved over a span of time and not overnight and not with a single decision to do so. I did not wake up one day and choose to embark on something new. In fact, I have been pushing portraits to the back of my head for years. On some level I have been selfishly preserving portrait painting…because I love painting and drawing heads and faces, and I believe I was afraid of what would become of that joy if I approached it in business. With that said, maybe you could say this year’s Closer series has been my way of dipping my toe in to test the water, but even still, not intentionally was I entering the portrait game.

   It started with an impulsive urge to render the human head….and so I followed it aimlessly. 'Act now and think later’ is my rather laid back approach to art anyway and so this was no different. And then, painting my own children was an easy decision and one I gave almost no thought at all. I just grabbed an oil stick one day and started drawing. My mind had begun to picture a loose, underdeveloped drawing in a further developed painting. The crossed face that serves as a grid for artists to proportionally place facial features was a key element, but rather than layering on the actual facial features, I allowed the cross to represent the face. This was a technique I have used before in figure drawing, but applying it to a large scale oil painting was new and experimental for me.
    So I waded into the water. I was ankle deep and still cushioned by the abstract, vague and loose depiction which to my surprise resulted in a very recognizable so called “portrait” of Lelia and Sonny. This was a comfortable place for me to take on portraits. I was confident that I wasn’t losing my recognizable painting style. The portraits remained undefined enough to render my usual markings and allowed my color palette to carry over from my non-objective abstracts.  It was a completely organic and unforced transition….the only thing I changed was the subject matter. But, I was still interested in digging deeper, and that meant finding a place for features and figuring out the challenge of how to incorporate the realism without losing myself. How can I apply facial features and remain loosely abstract and “me”?
    I have the most innate love for painting and drawing certain things and the head/shoulders is one of them. I’ll try to explain it, but there is something mysterious and intriguing about certain features, and all I want to do is recreate them with my own hands. This is about to sound strange….I’ll have to agree, but maybe it will help you to embrace something seemingly weird. You never know what great things are hiding under fear. This list describes some of the inexplicable things that I love about working with the head, shoulders and face.
-The shape of the head/skull. I love the feeling of holding an infant’s heavy head in my hand and noticing the boney curves of the skull.
-The hairline. I love cowlicks and hair parts… I love hair cuts and styles. In the simplest form these take on geometric shapes.
-Cheek bones and the apples of the cheeks. It’s like the back to basics of painting the tones and hues of the round ball in Painting 101.
-The angles and lines in the collar bone and shoulders. These linear and angular bones give me control of the composition of the painting. Like arrows pointing you where to look.
-Gentle curves like the upper line of the upper lip and the crease in the eyelid. I also love to define the white of the eye around the iris rather than vice versa. It’s like a tiny version of the way I wrap the whole subject in a white painted background.
    The decision to follow these fascinations felt uncomfortable at first. I quickly dismissed that reservation and chose to trust my heart and follow this white rabbit of an idea. Once I sat back to reflect on this unfamiliar work I began to understand my need to get this stuff on paper. Throughout my writing, I have continually referred to my hand and heart working together. In the beginning I don’t try to understand why I want to paint what I paint, I just do it and seek out the reason later. I can give credit to my mind for making certain preliminary and necessary decisions, but the creative work is done when I let go of the analysis and fear in my head. The resulting painting tells me more about myself than I was aware of, and in this case, these bowed heads were talking to me.
    There is intimacy in the zoomed-in perspective of the paintings in my Closer series. The abstracted turned down heads speak about an inner sense of discretion and self-awareness. The multiple head abstract paintings are a nod to relationships and the various ways we find connections with others. It only takes one common thread to create a bond. Whether it’s sisters, friends, a mother and daughter, a husband and wife, the abstract portraits are less about the physical traits of the subject and more about unspoken feelings and connections and the heartfelt emotions we relate upon. While the abstract feature-less paintings represent intimate characteristics and feelings, the portraits containing facial features bring attention to what’s less discreet but maybe overlooked.
    I have faith in knowing my purpose as an artist is to bring light to the magnificent things God has created in us and for us. Although so much of my work is abstract, I paint from the most honest and heartfelt emotions and observations, and later, I write about them giving total abstraction intention and purpose. In this same way, I am unapologetically intrigued by these human features and the sentiment behind them, and as long as my heart is leading me there, I’m going to follow it. My head wanted to talk me out of chasing down an uncertain direction, but I am mesmerized by the mystery of what my heart wants to show me.
There is an answer to ‘How did I get here?’. This is my art…. and it is not as far off as it seemed. All my work has been created from the same love of looking carefully at color, line, shape, value, texture, as well as, emotion. Artists are the most observant people, and that’s what’s compelling us to create. I notice the form and volume in cheek bones, and a swift line in the hair, and the unique way facial features are arranged, but I am also captivated  by traits behind those visible characteristics. Many artists have painted a beautiful heads, but I am discovering ways to paint what's in the heart.

 

Questions and Answers

While we are scrambling through some years constantly asking questions, there are other years that find answers, and many times the answers were there all along. It really depends on how clearly you can see your picture and how willing you are to make edits.

I frequently write about how my paintings go through rattling challenges right along side of me. A while back I became exhausted and bored with my painting method. Over the past two years, I searched for a painting process that was truly enjoyable. I spent a lot of time more dedicated to the process than the result, experimenting with a range of techniques, tools, materials and surfaces. It was a long period of questions, wondering what else may be up my paint covered sleeve.

I recognize that I am moving away from a question year and beginning a year that answers. I have seen my work change within the process. I can look back and see when I began to abandon a technique that had been working for me. I veered off wanting to know if I could paint without it…daring myself to be vulnerable and paint something I had never been bold enough to call a finished painting. What I left behind was the heavy impasto application I used for so long. That had been the ‘final touch’ that made my paintings complete. I got tired of it and felt like it was even a crutch. I spent two years ignoring my palette knife, and it ended up being the tool that brought my paintings into a new light. It was always there, sitting on my palette while I did back flips trying to avoid it. (some people call that stubborn. smirk)

A question year is spent disassembling, scattering and rearranging the pieces into a confusing picture. When the picture looks blurry, the obvious has a way of blending in. An answer year is when we gather the useful pieces, reassembling them into a new picture. The new picture is clear and focused. It's more dynamic and layered with substance, and the truth becomes obvious again. Every answer year gives our picture more and more strength thanks to the uprooting questions we asked ourselves.

In life, there are years that ask and years that answer, but nothing changes unless you hear the question and decide to react.

Where I've Been 48x36

Where I've Been 48x36

What I Know I 48x48

What I Know I 48x48

Vital Signs (Reworked)48x48

Vital Signs (Reworked)48x48

I felt it coming

I have known that deep in my heart, being a mother and creating art were becoming innately intertwined, but God had a very intentional way of teaching me about the relationship that was building between my two biggest passions. Getting older has taught me that there is so much this life has to offer, but it starts with knowing the truth about who you are.

My daughter has been sick for 6 weeks with 11 of those days spent in the hospital. It began with salmonella (from who knows what), and in the beginning, it was a very mild case. After the first week she seemed recovered, but 3 days later she began complaining about her elbow hurting and then spiked a fever. She was in so much pain and refused to use her right arm. That's when my heart started pounding. It wasn't for another two weeks when we found out that the salmonella bacteria invaded her bloodstream, settled into her elbow and eventually became osteomyelitis (a bone infection) with a septic elbow. I can't imagine how bad she felt all over for that whole period of time. I knew throughout this slow developing infection that something was very wrong, and I was fearful of the very thing that it became, but neither the joint aspiration or repeated blood work indicated any infection. So once it finally became clear that there actually was infection, it was bad, and she was admitted to the hospital. She began IV antibiotics immediately and had two separate surgeries to clean the infected elbow.

A couple posts back, I wrote about having the sense I was approaching something pivotal with my art. Now, here I am reflecting from the other side of an experience that has left me surprisingly revitalized, artistically speaking. To make a relative comparison, I've located my artistic pulse that I've been searching for. I knew I was close and how it would make me feel, but I just couldn't put my finger on it. The work I am creating now is engaging in a way that makes me want to create more and more. The newest paintings in my studio are climbing the walls! This is fun ...like really fun. So, why is painting just now so satisfying?

If you've ever read this blog, you can tell I am a thinker, an analyzer.  Most decisions are made with deep consideration. Even when it's unrelated to art, I will explore every perspective and possibility (sometimes confusing the hell out of myself). Mainly, I think like this because I want to understand who I am and what I do and why I do it. I am not one to wing it and hope for the best. My over-analytical mind is part of what led us to discover Lelia's infection before it got terribly worse (I can't even think about it....inhale...exhale). After this experience with our daughter, I can now grasp something enlightening.

I have two strong needs; to be the best mother I can be for my children and give all I have to becoming the artist I know I have the potential to be. I have dedication to both, and that is overwhelming and conflicting at times. I admit that I get caught in between and feel like I am suppose to be good at one or the other. It is without question that I will be with my children when they need me. Not just for the ability to drop everything and spend 10 nights* in the hospital, but I want to be the one who picks them up from school and puts them to bed at night. I also want to be professionally significant and successful and give opportunities to my family.

Here is what God has revealed to me through our experience; not only did He give me those two strong desires, but He equipped me with the ability to fulfill them both. He never intended for me to choose where to place my best self. And so, after not painting or even considering painting for this many weeks, He allows me to pick up my brush with more vitality than ever. I have been given a gift which makes my days feel well-rounded and complete. Being their mother has taught me how to create paintings with my heart, and that gives me a true sense of satisfaction.  What I have come to understand is that my love of motherhood and art are so intertwined in my foundation that one simply enhances the other. With relief and gratitude, I realize that it is not necessary to decide where my focus belongs because these loves of mine work together and coexist beautifully and always will.

 

 

Also, Lelia is doing great! She has been put on oral antibiotics for another two weeks and has joyfully gone back to school this week! ...meanwhile, Sonny panics when "yah-yah" leaves for school and grins ear to ear when we pick her up!  (insert heart emoji here)

*My mother and mother-in-law deserve recognition in this post. They each spent an invaluable amount of time and effort to make this time as smooth as possible for us all. They each spent a night with Lelia while I went home to be with Robert and Sonny, take a shower and attempt some sleep. Love and thanks x100, Babs and Bet! (Another heart emoji goes here)

Lelia (leel-yah) and Sonny

Lelia (leel-yah) and Sonny

Essentially 72"x44"

Essentially 72"x44"

Minutes

"When I paint from the heart, nearly everything works; if from the head almost nothing." -Marc Chagall

We go through the motions everyday moving between moments in time. This series of paintings, Minutes, emphasizes the weight in each minute. The lines and shapes in these paintings form a pod or capsule around portions that are particularly interesting to me. The clean lines and glossy, crisp white paint contrast powerful color to create an intensity that, for me, represent decisiveness. There is no uncertainty about where this line begins and ends.

The minimalism of these paintings is taken from a need to be more clear and intentional. Without unnecessary distractions, we are focused on the significance of only a few areas. The importance of concentrating on what really matters is heightened, and anything that doesn't bring focus or contribute to that area is whited out. Color is used meticulously, and with the knowledge that the fewer times each color is represented, the more powerful that color appears.

It is easy to find ourselves spending too many minutes on things that do not deserve our limited time and energy. It is natural to want to please and impress other people, but it is so liberating to decide not to. How can it be so easy to forget to do what makes us happy? What I am asking myself is; what do I want to put in these precious minutes?... and what needs to go?

 

Time Capsule A 30x22 on paper

Time Capsule A 30x22 on paper

Here We Are B 24x24

Here We Are B 24x24

High Hopes

My 2016 series, High Hopes, is a collection of paintings created out of a state of optimism. When you get the feeling that you are in the midst of a before and after episode, the future feels bright. Not that I have psychic abilities... I somehow do feel like I am in the threshold about to embark on a new journey. It may be that I am finally working in a much bigger, more professional studio or that I can see my children growing into these small people full of character. Isn't it great to know you can make anything out of your life you want to? It makes me feel content to think about being on the brink of tomorrow. 

Lingering 40x40

Lingering 40x40

Grow and Fulfill

Fulfill 48x48

Fulfill 48x48

Grow 48x48

Grow 48x48

I remain in a constant desire to continue searching. I find myself looking for other possibilities, opportunities and more options. Without change, artists would sink into a hole of boredom. I know that I am someone who is continually striving for something else, and not always something better, more like an alternative. Slowing down to absorb and appreciate where I am is something I have to remind myself to do. But, my paintings always allow me to push into the next realm. I am allowed to revisit my artist self from last year if I get too far from home with my artistic trials. It is easy to get carried away....;)

GROW, any way you can, in order to FULFILL your heart.

 

 

Less selective, more acceptive

Heart Race 48x48
I am painting with more energy and enthusiasm than ever. My paintings continue to translate the hustle of my life with two children and a job that stays on my mind (and to-do list). I am finishing my paintings at a stage in which I was once still short of complete. You will see more of the raw, vulnerability and fluidity of the brush strokes left exposed. I came to a point where I felt like I was cleaning up after myself too much and selling my art short of the painterly quality that I was wanting to evoke. It is a leap and one that I am taking with confidence knowing I can always go back. If I don't push myself to do something new, I won't know what I have yet to explore. I might be missing something...

My biggest fear? Regret. The paranoia of one day saying: "I had a chance, but it's too late, and I lost it." All of my life's worries come back to fear of missing my opportunity, especially with my art.

Here is my new hashtag to go with some of the paintings I post:  #liveloosely
If you see it and wonder "what in the world?";

#liveloosely will be with the paintings that are pushing me to think, grow, overcome, learn, move on, adapt, improvise.... anything but settle with what is easy and comfortable. Because I have learned that taking a chance is more fulfilling than not. And, not being adaptive and loose is denying myself the experience of what could have been.


Marching 36x36

Proof 48x48

Pulse A 24x18

Pulse B 24x18

Vital Signs 48x48

Whole Hearted 48x48

Heart Beat 48x36

Instincts and Actions, a new series

Adding another child to my family has been quite a hiccup, but I have learned to work with the changes. Like usual, this struggle has had an influence on my conceptual approach. I have been building a new series of paintings, Instincts and Actions, chock-full of large scale abstracts loaded with layers of energetic brushstrokes, textures and carefully revealed areas of clear, powerful color.

Certainty 48x48 (Anne Irwin Fine Art)
 Instincts and Actions
Life and paint will do what it does, and we have to either go with it or against it. Forcing something to be what it is not requires a lot of energy and frustration and the outcome is never authentic. By allowing my paint to run and drip, smear and mud, I can let paint be paint, and use those natural characteristics to my advantage. Same with my family life; I cannot expect my highly energetic three year old and six month old to do exactly what I need them to so that my life can flow like I would design it to. We have adapted to a new life and routine with children. Once I understood how to loosen up and take each day as it was dealt, I became a much happier mama, wife and artist. I find the time to paint, lately at the crack of dawn, well before anyone is up and let myself be their mother later in the day without the guilt and unfinished work looming over me.
Lose control. Embrace imperfections. Live in the moment. Time is fleeting and nothing is permanent. I am adapting to the situation rather than trying to change the circumstance. Go with your instincts, and take action. Just find a way, and make it happen.


Head Above Water 48x48 (Lyons Share Gallery)

Initiative 48x36 (Anne Irwin Fine Art)

Set in Motion A 60x36 (Blue Print Store)
Set in Motion B 60x36 (Blue Print Store)









 As I continue to build on my recent series, The Big Picture, I am continuing to look at the concept from different angles. Throughout these paintings, I have been using new techniques involving oil sticks which incorporate my love for the gestural line. As I developed these paintings, I used those lines and the consequential shapes to layer over previously laid areas of the painting. I am pushing this over-lapping method even further which is giving me a new challenge for aesthetic's sake, and allowed me to reflect more on the comparisons to our lives. As we age and gather layers of experience, our character continually builds and becomes more dynamic and distinguished with each encounter and challenge, as does the painting.
Gatherer 48x48

Make Way 48x36

Mounding 48x48









Cumulate 48x48











Make a Beautiful Mess

As I was working on these two paintings, I began thinking about the way so many circumstances require us to make a big mess before something beautiful happens. I work on a painting in one direction for a while, and as soon as I get to where I was going with it, I realize it's missing dimension. At that point, sometimes against my own will, I develop almost a whole new painting on top.

That practice is something we do throughout our lives. I do it when it's time to organize a messy closet by creating a chaotic disaster so it can be put back together the right way. (My studio is the only place I can handle said unorganized messes.)

But, a more significant comparison is to the events in our lives. Without our will, sometimes things get shaken up for us. That in-between moment is scary and unfamiliar, and you are suddenly a victim in a messy spot. At that ugly point, it becomes clear what was withholding us all along and so we add, change and eliminate parts in order to pull back together again.... with more substance and strength than before.

In my paintings, that built-up second layer allows me to unearth areas to show parts of the previous painting. The layers and experiences give the final result dimension and visual strength.

Disarranged 60x48




Shake-Up 60x48

NEW SERIES! "The Big Picture"




It's a new year and I decided I was ready to explore new concepts with my paintings. The shock of being a first time parent is no longer my biggest influence. I guess I got the hang of it, after all! (not...)

I am really excited about my new series of paintings. I feel like I will be able to work long and hard with these concepts. I am always pushing myself and my work to grow and change. Taking a good hard look at what is on my heart and my mind helps me to make work that is genuine. I like to be able to explain what I am painting. The majority of the population is naive to abstract painting. I will always have an answer to that (annoying) question....
 "So what is it, anyway?" 
 And I'll say: "Oh, I'm glad you asked....but you will wish you hadn't!"  :)


Here are the first of many paintings from "The Big Picture" and my artist's statement for this series.


Unfolding A 48x48
Unfolding B 48x48
The Big Picture A 48x48
The Big Picture B 48x48
Comprehending 48x48
Grand Scheme A 48x48
Grand Scheme B 48x48
Inclusive A 40x40
Inclusive B 40x40
By and Large 48x48

Unabridged 30x24 on paper

The Big Picture, artist's statement 

   I have taught myself to view each life event as an essential chapter that leads to the next. The paintings in “The Big Picture” series illustrate the highs and lows in the story of life.  Hardships are inevitable, and the stress of an ordinary day can make it hard to remain enthusiastic. However, if we examine our past, it is easy to see that the grim moments make the greatest joys seem brighter. It even seems that we could not fully experience one without the other.
    In this series, I want to achieve a finished painting that does not look perfected or overworked. Instead, I want the painting to seem raw. There are areas that expose the process and stages that the painting has gone through. Various shapes, textures and colors are carefully layered and selectively washed or wiped away. The uncovered gestural lines provoke visual energy and vivacity. I am recognizing ways to paint with less apprehension, while honesty and confidence remain important objectives for creating fresh, distinctive work.
    When looking at a painting that represents a lifetime, there are occasional areas of dark tones, neutral colors in passive spaces, and pleasing hues in areas that draw the eye.  The result displays how the dark, dull and vibrant moments will collaborate to create a big picture worth admiring.




Reworks

I love a good make over project so I do it to my paintings all the time. Here are some examples. Sometimes they are older paintings that I want to update, and some are paintings that I feel were stopped short of becoming what they were capable of. 
*starred paintings are still available

Mist- before
*Mist* -after

Core of Motion I - before

Core of Motion I - after
Core of Motion II- before


*Core of Motion II*- after


::Published in ARTisSpectrum Magazine::

I am excited to share with you this issue of a New York based art magazine called ARTisSpectrum which features my work on several pages! Click here to view a copy of the issue.
Shown in this image are two paintings I exhibited at Agora Gallery in NY last year. They are hanging in this lovely New York apartment. Thank you to the Races for your thoughtful comments. I am thrilled you are enjoying your paintings!



There I am, on the back cover, up there in the corner in yellow.

SHOP

www.sarahotts.com now with online shopping!! #sarahottspaintings #hadleybiniondesigns
Hadley has been working her magic on my website for the last few weeks. We have been working hard to make my paintings more accessible to you! Now, when you are looking for a painting for your home, you don't have to go on a wild goose hunt. Just go to www.sarahotts.com and click on SHOP to see all available paintings. You can view and purchase what I have available in the studio. The shop will also show you what each of my galleries have in stock. You will contact the gallery to make a purchase.