Titling Artwork, Pt. II

Passing Through the Dust, 2009
acrylic, toner, and graphite on panel
10.5" x 10.5"

While I can't speak for any other artist, or for artists in general,* I can share with you my approach to titling artworks. Over the years I've found that my titles can be primarily categorized into two types: the simple explanatory and the obliquely narrative. Today, I will just deal with the first type. . .

1. The Simple Explanatory Title

In many ways, this is the easier of the two types as it requires only a word or two to convey meaning. In essence, this sort of title seems to state what the work seeks to depict: Orchard, Mirror, and Baubles are all titles I've employed before. But with the exception of Orchard, which is actually a drawing of an orchard, the title isn't a strictly literal interpretation of the artwork. Mirror is a drawn self-portrait derived from a photograph I took in the mirror. As such, it serves as a double entendre. Baubles illustrates a strand of globular beads on a necklace. The word 'necklace' would have provided a more literal title, but baubles alludes to something precious, beautiful, and rounded. With English boasting at least half a million words it isn't difficult to conjure up a host of synonyms that might offer a subtler statement than the prosaic declarative word.

Sometimes the simple explanatory title is anything but. There are many drawings I've created where the subject of the work is simply a foil for some sort of emotional or religious resonance. Interlude, which captures the sun setting behind a copse of trees as witnessed through a rain soaked window, doesn't need a title explaining the image, it needs a title explaining a confluence of moments: the fleeting moment of sunset, the wistful moment of staring out the window, the inspired moment of releasing the shutter, etc. The real magic of such a simple title is that it leaves the artwork open to the viewers interpretation while, at the same time, whispering a little something into their subconscious.

I recently finished a small piece called Weep that shows a tree that has been carved into and is oozing sap. If it was hanging on a gallery wall and you asked someone to describe it I doubt you'd get a much more narrative explanation than the one I just provided. But I have a tremendous amount of context that I want to share about that image and the title has to provide part of the means for that communication of context. Admittedly, a title is not going to help the viewer determine that this tree was outside a crypt at the Santa Barbara Mission and that I'd just been contemplating statues of Christ and Mary prior to encountering this desecrated trunk in the mission's garden. But they may understand the idea of violation of the natural world. They may consider how certain attempts for immortality can be destructive and, ultimately, somewhat futile. They may sense suffering, on some level, and the recognition of human suffering is paramount to the mission of the Christian tradition. And this, in turn, creates some small connection between the removed act of considering a drawing on a gallery wall and the spiritual impulse of Christianity.

Ultimately, the simple explanatory title offers the artist a quick way to either explain the image and/or invite the viewer into sharing in a more complex reading of the work. I think that the only one-word-title which fails to do either is the ever popular Untitled.**

Next up, the obliquely narrative title. . .

*Although I did it yesterday— "Most professional artists, when pressed, will state that titling is important."

**And I recognize that this is a contentious statement for any MFA students or philosophy majors, as it could be argued (usually after a few beers) that it is the very fact that it is a non-statement that makes it such a powerful statement. To which I say, "Meh." I see your post-modern drivel and raise you one example of preemptive self-aware retort!


Titling Artwork, Pt. 1

It leaks out., 2009
acrylic, tea, toner, and graphite on panel
12" x 24"
Click on image for larger view.

I imagine there are about as many answers to how you title an artwork as there are artists willing to sound off about it. The process for finding a title is often as personal as the process that shaped the artwork, and there is undoubtedly some correlation between how an artist titles and the intangibles of their creative vision.

Most professional artists, when pressed, will state that titling is important. Those same artists, when pressed further, may be unclear as to why they believe it to be important. At that point some small warning bells might go off about how galleries need to sell artwork to the public. Titles offer an avenue for the layman's entry into the "intangibles" of an artwork, which may explain why there are many creators who are aggressively disinterested in titling, resorting to the trusty Untitled #____ for the duration of their career— they don't want the title to be a Cliff's Notes addendum to their vision. They want the public to work for a connection. They want more than just consumption from the audience.

I'm not going to be so crass as to suggest that titling only serves to sell artwork. Judging by how obtuse some titles for artworks happen to be I also believe that titling offers the artist an opportunity to season their creation with another level of meaning. The title can be a red herring or it can provide contextual support for the image/object depicted (or experienced, as with installation or performance art). The title might also be a process that brings about closure for the artist. It becomes a finalizing statement that releases the artwork from the hand that birthed it and proclaims to the artist, more than anyone else, that their time with this work is done.

* * * * *

More on titling tomorrow. . .

* * * * *

It leaks out. was derived from a tiny little silver gelatin print of a somber field that my wife gave to me for Christmas. While not evident in the drawing above, the source image had quite a bit of underexposed detail in the field that flanked the small stream. When I began to work on it however, three things caught my attention and led me to disregard a great deal of other detail:

1. The rips in the image that occurred during the transfer process were so pronounced that I felt they had to become an integral part of the image.

2. The soft horizon line of bare winter trees and bramble cut an interesting shape against the sky.

3. The stream's appearance out of the center of the field, with no indication that it began elsewhere, had a sinister quality to it. It was like the field was being bled to do away with an infection. And while that may sound terribly melodramatic, it was the impression that took hold of me when I picked up my assorted graphite pencils.


In Progress

My wife joined the Director and I in the studio yesterday to assist with some of the tedium required to make the artwork I make. Lately, my hand has been cramping after I do some of the more repetitive tasks, like rubbing away all of the paper fibers from six square feet of gel medium transfer, for instance. While she slowly worked her way across the image shown above she inquired as to the other works I'd made:

"Where are they?"

"They're wrapped up." I replied.


"If I can't see them then I'll need to continue to work at a breakneck pace."

"How do you figure that?"

"If I can't take stock of what I've done, then I'll feel that I haven't done enough, and I'll continue to work as if I don't have enough work to fill the gallery space."

"But don't you know that you've completed a certain number of pieces? Doesn't that sort of invalidate your plan?"


"Hmmmmm, it sounds like a very Baker sort of thing to do."

And indeed it does. 


Lonely in the Snow

Winter Phoenix, 2009
acrylic, toner, and graphite on cheesecloth wrapped panel
6" x 6"

I didn't grow up with snow. Only in recent years have I had the opportunity to traipse about on mountainsides amidst snow flurries and I find the experience, for lack of a better word, chilling. Something about the silence of the snow enthralls me, but keeps me on edge. I cannot shake the awareness that this simple solidification of water has the power to bury the trees and smooth out cliff faces. 

My voice seems an ineffective tool against so much mass and, as I stand next to 100 foot tall conifers that have seen the first fifteen feet entombed for the season, I'm reminded of just how small a man is in the face of nature's simplest processes. 

* * * * *

I photographed this tree as it fought against the diminishing horizon line outside of Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood. While it may have seemed lonely in the snow, there was something defiant in its shape. Perhaps experience had taught it that winter was transitory, and survival the norm.


Scratching the Sky

Tease and Tremble, 2009
acrylic, toner, leafing, graphite, india ink, and wax on panel
7.5" x 7.5"

I've returned to torrential downpoars and oppressive skies. For the past three days I was at the Oregon coast, which is notorious for foul weather, and nary a drop of precipitation sullied the trip. It just goes to show; in western Oregon, no matter where you are, it's only a matter of time until you get wet, and you can't predict the where or when.

* * * * *

A year ago I stood alone in a large field outside of Grant's Pass. Just out of sight ran the Rogue River, which put a murmur and birdsong in the morning air. I came across a stand of thistles and spent some time watching them waver in the wind. To me, they are a most aesthetic plant, with a linear nature that always cuts a dramatic silhouette against the sky. I never tire of photographing them.

That morning I was feeling a bit pressed for time. Soon I would have to be back at camp and packing up for a day on the river. I shot a few careless images as the clouds gathered overhead. I thought to myself, thistles are how we should card the clouds of the sky, and then I walked away.


The Disappearing Act

Taken at Discovery Park, Seattle, WA - Spring 2009

I have to go away for a few days. While I'm away there are a number of things I could use some help with. Feel free to jump in wherever you can. . .
  • finish applying gesso to panels
  • repair copper leaf on medium sized panel
  • re-leaf two smaller gold panels to cover up bad transfers
  • gold leaf large board for antique gilt frame
  • update my artist statement
  • photograph recent works 
  • vacuum silver leaf bits and paper pulp off studio floor
  • repair drafting table light
  • transfer recent found photos to medium sized panels 
  • build custom frames for paneled work
  • deliver larger paper works to frame shop
  • paint antique frames (and putty where needed)
  • find appropriate image for oval mat
  • storyboard the next movie
  • contact cast about table read
  • generate new web site
My great thanks in advance for all your assistance. When I return I'll treat you to a few new images from around Oregon!


And Now for Movie #2

While I may know nothing about social networking it just so happens that I know some cool people, and because cool people always seem to know about cool things, I have an avenue for social networking through my association with coolness. One such cool person, who also happens to be a young person in her twenties (making her even cooler), has decided to act as Production Assistant on our next movie. Within two hours of our first casting call for said movie Katie, for that is her name, had established a Twitter account for our new film venture. As I'm sure you are burning with curiosity as to how exactly small, no-budget, films are made, you can now follow the tribulations and triumphs at:

And, if all that wasn't enough for you PDX cinephiles, I'm pleased to relate that our previous venture, Fine Arts, now boasts its own IMDB page complete with a preview video. The very cool Director of Fine Arts believes that the video quality of our IMDB page might be linked to its relative popularity so, in other words, a movie that has thousands of interested fans will get a picture perfect streaming video of their preview while those of us with no real fans have to use whatever bandwidth might be left over to stream (or trickle) our little preview. Sounds plausible to me.

So don't wait! Tell three thousand of your closest friends to visit IMDB and watch our utterly silent and mostly still little segment of movie goodness. It will make you cooler than you already are, and allow me to feel more cool too.


And Then My Presence Went Dark

Taken on Bainbridge Island,WA - Spring 2009

My website is gone. I couldn't bring myself to pay Apple for another year of hosting an aesthetically stunted site, yet I currently have nothing to replace it with either. All my attention at the moment is turned toward finishing up work for my exhibitions this summer and starting a second film. There is little chance I will be snuggling up with Dreamweaver anytime soon so, to prevent my complete disappearance from the electronic ether, I'm having my "tidal wave" of home page traffic forwarded to my Flickr account. I hope Flickr is up to the bandwidth requirements!

* * * * *

I've read many articles and books about the professional practices of artists, but none of them come close to offering as much good advice as an instructor I had in college— he said that you should never be spending more time on promotion and business than you were on creating. As soon as you'd violated that percentage you just had a job like anyone else. 

Over the past year I've invested a significant amount of time establishing a "web presence." It has been something of a boon to the five or six friends who would care about what I'm working on or thinking about even if I didn't spill it all out online, because it makes it easier for them to check in. But as for garnering an online community of supporters and compatriots; that demands a commitment of time and energy I simply cannot give. I admire those who can do it, and I wish them the best of luck Tweeting, Tubing, and Facebooking. For me, Flickr will act as a substitute until I can sit down and enjoy the creation of something beautiful for the web. Perhaps after two months of intensive work in the studio I might actually embrace a little time with Adobe as opposed to days of breathing in charcoal dust. Perhaps not. . .


Olafur Arnalds and the Fall

Clinging, Slipping, 2009
acrylic, leafing, toner, graphite, and wax on panel
7.5" x 7.5"

This small work was created while listening to seven sublime tracks* by Olafur Arnalds that are available for free here. Arnalds' "Found Songs" are improbably beautiful for compositions that were put together one-a-day over the course of a week. I cannot imagine what he's capable of producing given a more gracious schedule. 

As I'm never quite sure just how long promotional giveaways are intended to last I would encourage anyone who has a modicum of love for sparsity, simplicity, and the melancholic to download them promptly.

* * * * *

Clinging, Slipping is a cropped variation of a much larger image of a waterfall that I've been working on in the studio. Both the large and small compositions have a ground of silver leaf that produces an elusive sheen beneath the black silhouettes of quivering vegetation and fallen logs. I found the original image in a flea market outside of Bend, Oregon and was immediately taken with the emptiness of the composition— it was so poorly exposed that all of the water in the fall had simply become a mass of white that consumed two-thirds of the composition. While I'm pleased that Clinging, Slipping turned out as well as it did, I'm not yet convinced that I'll be able to wrangle a successful work from the larger image. . . we'll see what a little rubbing alcohol and cold wax will do over the coming weekend.

*Recommended by Colorado artist Nathan Abels, who provides a weekly link on his blog to free music conducive to creative work. 


The Primacy of Proximity

The Whisper, 2009
acrylic, tea, toner, and graphite on cheesecloth wrapped panel
6" x 6"

It really is true, what they say, about reproductions of artwork being unable to capture the presence of the actual work. Regardless of scanner fidelity, Photoshop trickery, and color corrected light sources, there's just no way to trap the subtlety of the marks in this little drawing. Honestly, it only seems successful when viewed from six inches away and the light of a room is allowed to cut under the graphite. I suppose that might actually make it a failure, that it requires someone's physical presence to appreciate it, but isn't that what so much of our visual culture is lacking— the necessity of proximity; of intimacy? 

* * * * *

This grass sweeps across Yaquina Head just north of Newport, Oregon. It was shot just outside the imposing lighthouse that stands there using a modified Holga camera. I've never made a print of the image, the scan for this drawing was derived from a barely passable contact sheet I made years ago.


Fictitious Fog

Pressing Through, 2009
acrylic, leafing, toner, graphite, and pastel on panel
7.25" x 7.25"

My first experiment with using gold leaf* as a base for the transfer process. I was particularly excited by the color shifts in the fog created by the tarnishing of the leafing underneath. Revealing just a touch of the gold lower in the composition heightens the muffled quality of the fog created by the pastel.

*Well, imitation gold leaf. . . I couldn't afford the real stuff, and the cheaper metal tarnishes much faster (a big plus when artificial aging is the objective).


The Weeping Tree

Weep, 2009
acrylic, tea, toner, and pastel on cheesecloth wrapped panel
6" x 6"

Derived from a photograph of an oozing tree outside the crypt at the Santa Barbara Mission. A stigmata title seemed too blatant. . .