Color notes: Boulder Barrel Project

One of the things I go for in my work is a sense of ease.  I want it to look like it breathed itself into being which, counterintuitively, takes a degree of planning to pull off consistently.  While every project is different, planning for me can include thumbnail sketches, doing materials tests, color tests and cutting/collage exercises to help work out ideas about composition.


Here are some of my color notes for the Boulder Barrel Project.  I chose Mars yellow, transparent red iron oxide, titanium white and green gold for this project after spending time looking at neighborhood architecture and landscaping in Boulder, Colorado where my barrel will most likely end up sited.  Accent colors are still up for grabs and could include raw umber, teal and magenta. I’m using Golden acrylics, a mix of heavy body, fluid and high flow paint.


Still on the fence about raw umber.  But the Mars yellow, transparent red iron oxide, titanium white and green gold, all special favorites, are keepers, for sure.


While teal is a natural complement to terra cotta, I’ve decided not to use it for this project because the combo reads too tritely Southwest to me.


Contemplating magenta.  Do I like what it adds to the palette?  Or, all of a sudden, are we looking at too many colors here?


Ooh, I like the deepening that happens when transparent red iron oxide mixes with magenta. So I will keep magenta on board as a mixing color.

Why you make art?

Have you thought lately about why you make art?  What you’re in it for?  Here’s another quote I like a lot from Olivia Laing’s book, The Lonely City.


People make things – make art or things that are akin to art – as a way of expressing their need to for contact, or their fear of it; people make objects as a way of coming to terms with shame, with grief. People make objects to strip themselves down, to survey their scars, and people make objects to resist oppression, to create a space in which they can move freely . . .


She goes on to explain that while art doesn’t have to be reparative, just like it doesn’t have to be beautiful, it very often is.  I like the quote because it’s gritty.  There’s an urgency to it that in-it-for-the-long-haul artists can lose touch with.


It’s Done When It’s Good

“It’s not good when it’s done, it’s done when it’s good,” said Tool guitarist, Adam Jones, in this interview with Rolling Stone last November.   Tool hasn’t put out a new album since 2006.


As someone months into a new project I thought would be be done by now, but that just isn’t yet, I can relate. Perfectionism?  Maybe.  But I prefer to think of it as meaningful restraint.  Jones and Tool are under a lot of pressure from fans to produce their next work.  But I’m glad they’re holding back.  Because by waiting until the work meets their standards they’re saying that their art matters.

A new song from Tool?

Drawing to Think (Tapestry Recap for Visual Artists)

Here are a few tidbits from Tapestry, a conference for people engaged in data storytelling/the art of making data comprehensible by presenting it in ways people can relate to. Participants at this year’s event, which took place at the historic and creepy, but lovely Stanley (The Shining) Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, were a mix of data people, designers, journalists and academics. I went because science communication has popped up as a theme in One Mans’ Land (working title), a documentary I am making.  To my delight, most of the presentations had a strong, visual focus.


“Doodler and designer,” Catherine Madden talking about her favorite drawing app, Paper, at Tapestry, Estes Park, Colorado, March 2016

Drawing to Think

Two presenters, designer Catherine Madden and comics author/artist Nick Sousanis, put drawing at the center of their presentations.  Both raised drawing up as way to deepen your understanding of an idea, organize complex thoughts, and open yourself to new connections. The type of drawing they both demonstrated is more sketchy and imaginative than the life drawing you may remember from your art education.  As someone who’s already using a sketchy flavor of mind-mappy writing to organize big projects, I’m excited to see what can change by inviting more images onto the page.


When to Get Feedback?

Here’s another juicy advice-nugget from designer Catherine Madden.  When seeking feedback, get it early in the process before you’ve added details to your work.  In her experience, “If you build a polished prototype you open yourself to criticism, but if you build a rough prototype, people see the potential.”  Financial Times editor Alan Smith was on the same page.  “Exchange ideas early.  Show your work to people early and often.  This is why interdisciplinary teams work so well.”  For visual artists in the fine arts, the issues about when, why and from whom to solicit feedback on your work are different.  But one of the things I love about high tech culture is this open, collaborative mindset that stems from a sincere desire to get to clarity, to get to the good stuff quickly, by cycling through crap ideas at a rapid pace.


Tapestry conferees milling around in front of the Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, March 2016

Learning More

Have I whetted your data visualization appetite?  If so, check out NYU professor Enrico Bertini’s podcast, Data Stories for more.  Also, if you are a creative person with a technical bent interested in adding a new skill to your set, or know a young, creative person for whom a career in data visualization sounds like a good fit, check out Tableau.  My outsiders’ ears heard the buzz.  Tableau developers are enjoying a moment of demand.


Weird evergreen garden, Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, March 2016



Catherine Madden’s Visual Thinking course on Skillshare

An award winning example of data journalism, Killing the Colorado by ProPublica

Paper app by Fiftythree

Rethink World Hunger, an effective presentation of data by an advocacy group

Visual Hackathon

HelpMeViz, data visualization community

Are You Secretly Afraid of Data?

Rethink Media,  a non-profit focused on building communications capacities of nonprofits

The Unflattening, a comics dissertation by Nick Sousanis


“Think about giving the best thing possible and it will return back to you.

– Enrico Bertini, NYU Tandon School of Engineering

Working in Series

A series is a set of individual artworks connected by a theme. A series can be short and immediate (all the monotypes made in a single day). Or it can unfold over a period of years. Either way, working in series is a way to go deep.


A handful of pieces from One-Hundred Flowers.  When I work in series I’m working with ambition and thinking about scale.


The simplest way for an artist new to working in series to get going on one is to choose a single format – a single canvas size, or size and color of paper – and stick with it and see what happens.  The more limits you set, the more interesting the results you get will be.


Learning the Rules

There are as many ways to set limits and work in series as there are artists. I start with an image in my mind’s eye and go through a process I call learning the rules where I teach myself how to make it through trial and error. Like a memory of a dream, the mind’s-eye-image morphs as I add details in an attempt to pin it down. That is OK. I am working to join the imagined with the real at this point.  Some give and take is fine.


Work in progress: red branchy leaves with slight overlap, wax emulsion on paper, ©Laura Tyler


Work in progress: red branchy leaves, lots of overlap, wax emulsion on paper, ©Laura Tyler 

In the two test images above I’m asking questions about overlap. Which degree of overlap moves the image closer to the one in my mind’s eye?  Is overlap relevant to what I’m trying to do?  Once I have an answer I can make a rule/set a limit about overlap. (I know this sounds deliberate but in practice the process feels intuitive.)  Moving forward, I can keep limits or break them. But I absolutely enjoy being able to articulate them.  Limits enable consistency.  And on another level, they help me understand what my work is about.


What LImits Mean

The thing that excites me about limits, and part of what I hinted at in Art Practice vs. Play, is how the process, or practice, of setting limits is meaningful. Each limit you choose provides a glimpse into your interests, and into what you value as an artist. As the limits you choose for your work accumulate, what they signal becomes more compellingly specific. If you’re working intuitively (as I do with mind’s-eye-images) then setting limits is a way to bring the unconscious to light. And finally, by setting limits for your work, you are making your values visible.  Your viewers may not be able to articulate what they are, but if you’ve thought about it, you will be able to.  This will deepen what you understand about your work.  And it will help you talk about it.

Art Practice vs. Play

If you’re an artist who thinks of your work as play, or who has referred to your work in the studio as playtime, I’d like to invite you to think differently, and go deeper this year.  It’s not that play doesn’t happen in the studio.  It does!  Play fosters risk-taking, discovery and flow.  And it’s worth doing for the fun alone.


John Cleese, insightfully, on the relationship between play and creativity.


Play is serious business for children, a deep, imaginative mode that facilitates learning.  But when adult artists use the word ‘play’ to talk about what they’re up to in the studio, it comes off as breezy shorthand for pleasure that means “I did something fun.” If you’re using any of the #studioplay hashtags on social media you’re calling on a stereotype of the artist as a childlike figure content to mess around with paint. It’s inauthentic. (I know that’s not who you are. No artist is.) And it fails at communicating the juicy, more interesting stuff about who you are and what you do.



Art is fun (when it’s going well). There’s a narcissistic, almost primal pleasure in seeing something of yourself reflected back at you in a mark you’ve made, whatever that mark may be. I get that.  It’s part of the draw. But it’s not why I chose art. I chose art as my vocation, and have chosen it again and again at the crossroads in my life, because it holds meaning for me.


Jackson Pollock painting for the camera. Is this work? Play? Or is something else going on?


Unfortunately, the meaning I get out of art isn’t constant.  Sometimes my work feels guided and purposeful. Other times it’s a struggle.  I don’t see art as special in this way. This is something that all of us who want to do meaningful work have to face. When I think of what I do in the studio as play in the service of enjoyment, when I dismiss the more challenging work I feel called to do, or that is required of me by deadlines, then purpose fades.



I like the word ‘practice’ for what happens in the studio because of its many meanings.  Practice connotes seriousness.  A doctor works in a medical practice.  An attorney practices law.  But it’s also linked to play.  A musician has to practice before she can play a new instrument.  Athletes practice before they play.  And then there’s the spiritual angle.  You can practice your religion.  Or start a meditation practice.  In all cases ‘practice’ suggests  an ongoing commitment to a growth oriented endeavor. To have an art practice is to engage with your work and your materials in a complete way, physically, intellectually, spiritually.  Play may be a part of your process. But it’s not the most interesting thing you do.



A playful GIF that I love, reverse-motion. Artist unknown.

Get It Done with Fierce Medicine

In 2015 I read two books in conjunction with each other that had a powerful effect on me.  If you’ve struggled in the last year to prioritize multiple, complex projects; if you feel pulled; if you have the sense that your actions are out of whack with what matters most but you’re not sure exactly how, then it’s my pleasure to recommend Fierce Medicine by Ana Forrest, and Get It Done by Sam Bennett to you.  Individually, they’re both interesting books in the self-help vein.  Together they have a synergistic quality that may help you renew your sense of purpose.

Fierce Medicine by Ana Forrest

Part memoir, part yoga manual and part self-help guide, Fierce Medicine is made potent by author and yoga teacher Ana Forrest’s willingness to lay her flaws bare.  Forrest, the survivor of a youthful suicide attempt that proved a watershed moment on her path to becoming a yoga guru, tells her story of enduring terrible pain, emotional and physical, before learning to “stand straight.” At the emotional heart of Fierce Medicine is a writing exercise called the Death Meditation.  I know it sounds depressing, but it is not!  I did it and found it deeply moving.  There’s something about Forrest’s writing, her rawness and openness, that can open the reader to her teaching, fierce as it is.  After doing the Death Meditation, false priorities, things I thought were important but really weren’t, fell away.  And a renewed commitment to specific aspects of my work and life as an artist emerged. Highly recommended.


Get It Done by Sam Bennett

A light, playful read, Get It Done by Sam Bennett is the tonal opposite of Fierce Medicineand a wonderful complement to it. In a method that reminds me of the one David Allen outlines in his excellent book, Getting Things Done, Sam Bennett coaches readers through overwhelm with a series of exercises that aim to help prioritize and break ambitious projects into doable, 15-minute chunks.  Bennett’s writing voice is casual, friendly and fun.  A creative person herself, she gets what it’s like to have many projects in various stages of undo.  If you struggle to get projects across the finish line because perfectionism and/or procrastination, then is the book for you.  I found it grounding to read at the same time I was working through Fierce Medicine.


May you find joy and readiness during this week between Christmas and New Year’s.  It’s a special one!  My favorite of the year.  While I’m not much of a resolutions person I do take it in earnest as a time to rest, enjoy and prepare.

Art and Ambivalence

I’ve grown to love the word ‘ambivalent.’  When I was a kid I thought it meant wishy-washy and didn’t like it at all because it sounded feeble.  I had to experience it repeatedly for myself, the uneasy push-pull that happens when you’re drawn to something and put off by it at the same time, before I started to get it.  For creative people, ambivalence is fuel.  Attraction draws you to a subject and then whatever’s repellant about it spikes your curiosity, keeping you engaged because you want to understand.


Artist Marilyn Minter’s retrospective, Pretty/Dirty, up at the Denver Museum of Contemporary Art through January 31st, stirs ambivalence.  Her photographs, paintings and videos depict a raunchy, feminine sensuality that titillates and repels.  Check out the Green Pink Caviar trailer below to see what I mean.



Here’s another video, a talk Minter gave at the School of Visual Arts in New York in 2014.  She does a great job here telling the story of her art, connecting photographs she made as an undergrad of her beautiful but addicted mom to her current work. She also talks about her struggle to find her voice as a painter while vying for success in the New York art world, two big aims that didn’t always mesh.


“From the minute I went to school I heard, ‘You’ve got to loosen up.’ I gave it my best because I could copy anything.  I could create the illusion of the gestural mark but . . . I could see that it looked phony.” – Marilyn Minter


I’m ambivalent about blogging.  I love language and think writing is interesting but also find it confining.  If you can put a complex thought in words it means you’ve pinned it down.  Take that same thought, make a series of images about it, and you’ve probably opened something up.  Look at Minter’s work.  Her epic paintings offer liquid drips, edible gold and glitter-flecked, freckled skin.  They are gorgeous, a pleasure to view.  They’re also political, raising questions about feminine presentation, sexual agency and power.  If you get Minter’s work, you get it viscerally.  It raises shame and erases it.  I’m not sure you can do that in words.


Each time I redo my website is an opportunity to reconsider this blog.  Keep it or let it go.  I’m keeping it, enthusiastically this time because I’m ambivalent. So for the second time in ten years I’ve cleared the deck, deleting all my old posts except for a few reported posts about beeswax.  It’s my goal to post weekly, words and/or images. This’ll be a lab of sorts. I’ll be adding new categories and trying different things.  Stop by on Mondays to see what’s new.