Acrylic: Barbara Edwards: Acrylic Exploration

11 Sep 2008

Barbara Edwards experiments with media and techniques in her paintings that make use of both representation and abstraction.

by Lynne Moss Perricelli

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Mountain Pasture
2007, acrylic, 27 x 22.
All artwork this article
collection the artist
unless otherwise indicated.
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Hummer Flight
2007, acrylic,
22 x 19.

Barbara Edwards works in both a realistic and abstract style, creating traditional watercolors as well as nonobjective acrylic paintings, in addition to works that combine both types of imagery. Although some might joke that this tendency suggests a split artistic personality, Edwards says she has enjoyed exploring both types of imagery for as long as she's been painting—on and off for some 30 years. For her, this openness and sense of adventure not only keeps her engaged and inspired but also allows her to find subject matter from both internal and external sources.

"Most artists find their inspiration in nature,"? she says, "certainly I do, living in the country on top of a mountain. Everywhere I go I see pastures with cows, horses, and goats, as well as an alpaca farm, and I look at them and want to paint them. In fact, most of my paintings end up looking like a landscape with a horizon, no matter how abstract. I guess it's just my personality. It's what's in me."

Edwards, who lives in Jasper, Georgia, records potential painting subjects on her digital camera, which she keeps in her car at all times. She later uses the photos for reference back in the studio, where she copies the shapes and forms into small studies that allow her to experiment with compositional ideas. When starting a painting she intends to be primarily abstract, she refers to the studies and photos to begin building a concept in her mind. "I always have something in mind when I start an abstract work,"? she says, "but the painting may not end up looking at all like what I had when I started."? Of course, for Edwards, this open-endedness is one of the most appealing aspects of the creative process.

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Untitled, by Mary Alice Braukman.
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Finches' Dominion
2005, acrylic, 30 x 23.

The artist does not stretch her paper, and insists that her method of working over the entire surface prevents any troublesome buckling. She favors Saunders Waterford 200-lb paper, which she often first coats with a gesso or texture medium, such as Golden or Liquitex gel mediums and pastes. She then pulls a clay modeling tool through the medium to create ridges all over the surface that will cause the paint to pool in unexpected patterns. At other times she uses kitchen spatulas and other tools to create different textures.

Next, Edwards selects two or three colors that will work well together and pours the Golden fluid acrylics into small saucers that she then uses to pour the paint—diluted with water—onto the paper. (Sometimes the artist soaks the paper first and works wet-in-wet. Also, before pouring the paint she sometimes masks out certain areas or shapes with 3M Scotch painter's tape, which pulls up easily and leaves no residue.) Because this stage is messy, she sets up a table outside. In the next phase the artist employs a variety of house-painting and kitchen tools to spread the paint, often adding more to alter the colors and create interesting patterns and relationships between colors and shapes. An array of rollers and brayers helps her achieve a broken effect with the color, and she takes advantage of the opacity of the acrylic paint to create the most pleasing effects.

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The Gorge
2003, acrylic, 30 x 22
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Cow Pasture
2004, acrylic, 22 x 30

Throughout these early stages of a painting, Edwards strives to allow the work to evolve on its own terms. "I never know what to expect,"? she says. "Sometimes the painting looks like I think it will, and other times I just have to follow what it wants to do." It's important to remain open-minded, says the artist, because anything can happen with this method. To further develop the piece, Edwards continues to use any tool—including dental instruments for incising fine lines—that might be useful and even employs a spray bottle. Referring to it as a "poor man's airbrush,"? the artist can lightly spray diluted paint directly onto wet or dry paint to create an even more diffused and atmospheric look.

Despite the experimental nature of her process, Edwards attends closely to the formal concerns of value, color, shape, and texture. "All the principles of design apply,"? she notes. "This is just one technique—one way to create a work of art—but it doesn't make a good painting by itself." To this end she at times must revise her work, applying white acrylic paint to an area and painting over it. "The white shines through," she adds, "as in traditional watercolor paper," which she can use to her advantage in achieving translucency to offset more opaque areas.

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Intercession
2003, acrylic, 22 x 30.
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City Dwellers
2001, acrylic, 22 x 30.
Private collection.

Some of Edwards' paintings combine representational and abstract elements, such as in Finches' Domain and Mountain Pasture. The latter, in fact, emerged from the artist's belief that cows, which are ubiquitous near her rural home, have a calming effect, and any figurative element within an abstract piece lends a significant emotional presence. Evolving from a strictly abstract piece, Cow Pasture originally seemed to suggest a mountain pasture with animals, and after searching her photos for a few cows to use as reference, Edwards drew the shapes on black paper, cut them out, and moved them around until she achieved the most appealing placement within the composition. "They had to work within the piece as a whole,"? she adds.

Part of the appeal of working in an abstract style is that Edwards finds she can convey more of an emotional response to an idea or image. "To just copy what something looks like is more of a technical ability," she says. "Although those works at times can be very emotional, I personally find that it is more difficult to paint something you don't actually see, and I never get bored with it. I don't know what to expect, and when a painting starts working, there's always a sense of satisfaction."

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Moonlit Cliffs
2005, acrylic, 30 x 22.

Edwards advises other artists who want to try to paint experimentally to realize that many paintings will not work out as they intended. "Save all the failures and pull them out later," she says. "They may inspire other paintings." She adds that artists should try any tool that might add an interesting texture or design, and to remember that "the main reason to paint is to learn about yourself and to grow. If you get in a rut, pull out colors you don't normally use and play around with shapes and colors. Anything that interests you has potential."

About the Artist
Barbara Edwards, of Jasper, Georgia, earned her B.F.A. degree from Reinhardt College, in Waleska, Georgia. She is a member of the Plein Air Painters of Georgia, a member of excellence in the Atlanta Artists Center, and a signature member of the Florida Watercolor Society, Georgia Watercolor Society, and the Southern Watercolor Society. Edwards' paintings have appeared in many juried regional and national shows, and she has received numerous awards, including the Winsor & Newton Award at the 2007 exhibition of the American Watercolor Society. She is represented by Lagerquist Gallery, in Atlanta. To contact the artist, e-mail her at Barbarapedwards@tds.net.



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