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New Work - #bitchseries Collaboration

Finished Work, Creative Process, CollaborationsLaura JohnstonComment
 #bitchseries level: completed

 #bitchseries level: completed

My friend Devon and I worked on this collaboration from last October until now, trading 10 paintings back and forth between San Jose, California and Guelph, Ontario, adding more layers on each pass until they felt finished. I'm so pumped about what emerged from our very simple project parameters:

• 9x12 watercolor paper
• 10 pieces total: I start 5 (as portraits) and Devon starts 5 (as abstracts)
• Ship them back and forth however many times it takes until they are done

That's about it, I think. No media restrictions, no specific idea of the finished pieces or how they'd fit as a series, no title for the collection. Luckily our interests were fairly aligned at the time (which, they often seem to be, at least somewhat). For example, we were both enjoying working on paper, each have an ongoing interest in pink, and were all about payne's gray. So, even though we didn't coordinate it, the pieces ended up feeling very cohesive.

Me adding the first portrait layer over Devon's initial abstract layer.

Me adding the first portrait layer over Devon's initial abstract layer.

After the first trade we talked about how we both felt nervous working over the other's work. That got easier as the project went on, and in a way it was kind of nice practicing feeling less attached to what I was adding. It started that I was responsible for the portraits and Devon was responsible for the abstract side, but that melded a bit over time to the point where I honestly sometimes forgot whether it was me or Devon who had added something. I was inspired by how gutsy Devon's layers often felt and it pushed me to be more open and less uptight. Haha.

The freedom of this project and the push to open up was really welcome at a time of struggling with overthinking my own work and having a lot of work-related projects tied up over a period of several months (to a year!). Plus it was such a treat each time the envelope of paintings arrived back to my house so I could see where they'd headed while they were with Devon. We each worked on either set of 5 at a time, never all 10 at once, so it was a continuous flow for both of us.

My very first layer before sending out to Devon.

My very first layer before sending out to Devon.

One of the things I love most about these pieces is how much character developed in the artwork AND the paper itself over time, especially with the addition of the typewriter text on the back (title, date, and name info). Most of it was really off-the-cuff and unplanned. After a few journeys back and forth the paper really started to feel broken in and the backs beautifully imperfect, revealing glimpses of the process: a small wrinkle from shipping, fingerprints from chalk pastel, or bits of paint and gold foil that managed to permanently plant themselves. Now, all finished, they feel weathered in the way a well-loved old book does, and I LOVE IT.

Of course the bitches morphed over time, too. It's exciting working on a collaboration like this because it's always a surprise. You can never be certain which turn the piece will take next, then it's a fun exercise bouncing off what the other person was feeling. This was the first time I'd done such a collaboration 'behind closed doors' so to speak, and it was interesting having the dichotomy of complete freedom while the piece is in your hands, and then being in the dark once the piece leaves you until you get it back again.

"Ghost Face" in progress.

"Ghost Face" in progress.

Devon adding the typed info on the backs.

Devon adding the typed info on the backs.

Five Tidbits

  • The title #bitchseries was born from a spontaneous poem over Facebook messenger as Devon and I were feeling stuck trying to name the paintings.
  • I went with referenced portraits for the 5 pieces I started and decided to do made-up portraits within the abstracts that Devon started.
  • The piece dubbed "Ghost Face" gave us the most challenge throughout the process. It started as an awesome blue and yellow abstract then went through several face variations (from BOTH of us) before landing where it did in the end. It has the most history, and you can feel it in the layers.
  • These pieces racked up almost 30,000 travel miles going between San Jose and Guelph several times.
  • Two of the pieces contained bird imagery during an earlier stage of the process that was later covered by new layers.

We decided to make the originals from the series available for purchase. They're framed in simple, natural wood frames that allow the bitches and all of their layers to shine through. Each piece is $225 with free international shipping. You can find the entire collection here.

"Bitch Please, Bitch Thanks" - framed

"Bitch Please, Bitch Thanks" - framed

bitch 1, bitch 2

bitch red, bitch blue

bitch yes, bitch no

bitch stay, bitch go

bitch please, bitch thanks

bitch pets, bitch spanks


bitch is, bitch isn't

bitch free, bitch prison

bitch under, bitch over

bitch drunk, bitch sober

bitch catch, bitch throws

bitch thorn, bitch rose