A Glimpse Into Thinking

I have always been interested in seeing into what makes an artist tick . . .or how their processes function. I can remember seeing a show at a museum of Edward Hopper’s work . . . .his sketchbooks were on display in glass cases. I could hardly pull myself away from inspecting every mark in that book! I could see how that artist reduced his ideas to the essentials that made his paintings bark at passers by. Was it genius in that sketchbook? I am not so sure. Hard work? Absolutely!
I have watched my self slave away in my studio . . .or outdoors . . .and come up with a poor composition or what I call a “Ho-Hum” painting. The sketchbook and many trials before painting can often be the determinant factor between “ho-hum” and “Wow!” And yet, those ‘ho-hum’ paintings were most often preceded with no preliminary trials in the sketchbook.
I purchased a pinapple a day or two ago, to eat, of course, but also to paint. After an early rise this morning, I took the pinapple to the studio to paint. . .all the while with a nagging feeling in my gut that I would have to do something unusual with this object to reach the “wow” factor . . . .and was in doubt as to how I would do that. I needed to put a few ideas on paper first.
Here are two pages from my sketchbook and this morning’s brainstorming process in the studio. (I wish I could get my students to do more of this stuff!) I did twenty different sketches of the silly pinapple. Well . . . .actually I wasn’t sketching the pinapple, I was experimenting with different shapes and their attitudes inside of the canvas format. Different directions, flat shapes and forms, compositional ideas and virtually NO DETAIL worries. Just answers to the question “What approach will give me what I want . . . .the “wow” that I am seeking. There are two or three compositions that hold promise here. My thoughts are beginning to turn to color and value schemes now. My suspicions . . .and that is often all there is to spur me forward . . . .just a hunch that says ‘this might be it’ . . . . are urging me to spend more energy on the shadow with tropical colors and close values . . . . .maybe! When that is the case, I have to be very careful to insure that I have a path planned or it could end up worse than a ‘ho-hum.’ I tell my classes that it is NOT the details that matter. (they really don’t believe me!) What matters is how the artist handles value patterns and shapes and directions and color schemes . . . .or patterns and textures. It all has to work together to make visual music. Leave one of the vital elements out in your planning and you end up with a flop.

So, here is the beginning of my pinapple thoughts. It may be a week before something materializes on canvas. My notions are flying about in my head, so it could possibly be sooner. Then again, it might die a natural death and never make an appearance. I just have to work through the trials and errors to find the breakthrough . . . . .and quantity of trials is what makes the biggest difference. I have to take this beyond the obvious. It is way more than just the pinapple! It’s really about the feelings the final piece will generate from the viewer.

3 thoughts on “A Glimpse Into Thinking”

  1. Hi Mike,

    Oh how I wish I had gone through twenty thumbnail sketches before I had embarked on the triple portrait I am now struggling with! I took the photos I’m working from over five years ago, when I knew far less than I do now. Live and learn.

    Striking bananas, by the way!

  2. The Hopper Show is at the Boston MFA until August. Haven’t been in yet but he is one of my favorites.
    Nice sketches. I like how you immerse yourself. I also think that’s the way to improve.

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