Committed, But Unsure

“NY Crosswalk”
watercolor, 22″ x 30″
Some time ago, I decided that I wanted to really raise the bar in my watercolor work . . ……I am committed to press the design aspects and to thoroughly inject complexity into the work. That last part is that part of which I am unsure.

Complexity can be a double edged sword. And I am feeling the puncture wounds from both edges. Complexity is not necessarily *details* . . . .oh, boy! Do I hate that word. Details are not in the list of design elements for a reason. The do nothing to enhance the content or the measure of a good painting. And details become the bane of those who become stuck in them because they don’t know when to give them up for more important matters.

As an example, I could have put sun glasses and nose and lips on the guy at the far left of the painting. But, for what? To say he has a face? No! The shadow on his face and the color of the reflected light under the bill of his cap is much more important. In the painting, his face is slightly smaller than my thumbnail on my left hand. How many times can you say that you can actually *see* such detail in real life when someone’s face is that far away and that small? Impossible!

As another example, the guy in the shorts in the foreground has a greater purpose than to be just standing there. His purpose is to connect and relate the bottom of the painting with that big DKNY sign on the side of the building. His shirt is black and so is his hair, but not as dark. His shape acts as a point of transition and connection with the rest of the painting. It takes away the staccato shock of that sudden deep black of the sign and provides the eye with a bridge into the better lit area of the painting.

And light brings up another point. From left to right and from the right side of the piece to the crosswalk there is gradual transition of value in the color of the light, as witnessed by the surface of the street. It gradually gets lighter and lighter. That big giant black in the background always threatens to demand all of the attention by the sheer weight and size of it. So, tricks had to be used to distract from it. I could not have very light values around it. In fact, to get the eye off the wall and onto the street, I used opaque paints on the building and gradually lightened them as the painting transitioned toward the street. On the street, everything is in transparent color, so the light from the white paper shines outward at the viewer and makes the tints of pure color in the peoples’ clothes attract attention.

Then there is the composition. Squint at the piece and you will see an “L” lying on its back. That is very much a purposeful move! That “L” puts the eye into the area where the direction changes from horizontal to vertical. And that is where all the comparatively small shapes live to hold the eye.

That is all what design is about. Details do no work whatsoever, other than to distract the viewer’s attention. The fight in this painting was to not get sucked into the details. The painting is about the light, the heat of summer, the atmosphere and the place . . . . .not the lips on the guy to the far left . . .or his shoe laces. If I wanted that I would have published his photograph. My problem is that I am unsure if I should be pursuing all this complexity. I have several more paintings in me that are waiting to get out with that in them. And I am anxious to go back to my big swaths of paint and let the paint speak for itself . . . .not someone’s lips.

In the meanwhile . . . .I must answer the muse.

15 thoughts on “Committed, But Unsure”

  1. It is great that you discuss design and your thinking process. It helps all of us to create better paintings. This is such an interesting painting.

  2. You are welcome, Barb! Thanks for stopping by. I stopped by your blog and had to giggle at your comments about thinkging about this stuff all the time and being (paraphrasing) somewhat absent from other parts of life because of painting. I recognize the symptoms! I have em too! Some would say we are cursed. I think we are blessed. don’t you?? 😉

  3. Thanks, Myrna! It’s good to know that someone out there appreciates the commentary. If any of you in the blog sphere are watercolor painters, you would do well to link yourself to Myrna’s blog. She’s one of the best! (not kidding!)

  4. Hi Mike,

    I haven´t been to your blog for a while and I am sorry for that. Your Watercolors are so wonderful. Vertigo is such an exiting composition and this one has a great atmoshere. These confident planes of color are very convincing.

    Cheers from Vienna.

  5. Mike, I’m glad to see your sharing work and thoughts again. As always, it’s exciting to see and hear how you’re challenging yourself. This is pretty ambitious stuff and beautifully painted.

    More, please.

  6. Nue . . .Thanks for coming by the blog. I should apologize to you and to all who visit occasionally for not posting frequently. I have been highly distracted by the economic demands of living, so my artistic efforts had to wait. Now, I am in a very serious develomental mode in my art. While it might seem illustrative, I am working hard on flirting with openly defying ‘things we shouldn’t do in paintings’ and attempting to get away with it. Case in point, this HUGE black shape threatening to screw up the balance of the painting.

    In such a serious mode, I find my self testing the limits on several fronts. Keep watching. There’s more coming!

  7. Holly . . .Thanks for stopping in! We have met before. I had a chance to see your incredibly creative artwork on your blog. I should be that good!!

  8. Yo!, Bill!! We meet again. I am indeed back at the easel, but painting slower with much more challenging intentions. They take longer, but I think I am learning more. See you again, soon, I hope.

  9. Holy cow Mike, I would die to have done a painting as successful as this is! Every piece of your commentary of the process should give us all thought on the elements that go into painting each and every time we pick up a brush. Great work. I linked your site to my blog, your work should be viewed by anyone serious about watercolor and painting in general.
    Thanks for sharing it with us. Great name by the way!
    Michael Bailey

  10. Mike, had to comment on this one buddy! What a great painting on so many levels!

    I like it when you push the “norms” in watercolor. The opaque paint with the transparent worked perfect in this painting.

    I would bet that I can see the figures eyes and nose and mouth! But they are not there! That’s how well you have “suggested” the details without actually painting them.

    Thanks Mike! This is an instructional painting for me!

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