Letting Go Of What I “Know”

“White Blankets”
watercolor, 22 x 30 inches
I have often heard from other painters the question, “We want to know what you think about when you paint.”

The very first thing one must do . . . .and this isn’t the easiest to even recognize, much less actually DO . . . . .is to let go of what you think you know. That is precisely what I must do when I paint anything, much less a seascape like this.

First off, let’s look at the most obvious dangerous thought in this painting: “The foam is white.” Nope! Wrong! It isn’t just white. Believe me, there is a rainbow of color in there. So, one must THINK carefully about what color goes where to leave a ‘white’ idea but a visual which has complete impact. There is a range of violets, greens, grays, blues, oranges and an occasional red in all this white. It must all work together to read as ‘white’ but cannot actually BE white.

The same goes for all the color in the cliffs and hillsides. The reflections, too. It is a chorus or a concert, if you will, of multiple colors and values.

The biggest concern I had in this painting . . . .get ready for this! . . . . was how big is the ‘white’ (or very light valued colors that approach nearly white) versus how big were the medium and dark values. Yes. Failure to pay attention to size dominance (where one group of values is significantly larger than the other group) could have ruined this painting. A half and half split between sizes would have been most unsettling. One value group (lights or darks) must dominate over the other in size.

Those are some of the things I must pay close attention to in the act of painting. It would have been a large mistake to think “Water” and “Waves” and “Rocks” . . . rather than light, mid and dark value . . . rather than warm and cool . . . rather than soft edge versus hard edges . . . .rather than splash is white . . . .rather than paying attention to the edges, the temperature, the value and whether there is shadow or light on the splash.

It goes on and on from there. I suppose that is the reason I get so ensnared in the painting process. It is such a deep and revealing meditative state. For me, it is absolute euphoria!

18 thoughts on “Letting Go Of What I “Know””

  1. Excellent points, Mike. I think that the things that make it a “deep and meditative state” can also be overwhelming in some instances. So perhaps organizing our thinking about “how much white?” can help break some of those decisions down into more manageable tasks.
    thanks for sharing,

  2. I appreciate your narrative; its interesting and instructive. There is so much more to painting than trying to achieve a pretty picture. I like the elegant simplicity (deceptive) and power of this one.

  3. Hello Faye! You are sooo right about that. Considering these things and testing them in sketches first makes them much less overwhelming and more manageable. Thanks for making the point. It is an important one!

  4. Thanks, Peggy! Your paintings tell much about your comments here.
    Painting is waaaay more than attempting a pretty picture. Whether or not realistic, design considerations and deliberate decisions are paramount to making inpactful visual statements. And your work is expertly designed! Yours and others comments here add much to the intention of this post. Thanks!

  5. Good advice, Mike. I paint the first 90% of my paintings without my glasses, as it abstracts the landscape perfectly. I remember seeing Kevin MacPherson do the same, so thought I’d try it out. No laser surgery for me 🙂

  6. Good advice Mike.
    These are nice strong paintings that you have been doing.
    I’m like Ed. paint with no glasses. I dont have any to put on for the last 10% though.

    Sorry I have not been around much. My computer is broken so I have limited browsing time.

  7. Yes, Ed, those big abstractions are most important. Glasses on or off, it takes courage to plunge into them without regard to detail.
    Right On!!

  8. Hi There, Holly! Thanks for your compliments . . .I think you also feel that euphoria while you are painting . . .your work certainly suggests that!


  9. Paul . . .thanks so much for dropping in . . .next time you are in Northern California, give me a jingle and I’ll meet you. It would be a blast to paint together.

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