Swallowing My Pride (GULP !!)

Garrapatta Stumps
Garrapatta Stumps 15 x22

Mind you, the painting above was finished on site at Garrapatta State Park which is very near Big Sur, California . . .I believe it was in February. . . . .and I haven’t been out to paint much since then . . .two months without being at the plain air easel !!

Today, my painting Buddy (Scott) and I decided to grab at the nice weather and go out to paint.   I must admit here, out in the open, that I do have a clear sense of pride in my painting abilities.  After all, I have reached some milestones at fairly high altitudes . . . . .but you would not have known that today.  Let me explain (as I hide my face in embarrassment) .. . . .

Scott and I typically “drift” into our painting spots.   That is to say, that we rarely start the day knowing where we will be going to paint.   We head out in a direction and stop where it suits our fancy.   And as a painter who lugs around a lot of pride in my paint box, I typically opt for the places that offer the most challenge.   Usually that is a place and/or a subject in which I am unfamiliar . . . . mainly because I enjoy a good challenge.   Today, we chose the commercial fishing fleet at Moss Landing.   Many years ago, I would go there to paint boats and all the accompanying equipment that goes with commercial fishing . . (read as clutter!)

Normally, us painters are restricted from going out on the docks near the boats . . .but today, we got lucky.   We could go out on the docks and literally immerse ourselves into the subject.   I selected a place for the perfect view . . .I am usually quite impulsive about this and grab the first place that seems good because I know that what ever isn’t there, I will be able to create.

My spot was at the very end of a narrow floating dock.   I didn’t realize it at the time I went to set up, but the dock moved . . . .up and down (no big deal) . . . but, also rocked.   That is if I stepped to the left, the dock sank a bit on the left and similarly for the right side step.

I could feel the difference at the moment I began to sketch in my sketchbook (a deeply ingrained habit) to make my value sketch prior to painting.  Something was off!!   I wasn’t comfortable!!   The old flow and ease wasn’t present.

A breeze was blowing catching my umbrella (used to shade my work) enough to threaten to carry my easel into the harbor . . .which put me on edge.   Worse, the long shaft of the umbrella was directly in front of my work surface.   Translation:  it was in my way!!

I began my layout work . . .it just didn’t some out right . . .the eraser was hard at work, too often!   I got my paints out and began to put wet paint on the paper . . .and the damp breeze blew . . .and the dock rocked and rolled (as did my easel and work surface.)   My brushes weren’t behaving, the colors weren’t mixing with the usual split second clarity of value and saturation . . .I wasn’t getting the right colors !!!

As you can gather by now, I was having a hellishly bad time of it . .  .and as the time wore on, it became progressively worse . . . .until I threw in the towel and said “To hell with it!!”

I am a professional artist.   This is what I do.   But not today !!   There are lessons here:   If one expects to carry the mantle of professional, then one MUST PRACTICE doing professional.  That’s right!  You read it correctly.   One must DO professional in order to BE professional.   Yes, I have heard it before:  Do Be Do Be Doooo!     Joking aside, the upshot is that if one expects to be able to paint well under any circumstances then one must be in practice . . .one must be out there doing it at least a few times a week.  To do anything well, we must do it often.   By doing so, that sense of ease . . .that “flow” which seems to musically course through us as though everything is effortless will come as naturally as the sun rises daily.

If we don’t paint often.  We should not expect decent results.   That is EVEN if one has reached high altitude awards and honors.   Fine, well accomplished work only comes from one place:  Work.   Lots and lots of it.   Unless the gymnast is limber and warmed up and overwhelmingly familiar with the routine ahead, he can expect to falter.   I should know better than to expect much after not being at the easel for two months.   The fact is that I DO know better.   I really had to swallow my pride today!   Even though I do know better, swallowing one’s pride does not go down easy!

Surely you can guess what I will be doing over the next few weeks!  I NEED to get back to that flow !!

Scatter Brained?

Planely Scattered-72

“Planely Scattered”

Watercolor, 15 x 22 inches

Begun as demonstration for making textures, this piece was brought to the studio to see if it could be trained into something interesting.

Concerns:   1.  It must be a balanced and unified composition,  2.   Thee should be a strong color harmony and, 3.   It must have a sense of shallow space.   These were the goals I set out to accomplish . . .with nothing from which to copy. Abstracts, or non objective paintings, are challenging to the artist because there is no model to follow.  Everything that happens to the painting must come as a result of careful thought to ensure that every mark fits  into the context of all the other marks already made.   That statement also goes for ANY painting of any subject.

As you can see, most all the colors in the painting are grayed down or ‘unsaturated’ in order that there be a clear sense of fitting with all the other colors in the painting . . .save for the area called the center of interest.   Similarly, the shapes must follow the pattern or character of all the other shapes in the painting, in this case geometric, flat shapes.   Had I put in a curvilinear shape among all the other geometric shapes, it may have stuck out, or seemed as though it did not belong.   As with all paintings, we attack the project with high hopes of success, but move forward with the sort of abandon as though we don’t care.   Some would call this attitude one of courage.

My mantra with all paintings in progress is this:  It’s only a piece of paper !!

As long as I remind myself that no one is going to get hurt, if I mess up, and that it is, indeed, only a piece of paper, then I can dream up just about anything I want to do without worry of bad result.

I pull out a spray bottle full of dark sepia paint . . . . I step up to the painting table, spray bottle in hand, wondering;  how dark is it?  What if it splatters?  What if the sprayer drips?  My answer to all of these questions is the same:   We’ll see !!   The fact is that the artist cannot expect great things to happen to the progress of a painting if fear will prevent him from doing some things.  In short, as artists, we must be willing to fail.   We must be open to allowing the unforeseen to show up and challenge us.   We must open ourselves to being willing to repair if something “bad” happens.

This demonstration was to show class participants how to make various sorts of texture and how to use them.   In the course of the demonstration, different marks were being made all over the paper . . . with each mark came the statement that “you cannot make a mistake!”   That is to say that mistakes are not possible!   A very wise artist once told me “If you make a mistake, repeat it several times in the painting.  Then it won’t appear as a mistake!”

That brings up one last thing . . .the idea of repetition.   This is something every artist must understand and how it affects unity in a painting.   Just know this, repetition with variations makes for interest and helps hold the sum of the parts of the painting together as a single unit.