Another Round

“Attaching a Scarlet Letter”
Watercolor, 22 x 22 inches
Another round!!   Another shot at adding another image to a series!
In this case,  the series is Men at Work.   I have been playing around with this series for 7 or eight years . . . . .and not too many paintings in the series, yet.   I say “Yet” because these images don’t come to me, nor do I come across suitable images from which to make paintings very often.   One has to wait patiently and be diligent about assessing every happenstance of stumbling onto men at work.   First, I desire to have interesting images . . .  .not just a bunch of guys leaning on their shovels around a big hole in the ground (we see that often, don’t we?!!)  😉   What I mean is that I need to see action . . . . . and there needs to be some sort of background story along with the work.   And those sort of images don’t show up very often.   Linemen replacing broken utility poles is one such example.   One can only imagine what might have caused the broken pole  . . . . not to mention the incredible risk that the linemen encounter every day in their jobs.   That is interesting.
Then there are the mundane, or seemingly so, stages on which the workmen act out their form of “theatre.”   Here, in this image, is one example.   People pass by guys like this all day long, glance at them, and move along, not paying heed to much other than ‘those guys in that cherry picker up there.’
To me, this little act of the theatre said so much that I found fascinating:  the shadow, for one.   The contrast of the white uniforms against the red letters . . . .  .and the fact that we see such signs so often in our day that we don’t even realize that we see them . . . . .they are just part of an every day landscape!!  Like, who spends time looking at and observing them?   Really!!   But put two guys up there fiddling with them?   That is a different story!
So this piece goes in with the rest of the “Men At Work” series . . . . some painters, some linemen, some plasterers just about anything one can imagine.   And there is much more to come . . .  .but what?  And when?   I just have to remain alert and pay attention.
And, as I look at the image, I am forced to wonder about the strength of the composition.  It appears to me that too much attention is given to the letters, while I want the viewer to be mesmerized by the workmen.   I will consider cropping a good part of the left portion of the painting to cast more attention to the men in the basket.
Sometimes, us art people find the gold in places we would rather not find it.   In my case, I always prefer to do the ‘discovering’ and subsequent photographing and/or sketching myself.   But it doesn’t always work out that way.   Such is the case with this image and the source of it.   This image appeared in our local (Santa Cruz Sentinel) newspaper approximately 7 years ago . . . . at least I think it was that long ago . . . . . .I have held on to the image for that long waiting for public memory to dissipate.   Also, two or three computers ago, I wrote to the gentleman who had taken the photo requesting his permission to use the photo in an artwork.   He graciously and cheerfully gave his permission with the best of his good wishes and he did so in writing . . . .I fear, however, that the letter rests in the grave with the used up computer someplace.
As a point worth making here, for those painters out there who read this material, I STRONGLY advise getting permission when ever using any publicly displayed photos . . . .or even photos that you did not personally make yourself.    I have seen some art careers destroyed by not doing so.   Seriously, it could mean being publicly humiliated and perhaps being sued!!   Get permission!!
Keep your brushes wet!

Having A Purpose for Painting

“Big Sur Bump”
Oil on Canvas Panel
12″ x 16″
As you have all read in the previous post, I have returned to painting oils.   Yes, this is an old ‘love’ who is as passionate and as troublesome as any woman who decides that other competitors need move aside and give her first rights to  . . . uh . .  . . . . . . . . . . . . . ..permanence.
Part of the allure for me is that I know nothing about it . . . .or didn’t until a few years ago.   Technique, is, of course the chief concern as I plunge back in to attempt to make art that is worthy of the name “Fine Art.”   I already know, from my experience in watercolor, that unless I muster a lot of painting experience with the medium my work will be relegated to the category of “Just a hobby, nothing serious.”
A few years ago, I began this blog with the intention of completing 100 oil paintings in 90 days.   If I didn’t hit the goal, I came very close to it.   In that short time, I had quickly educated myself by watching other painters, observing various technique strategies and trying a lot of different things.    That entire experience awakened me to how beautiful oil paintings could be.   That is when the siren really started to call me and kept me dreaming about it at night.
For the last few days, the studio has been my refuge.   I spend my morning there with a large tankard of coffee and attempt to make a complete painting in a few hours.   For me, this time is not spent just to make another ‘pretty picture.’    There are goals that I expect to accomplish.   These ‘goals’ or ‘objectives’ are not about the completed work necessarily.   They are more about the process I shall follow and what I want the paint to look like when finished.   That is to say NOT the image, but the paint.
In this painting I wanted fresh unsullied color.    That means color that isn’t necessarily saturated, but clean, crisp color.   Secondly, I wanted big brush strokes to show and I desired those strokes to delineate planes of light and shadow.
One would think that these were worthy and fairly easily accomplished objectives.   It seems so, but just wait until you try it!    It seems my biggest enemy in the color department has been the turp or the OMS (odorless mineral spirits).   An enemy because, as a watercolor painter, I was rinsing out my brush in the OMS continuously.   I isn’t long before the solvent takes on a greenish gray color that permeates every brush load of paint.   Not good for clean color !
So, today, I swore OFF the solvent.   Just don’t use it at all, Mike!   That requires using many clean brushes.   What I ended up doing was using a single brush for every color,  including very dark, near black, and white.    I think, by the time I had finished,  I had used some ten different flat brushes.    I think this painting is an improvement over my last one . . . .the colors are definetely clean.   And the strokes are obvious, as are the planes of light and shadow.
Of course there are a few areas that could be much better (duh!).   And the photography could certainly be a heck of a lot better.  But still! . . . .I am happy enough with this outcome to take my gear out with an oil painting friend and join him in the plain air tomorrow.   It seems progress is being made!

Revisiting An Old Flame

“The Big Bluff”
Oil on Canvas Panel 
8 x 10 inches
Approximately four or five years ago, I took on a mistress who stirred me and caused me to have strange dreams at night.   Her sometimes slick skin would arouse my thoughts and enliven my senses in a way that I hadn’t had for, what seemed like, years!   She would whisper to me and taunt me outdoors or in the confined privacy of my studio.   She had a come hither about her that was, quite simply, disturbing.
Well, as you know, Dear Reader, these highly charged, chemistry driven, lusty affairs rarely become “the one.”   They seem to be defeated from the start . . . perhaps because there is another in the background to which one must answer, if not for reasons of love, but of duty.  Or, there might be some other reason, such as some sort of toxicity from seeing too much of each other.   Mistresses can become quite demanding and often fail to understand one’s other callings in life.   
And, after all, are we not to answer to those callings or duties or obligations?   What of integrity and honesty?   Need they be ignored enough to cause ones self inflicted detriment?
Her name?   Oil Painting!   Yes, even after putting her aside for a few years her spirit has called to me repeatedly asking to come back into my life.  As you know, “the one,” Ms. Watercolor, has quite dominated my life of late.   Not that I object, you understand, for she is as capricious and flirtatious as Ms. Oil Painting.   In fact, Ms. Watercolor has been my muse from the outset.   She has been both faithful and even mysterious sometimes, yet always ready to stand up for me come what may.   How could I possibly turn my back on her?   Yet, of late, her competition has been secretly nosing around and making whispered suggestions to me in the dark of night.
And so, Dear Reader, I must confess!   Today I crossed back over the line !   You might call me a fallen man, or unfaithful or of little integrity.  In my defense, I must say that I did cross back over as a means to satisfy my burning curiosity about . . . . .well, . . . . . .Do we really belong together?  I had to know!  Today in the privacy of my studio and the absense of my dear beloved wife, my old mistress and I made love again . . . .rapidly and with furious energy  . . . . . Twice !!!   And at my age, that’s a biiig deal!  🙂
So, you get the grist of this tongue in cheek idea.  I have come back to painting oils, after a four year hiatus.   I had to think it over a bit first and plan my approach and set up some parameters to follow.   Namely, I kept one brush for each color family I was using (Fortunately, I have a few extra brushes!)  just to see if I could attain clean, bright color.   What an amazing difference!   And I had to shun my watercolor habit of rinsing my brush for each new color, which will turn clean turp into motor oil in nothing flat . . . . and that dreary mess will permeate every color.   So, today, after nearly 25 years of painting, I am still learning (thank goodness!).   And I have decided this mistress is going to become family . . . . . .(if she’ll have me!)
That isn’t to say that my favorite lady, Ms. Watercolor, is going to receive any less attention (or intention)  she will always be my first love!

Among the Binge . . .

“Sunflower Patch”
Watercolor 15 x 22 inches

I mentioned, yesterday, the painting binge I have found myself in.   All in the name of improving my skills.   I also referred to the failures which show up when exploring new techniques and unfamiliar approaches.   However, there are some trials which simply insist on coming out well . . .even if the approach was unfamiliar.

Part of that binge I was on was also while we were in France during June and the first two weeks of July.  (If you didn’t go on this last trip, you missed a marvelous experience!)   Everywhere we went I took photos of everything.  I returned home with over 500 pics and plenty from which to paint a record of the places we visited.

This little painting was one such piece that came about from travel photos.   Sunflowers blooming in the distance right in the beautiful Perigord Region.  As you can see, this piece contained some of the beginnings of the atmospheric experiment project.

Kicking Off 2012 . . . .

“Morning Tide”
Watercolor 22 x 30 inches
Following a challenge by my friend and colleague, David Lobenberg, we have been both painting the same subject from the same photo. When the challenge was issued (by Dave) I wondered about making changes to the composition. The lighting, the value and color changes in the rocks, the foam, the waves, the sky all presented different challenges. I couldn’t wait to get at it! It has taken me nearly a week to complete this painting. One of the reasons it took so long was that the original photo had the bottom 1/3 of the image solid dark rocks. In my humble opinion, the bottom part of the image needed a passage of light in order for the eye to get into the body of the painting. So, I created the entire lower third of the piece to bring that about.
I might have jumped the gun a bit, not waiting to see Dave‘s painting, but have been so deeply involved in “getting it right” that I could not wait to post the results. I am expecting Dave to post his piece any day now.
For those who are wondering “how” this piece was done . . . . . beginning with the sky ten to fifteen graded washes were glazed over each other, using red, yellow and blue. The big rock in the mist was laid in part way through the glazing process then repeatedly glazed over with the various washes in order to ‘push it back’ and envelop it into the colored mist.
I had a lot of fun working this piece as it was a return to a level of concentration which bordered on being in a trance. . . . . . .which is the probable reason most of us painters paint.
Happy New Year to All for 2012 !

Dealing With Angst

Acrylic on stretched canvas 48 inches x 48 inches

Last weekend, I held Open Studio in my home and studio. There was plenty of work to display. So much, in fact, that much of it had to be on the floor of the studio leaning against the walls and the furniture. After the weekend, we were ‘treated’ to an early rainstorm . . . .two of them, actually. The last one dumped quite a bit of water by our standards here. Enough so that it flooded my studio!! Mind you, it wasn’t deep. but enough to thoroughly soak the carpets and everything else that was on the floor . . . . . . .including some of my work.

One would think I would have picked up all that stuff before the storm. In fact, I had worked much of one day outdoors to prep for the oncoming drenching, but thought nothing of the studio getting wet. After all, we have sump pumps, french drains and all manner of devices to keep it from happening. NO SUCH LUCK! All that artwork had to remain where it was for the next weekend of Open Studio on October 15, 16.
On Friday morning, I went to the studio to enjoy my day of freedom and to be able to paint. As I walked from the bottom of the stairs toward the work area, I heard the “squish” sound at my feet. GAAAARRRRRRRR !!!! Nooooooo!!
So, instead of painting, I ended up mopping and moping. And Schlogging heavy, soaked carpets to an outdoor location to drain and dry them (only if more rain didn’t come!) By Friday night, the mess was cleaned up, the dehumidifier was busy evaporating the entire place and all the artwork was up off the floor . . . . .and the studio had been turned up side down!
Saturday morning I was beginning to twitch from lack of easel time. So, I went to my local art store, bought three large tubes of acrylic paint and a four foot square canvas (122 cm x 122 cm). I couldn’t wait to get it home, mount it on the easel and attack it with abandon! I needed to vent!
In a matter of two short hours I had covered the canvas without a preliminary plan. I was slinging paint and hoping for some sort of non representational outcome. (If you have been reading my blog over time, you know that is NOT how I do my art. I plan!) So, there I was painting straight from my emotions letting my mind assist here and there for a few design decisions, but I had no outcome in mind. It had the effect of standing and screaming my head off for two hours. I was emotionally drained and satisfied at the same time. The next day, I returned to the studio, and looked hard at what I had done. Believe me, it is very difficult to separate emotional intelligence from mental intelligence. I was in a completely different state of mind when I stepped up to the easel. So, I spent a few more hours tweaking here and there . . . . . . and up popped this figure in the painting . . . . . .All that was in that space before was a hot colored shape. This day, the shape became a figure. Who knew he would show up? Then, this morning, I sleepily realized I had not imposed enough color variation or tied a few things together to unify the piece and create a balance. So, back to the studio I went.
This is the state I left it in this morning. Is it finished? I don’t know, really. But I do know my angst is gone. I feel better now.

Returned to the Easel

“Plane Compression”
Transparent Watercolor 22 x 30 inches

Okay I am back! Hawaii was fantastic ! Frankly, however, I have been itching to return to the easel here at home.

This piece is quite similar to the other non objective pieces I have completed in the last few months. It was half finished when we left for our Hawaiian Holiday
All I needed was one look at it’s lonely, half baked existence on the easel to awaken my juices and get me rolling once again. I arose quite early this morning (4AM) to get after it. I am still not certain that it is complete. I may let it hang around for several days before I declare it final and finished.
On another note, I put the last few non objective pieces down on my studio floor this morning and lined them up next to each other. They all look very similar . . . . .which has both good and bad points . . . .it is a spur in my sides, though, as it indicates that I am becoming stale. Gotta move on to another ‘theme’ . . . . .which may not be all that easy. I like the motif of floating planes and shallow space, which is what all of these are . . . .and I noticed that the compositions are quite similar, too! A change up is due!!
Until next painting . . . .

Walnut Tunnel

“Walnut Ave. Dappling”
oil on stretched canvas, 20 x 30 inches
After three plein air sessions at Walnut Ave, it was time to do a large piece . . . .wellll . . . . . . . .let’s just say larger. By comparison, this piece is huge. But not as huge as a five footer.

This was another test for me . . . . A test to remain spontaneous and loose. My tendency is to get tight with my work, but I adore the looseness of both oil and watercolor as it enlists the viewer to employ the imagination.

The textures of the trees, the warm to cool transition, as the viewer goes down the ‘tunnel’ and all the color and edge variations in the shadows are the three things I had really concentrate on the entire time I was painting. It may seem silly, but I needed to take an athletic stance in front of the canvas and hold that long brush all the way at the end of the wooden handle. This painting was painted from my ankles up . . . .moving my entire body to lay in the strokes, sometimes. By the end of a six hour session, I was exhausted physically . . . . .but pleased with the outcome.

A few days later, what needed work was quite apparent. I attacked those areas with the same mental attitude of *suggesting* and *Implying* rather than explicit explanation.

After this painting was finished, I began to think I might be catching on to oil painting.

Still Life #83

“Still Life #83”
watercolor 22 x 30 inches
Life offers few surprises, if one lets it become boring. The same is true in art. One can let the same subject become boring . . .or not. I have been working on this series of still life paintings off and on for two to three years. And it wasn’t because I loved still life paintings. It was for a challenge and to learn something about what my creative muscles could do when confronted with the same subject to be painted in a long series. I have been surprised by what I have learned about design, what is art and what lies inside of me. Certainly not boring.

This is the 83rd pass at it. I never dreamed it would come this far . . . .nor that I would be painting it in front of 220 artists. But here it is. I painted it last Monday evening at the Kanuga Watercolor Workshops in Hendersonville, North Carolina. I completed most all of the painting, with a few errors, in about 40 minutes and introduced the audience to this series process and what benefits and surprises it has brought into my studio. One and a half days later . . .and quite a bit of thought . . .I finished the piece.

This project was what I have been working on so much these last weeks . . .and the reason for being so quiet here. This project was exactly the reason for my last post . . .the Rainbow Connection . . . .

To be introduced to such an august group of painters from all over the east coast . . . .and some of the finest painters in the world today . . . . .was a very high honor. If you were there, you know it was both humbling and exciting. This ‘confab’ of artists and the workshops were the finest I have ever seen and it was run with an expert hand . . .first class all the way . . . .if ever you thought you would like to learn from the best, rub elbows with the most committed and expert painters or just go to such an event for the adventure, this annual workshop is a must. Check it out at this link.

A Time to Do The Familiar

“Sand Slick”
watercolor, 22 x 30 inches
I am still smarting over the last post. While the “picture” is okay, as a painting it fails on a few counts. I am going to tackle it again, but first, I just HAD to do something for the sheer enjoyment.

Understand that I am always up for a challenge, but there are also times when it feels good to just whistle a melody and sling paint. I have done enough landscapes and sea paintings in my experience to feel very comfy in their execution. Some good music in the background, a rainy day, a cozy studio and away I go!!

So, here’s the latest. Don’t get your feet wet!