Lest We Forget

Still Life # 100
Watercolor, 15 x 22 inches

Okay already! I have been very absent.

I have, however been painting. But not painting like you might think I have. In the last 9 weeks, most of my efforts have been aimed at new, solid examples of design approaches and how to use some of the tools. For example, I have painted some 14 different times the same drawing in 14 different color approaches to illustrate how mood is affected by color choices.
Also, I recently did a number of pieces focused around the principles of value design. And it was actually fun. (Have you forgotten that you took up painting because it was fun?) Yes, it was fun. Nothing earth shaking came out of these many little examples, but it has certainly helped me become much more convinced of the many ways to manipulate the elements and principles of design.
While I have been teaching (and earning a living, too,) I have also been working at being the leader of the National Watercolor Society. And, not surprisingly, leading brings with it worry and sometimes angst. Not that anything is wrong at the society, but events have to be managed and people need to be coached (or whatever) . . . and this causes me to awaken out of sound sleep, sometimes. So, at 4 AM, after such a mental episode, I will make the coffee and go directly to the studio to paint.
Lately, my mind is brimming with ideas to put in front of my enthused class. Along with all the other concerns racing around in my noggin. Today was no different I flew out of bed at that horrible hour of 4AM studio bound.
Texture and Pattern are to be the last lesson next week. So, I set about making another still life painting (number 110!) to see what I could do with texture and pattern. WOW! What happened!? I just let my silly side take a seat front and center. Last week one of class participants used a similar backdrop for their painting, like this grid pattern you see in this painting . . . .I decided to used it and do some other textural ‘stunts’ to bring home the effects of pattern and texture. Before I knew it, I was having so much fun I was actually giggling as I made the painting! Yes! I was laughing out loud.
This may seem somewhat near insanity, but I can assure you it is not. You see, I began painting several years ago (23) just for fun. That ‘s right I was intent on doing this for fun. Every time I paint, silly thoughts come to mind about what I might do . . . .or my first watercolor teacher (Her name is Oneida!) and how much her lessons still make me smile to myself. . . . . or trying to discover some way to include a silly approach into a serious painting.
I suppose we must, from time to time, not forget why we began this journey. We are doing it for FUN! Right? So, when we get frustrated with our lack of progress or ruined paintings, isn’t the most healthy thing to do just to call to mind our reasons? Isn’t it cool that we can completely escape, make funny representations of stuff and giggle while we are at it? Pretty soon the purposes intensify, (like entering competitions), but the real reason we do this is for FUN. Let’s never let go of that!!
I had a BLAST making this painting . . . and I think it shows! (It also counts for brush mileage!)

Playing “What If”

“Still Life-98”
watercolor, 15 x 22 inches

As you already know, I have been working on many different versions of this same still life.

Nothin’ new, you say?

I would beg your indulgence for just a moment. Playing “What If” is no boring pastime. It is the sure path to discovering something new, something unusual . . . . .and certainly the path to finding one’s personal voice in painting. Y’see, when the artist has nothing to lose and it doesn’t matter what others think about a piece, that artist is much more willing to take chances and try things that may not make sense or to take risks when more ‘serious’ approaches would cause risk avoidance.

As this painting was finished today, there was a missing element in the lower right foreground. It was here that the risk was staring back at me and mocking me to go ahead. The pattern of “dotted i’s” on the green vase needed another repetition and that lower corner needed some of that neutralized green to balance things. So, there it is. Could I have spoiled the painting? Yep. Was I taking a risk (can’t erase here with all that surrounding texture)? Yep. Does it make sense or seem ‘real?’ Nope. Did it work? Yep.

I think, frankly, that little silly touch is actually funny. The entire tone of the painting (mood) is sort of tongue in cheek. The entire painting is constructed of “what if” shapes and colors and values. Reality is suggested when it couldn’t possibly be that way. So, the doodling around with an old theme, just messin’ with ideas to see what would happen exposed some new approaches having to do with repeating patterns, gradations, shapes and color intensities. I learned more today!

Isn’t that what this painting business is all about? Growth and learning?

Series Article

Still life 93
Watercolor 15 x 22 inches
You have, no doubt, heard about the idea of ‘working in series.’

There are tons of reasons for it, one of which is to improve on a theme. The least obvious is that through the confinement of doing some single thing over and over again is that the artist’s creative mind is awakened and begins to work overtime. I say that it is liberation through confinement.

In fact, if you’d like to know more about the process of series work and what it can do for you and your art . . . . .or if you are a lay person and want to truly understand what the mystery is inside of an artist’s work process . . . . .pick up a copy of the October issue of “WATERCOLOR ARTIST” magazine.
In that magazine is an article entitled, “Play it Again” authored by yours truly. I hope you find it interesting.
Oh, the painting above is another in the long series of still life experiments. This one was done yesterday. I do these when I yearn to paint but have no specific idea of **what** to paint. This helps me loosen up for paintings to come, exercises my creative muscles, opens thinking channels, allows me to experiment without danger of failure and on and on and on. Thought you might like to see how I ‘doodle’ with my paints.

The Big Argument

“Still Life #71”
watercolor on Arches paper, 15″ x 22″
The art world is filled with artists who believe that the subject of a painting is what makes its worthiness. I vehemently disagree!

A subject or object or group of objects is nothing more than a beginning point for a startling, captivating design. Mind you this could be a landscape, portrait, still life or what have you. It does not matter. It is the interaction of line, direction, color, value, shape and texture that arouses us. Granted, that is an abstract way to think, but it is precisely what happens.

The word “PICTURE” has crept so deeply into our vocabulary that we synonymously connect the word to a mental image of a photograph, or an image of SOME THING OR PLACE. Pictorial accuracy seems to be some critics’ measure of ‘good art.’ I disagree again . . .and loudly! It isn’t the picture or the thing or the realism that is so wonderful in a painting. . . . .

It is what the artist does with the paint to lure the viewer into the concentrated observance of the art and the surface. While an image does provide a starting point for shapes and value structure, it is not the exactness or the accuracy of those things that entertain us as art viewers. Matisse proved this over and over. So did Van Gogh and the Impressionists. There is beauty in the paint! There is emotion and mood in the colors, values, textures and directions. What counts is what the viewer FEELS while viewing the work. Just get a look at “Crows Over a Corn Field” or “Starry Night” and you’ll get what I am saying immediately.

Yes, realism can and does communicate a feeling. BUT, that feeling does not come from the accuracy of the work. It comes from how big dark and light differences are arranged. It comes from the artist’s use of color and texture. Hopper’s work is a perfect example of this. His mood of melancholy and emptiness hits a viewer hard, but it seems to be ‘accuarate.” Some of Winslow Homer’s work had strong threatening feelings and sense of danger. And those paintings were in watercolor! The “happy medium.” Riiight! His and Hopper’s designs were absolutely deliberately set to affect MOOD or “content.”

There are plenty of artists out there who can reproduce a photograph. So what!? How many millions of photos are there in the world? How many have you seen that you vividly remember? Few, if any, is my bet. (Mind you, art photos are something else all together. I am speaking of the every day snapshots that are slavishly copied.) Yet, when a painter builds up color and texture on a surface and it is remindful of, or directly stating something about, a subject with both drama and subtlety, we are engaged with it. It holds our interest because the image or the arrangement of color, value and texture are so unusual and unique. It is this uniqueness that holds the viewer’s attention. . . . . .not the fact that the painter was able to make a pretty “picture.”

As a painter, I work in series. Maybe not as faithfully as some artists, but series work draws out boredom and forces the artist to create something more than representation of a subject. It is through using the same beginning idea over and over and over again . . . .this still life set up for example . . . . . . . .that the artist is forced to make something different each time he paints it. That purpose or that cause is what brings to light the strength of his work. It is the stuff that comes from within . . . .the stuff that sets his or her work apart from all other artwork or images which entertain us as viewers. It is what he or she does to stimulate contrasts and harmonies. It is what her or she does to deliver a sense of space or surface that holds our interest. It boils down to how the colors and values react to serve up visual stimulation. That is the CREATIVE aspect of the work.

This idea of making something different is the frustrating part of making art. (Not the only one, though! There are plenty more frustrations!) We, as humans, tend to be easily influenced by other artists methods or “the how” or what we believe to be “the rules.” All those things make creating new, different art even more difficult. They influence us to avoid showing that which we would do without coaching. By the virtue of that point alone, when an artist creates something unique, which especially connects with our emotions, then we MUST honor the work. That artist probably went through mental hell getting there.

And that brings up another aspect of making art that gets in the artists’ way . . . . .the desire to make a masterwork. And how trying too hard locks us up. But that is another subject for another day.

More Practice

“Tree Hook”
oil on canvas, 18 x 24
Sunday, I spent seven hours tidying up in my studio. Yuch! I found a warped canvas but didn’t have the heart to pitch it out. So, today, resisting all temptation to do something more productive, I went for a bigger painting on that canvas. Used a big size 14 Flat brush and shoveled on the paint . . .wellllll . . . .I could use much more paint. I have to get over hedging a bit when I sqqueeze it out. I must say, however, I am much more generous than a mere two weeks ago. There are big piles of paint instead of dabs on my palette. I think it has to do with growing confidence.
This painting was a blast to attempt. Big arm moves. Big brush strokes. and fully considered strokes and stroke directions. Sorry about the color here. It just isn’t as brilliant as in reality. A
The tree is speaking to me. I can see brush marks everywhere. And that big dark shadow in front is also speaking to me . . . .Like :This is WAAAAAY TOO DARK. The planes on the little cups (vases) to the right are showing different planes of light . . . .that is a bit of a breakthrough for me, too. I sorta like the look here.
Lotsa fun and more learning. I can feel the stroke ‘stuff’ starting to make sense. I actually THINK before touching the canvas! How weired is thaaaaaat? 😉

Staying True To The Reason We Paint

“Still Life #63″
Watercolor on Arches Cold Press 15″ x 22”

Last weekend I had a chance to do a demo for a good sized art group about watercolor painting. My philosophy is simply this: Have fun doing this! That was the reason we all started doing this to begin with, right? So, I have fun in the demo . . .and get everyone laughing and teach techniques and design ideas at the same time. This piece took 90 minutes with a 15 minute break half way through.

The painting is (I think!) number 63 of a series I have been working on of the same still life set up. There will be more about that in future posts. In short, series work is designed to open creative doors that the artist would not otherwise access if just painting one painting. Working in series allows us to take chances to find out what will happen if . . . .

The mood of the piece came out fun . . .eh?