For as long as I can remember in my painting life, painting rocks and water has been an endless fascination. Reflections, currents, textures, shapes, and the contrasts between granite and fluid draw me into a state of which I cannot describe.
I remember the day well. I had risen from breakfast to go outdoors to paint. The weather was perfect. But where should I go? There was so much from which to choose. Then it struck: rocks in the river!!!!!! I couldn’t get to the car fast enough!!! It wasn’t long before my shoes were wet and I was assembling my easel as fast as my hands could move.
In reviewing the paintings made in Yosemite, this week, with a friend, I commented that I got the same overwhelming calm and simultaneous excitement when I was fishing at the edge of a small river or creek. I have experienced that feeling since I was a little boy and can remember well being at a certain spot when I was six years old picnicking with my parents.
Then there are the towering rocks of Yosemite. When I am there, they fill my dreams. And I like very much the sheer fun of painting bizarre designs from sketches and memory. In those paintings I allow myself the freedom to Play. While at creek side, however, I am swept up in all the dazzling light, the movement of the water and the glory of the fresh air and wildness of it all. It seems to me that I could no more shift into the ‘play’ mode there than to fly.
But put me into the studio without distractions . . . . .anything can happen . . . .and that is for another post.
Sometimes I Play . . . .
So, but now, you know I am having Open Studio this coming weekend and the net weekend from 10AM to 5PM (Oct 9,10 and 16,17) . . . .
You also know I have been painting a lot these last two weeks when I should be doing chores . . . .but I am finished with that stuff for now. So, it is time to PLAY!! Yes, you read it right: P L A Y!
My form of play has to do with challenging myself to some outrageous (maybe not this time) or challenging art “reach.” What I mean by “reach” is to do something I do not normally do . . . .in other words, try something new and different, where I have to reach to make it work.
I learned to reach when I did a series of 100 + still life paintings, all of the same set up and same point of view. The project forced me to focus on doing something other than copying the subject. Namely, to concentrate on shape, color, value, texture and line instead of the subject itself. My challenge typically is to narrow down some aspect of one or more of those jest mentioned elements. For example, instead of copying what something looks like, such as a tree, I will take on the challenge of shape design through the entire painting.
In this painting, shape design was definitely at the top of the list, as was line. I set out to use line as a source of entertainment and to make flat, angular shapes. A ‘good’ shape is not symmetrical and has a notable direction. Each shape bounded by the orange lines follows those two ideals. There is more to it, though; something enters the equation called “dominance.” In this case as you examine the outlines of each shape, there is an angular nature to all but a very few. That angular characteristic adds a familial similarity to all the shapes which brings about a sense of belonging . . . . . . .often referred to as repetition, this aspect of angularity ‘dominates’ the overall picture space. Had this aspect been left to be random, chaos would have ensued and the painting would have had a confused look about it. There is room for a few shapes with gentle curves, which add some subtle contrast and interest to the repeated character of the shapes.
This was simply plain fun to paint! The dazzling color, the hyped up contrast of color against dark, the zippy and often vibrating red orange line and the passage of blue violet through the piece excites the eye in many ways. I had done a piece like this a year ago and caught myself mentally revisiting what I had done. I caught myself hopping up and down with excitement as this piece neared completion.
Sometimes, you just have to play.
Figuring the Large Shapes
The demo in my last post came out well. In my humble artistic opinion, it had less to do with the act of painting and a heckuvalot more to do with the initial planning and composing.
I won’t say that “anyone can copy what they see” because that is simply not true. But seeing is not always the best means of making something extraordinary out of a bunch of ‘things.’ Namely, trees, cliffs, colored succulent, rocks etc. It is much more a task of arrangement of shapes, shapes, values, colors, textures etc. It is in the arranging or composing those elements together that wonderful things happen.
It begins in the early sketches and assessing those sketches for design flaws, then, re-doing the sketches to account for the flaws, re-assessing and making still more changes. In that assessment process, I find that I must remove my thoughts from the subject and move to considering how the various shapes combine to form three to five large shapes and how those large shapes interrelate with the rectangle of the canvas or paper on which the painting is made.
That recent demo (last post) went through this very process. Once I was happy with the large shapes which connected the edges of my rectangle, I could insert and fit the ‘reality’ of the subject into it. It took some cramming, shortening, shrinking, expanding, squeezing, eliminating, adding . . . .well . . . .you get the idea . . . .the subject had to fit into the composed arrangement of large light and dark shapes. Looking at the sketch above, it boils down to an abstraction that is interesting to look at in its own right.
For you painters who are less experienced, the large dark shape that sprawls across this page is actually a combination of many items . . .trees, grasses, succulents, rocks, etc. It is in the act of painting that the artist must use caution and value control to insure that the large dark shape is still expressed through that combination of ‘stuff.’
It may seem like hard work to those who “just want to paint.” But, I believe that the disappointment which most often follows rushing into a painting is a big price to pay. . . . .especially, when we artists put our treasured sweat and tears into the act of painting. It is worth the effort and time to work out the composition first, then set about getting it all on to canvas or paper.
Returning to class from Yosemite, I had to give a mindless demo of different ways to create textures or to give a sense of surface in a painting. I say mindless because it was simply a blank piece of paper and a bunch of different examples of stamping, lifting, spraying, splattering, smudging, dripping etc . . . .all with no image or intention of making a painting.
Meanwhile, in the back of my mind was a vision I had seen through the eyes of a zoom lens . . . .the face of one of the sheer granite walls towering hundreds of meters above my place on the valley floor. Full grown trees grew out of cracks on the stone! Yet those trees and the abstract patterns in the rock had me buzzing inside.
I took the demo sheet home and began experimenting with more textures and colors and ‘stuff’ just to see what I could come up with that **might** suggest those walls and their abstractions on that same sheet . . .just slobbering layer over layer.
Often, it is the coming together of sheer experimentations and the visions from inspired ideas that create works which arrest a viewer and hold their interest . . . .much more that a tired scene of something everyone knows.
Clearly, to be different, one must do different things at the easel. The painter must allow the paint to act like paint rather than conform to some notion about looking like something else. Experiments can show us painters new ways to consider our beautiful mediums. In fact, I believe most of our work as artists must be connected to experimenting.
I have a goofy, abstract side as well as a side of me that loves the implied realism which emerges when all of the elements and principles of design optimally meet.
That means that for ‘reality’ to emerge contrasts can’t get too far out of hand, shapes must be designed but recognizable, values must have their transitions and appropriate assignments. (by assignments, I mean that the dominant value of a region in the painting must have a dominance which seems to emulate reality.) And, of course, color has it’s place, too. Good color harmonies and gradations make all the difference in a well executed painting.
But!!! . . . . . .there are times when the playful side of me screams to get out. And . . .when that happens, just about anything will show up. In this case, it was more of what I had done earlier in the week at Yosemite. While Sentinel Rock was right out my back door, it’s shape is recognizable from all over the valley floor . . .and above the valley.
With sketchbook in hand in the mornings, I would draw from my previous sketches or paintings and redesign shapes . . .reorient their placement on the page . . .exaggerate or play down some shapes in order to call attention to something special. Set the values so the overall composition worked well, then set about painting it.
I just HAD to Play with color, too! Using a rigger brush with pure Perinone Orange (a brilliant red orange), I lined out all the shapes completely eliminating detail. Focus on shape, value and color. Period. Painting the inner parts of the outlined shapes in opaque gouache, holding down the intensity of the colors until the center of interest, where I played up the saturation, this was the outcome. Yep! It’s different, but definitely Yosemite.
By the way, if shape design is of interest to you, check out Peggy Stermer Cox’s blog (click here). (Check out her “Still Life with A Pony” images. What she does to keep a whisper of reality, yet make shapes leap out of the page is worthy of your time to go look. We could all learn much from her!
For many years I painted watercolors outdoors with friends. Some worked and some didn’t. There was, however, a certain energy about the paintings that made them very recognizable from studio work.
Perhaps that energy is a result of the difficulty of painting with watercolor outside. I consider myself confident in executing an outdoor piece, but I must say that in spite of my confidence and speed of delivery, there is just something that keeps me in the studio. Plein air painting is a giant pain in the rear, if you know what I mean.
While in Yosemite, I made, at least, one plein air piece per day . . . .and usually did a studio piece each day, as well. This piece, of the ‘three graces’ (I think that is the name) was one of those incredible days where every wash behaved, every color did what it was supposed to do and the wind only come along at the finish. Out in this meadow, near the base of El Capitan, the light sparkled on the edges of this giant set of rocks, while in the crevices the light hid in mysterious darks. The light coming through the yellowed trees at the base of the rockwalls were luminous. It was a blast to paint! But inside all of the processes, more lessons came forth which reminded me what I should be doing in the studio.
One of those lessons was to paint vertically if I want great washes. Having gravity naturally pull the pigment laden water down the page reveals granulations and effects one can never cause on a piece of paper, no matter how expert the painter might be. So, I am doing exactly that. I had forgotten how important it is and allowed the comfort of control to take over. Invariably, the discomfort of a painting getting ‘out of hand’ is when the great stuff shows up.
On to the next one! Let the paint flow downward.
It has been a while since posting last. To get back into the painting mode I will sometimes take on a familiar subject and ‘let her rip’ by applying the paint in ways that are completely different than my normal painting ‘style.’ In this painting I used wet paper and an oil painting filbert brush to scrub in the paint. This yields wild and brilliant colors but also opened the door to using line in an otherwise different way. In the end, all of the elements (7 of them) are present, but some are emphasized in such a way as to attract attention.
This painting of half dome in Yosemite was more of an experiment than a painting. It may never see a frame or a mat, but it certainly allowed me to ‘get off the leash to run’ and get the crazy urges out of my system. It served another purpose: discovery. While fooling around in a free fashion, I found a few little ideas (like red shadows) and using dense, opaque colored line (integrating gouache into the watercolor pigment) atop the trees. This shifted the focus from the dome to the trees and the white shape behind them. These discoveries of how to exploit the different elements of design can often lead to new approaches in more serious paintings.
Open Studio is finished for 2009. Now I am putting everything away for next year and attempting to get back to living a normal life. Thanks to all who came and a special thanks to all my enthusiastic patrons.
This subject has been attempted before, several times, but this time my senses were able to add some interest by allowing some colors to be present that most folks would never associate with this grayish rock. Instead, I figured, let’s entertain the viewer. That’s the really cool part of being a painter. I can make that rock look any way I want it to appear. Hope you like it.