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.

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 !

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 . . . .

In My Face . . .

“Confetti and Spears”
watercolor 22 x 30 inches

After posting a non objective piece last week, I immediately ran to the easel to do another. Sketches were already done and I was psyched to hit a home run! I have worked on this piece daily for over a week, putting in three to four hours per day.

It wasn’t until I photographed the piece and brought it up on the computer screen that I saw some glaring errors . . . .and I don’t mean smudges or brush sloppiness. I mean design errors that shocked me. This piece has been in my face for over a week and I never saw the errors until now.
We artists can become so driven and focused on something that we completely miss that which is right in front of us . . . at least I sure do!
I am a bit of a fanatic about composition and design, yet make the same mistakes over and over again. For example, the large light shapes which float through the composition in this painting are, I suddenly realized, centered in the page. That is, the intervals or distances between the bottom of the shapes and the bottom edge of the page are the same intervals as the distances from the tops of the shapes to the top edge of the page. Darn!! Why didn’t I see that?
Then, when laying in the spears and lines I was careful not to make any parallel to each other . . . . . . . . .Or, was I cautious enough? Apparently NOT!! Yikes! How could I have missed that?
I must admit that I spent much time and effort trying to avoid color errors and wasn’t looking carefully at spatial relationships in the piece. I had set a challenge to work up a painting in a red analogous color scheme. I love the colors and textures and much of the movement through the piece. That said and noting the errors made (there are ALWAYS mistakes!) this is a passable painting.
I have a friend who is a Dolphin Fellow in AWS (an extremely high honor which recognizes artistic excellence) who says we have to do 10 or 20 in order to get “a good one.” He does . . .and so to I.
So, like they used to say in the barber shop: “NEXT!”

Breaching Fear

“Just Plane Spilled”
watercolor 22 x 30 inches

After a long layoff of painting abstracts/nonobjective paintings, I began to wonder if I could, indeed, do it again. Painting linemen, stilllifes, teaching, presiding over a large national watercolor association, working part time, etc. all take their toll on developing one’s skills in the art world. My dear wife has been challenging me to do more of these kinds of works. Alas, I am as most of the other artists I know . . . . .afraid I might not be able to do it once again.

We all fear failure and, worse, going public with it. There is that ever lurking voice “Forget it! You never had it in the first place. Those others were an accident when you really had it. you’ve lost the touch,” etc. etc. One must step up and face it head on, if for nothing else but to once again be able to say, “yes, I CAN.”
What a difference in how life tastes when we can say that. Right?
I have had a sketch of an interesting composition taped to my easel for over a year. The day I painted the last painting of linemen (see last post) I decided to take the challenge. Working at it some four to six hours per day (every day save two) has gotten this piece to this place.
It is a fine effort to take on something like this because it forces one to focus on the elements and principles with nothing more to use as a reference, except for the initial shapes of the composition. Then it is a matter of subtle adjustments of value transitions, textures, movements, shapes, tangents, convergences, not to mention color dominances and harmonies. In other words, I have found that painting a piece like this takes every bit of design knowledge and calls into play techniques and color skills which have been developed over a long time. . . . . . . .and all of these can become stale if not used.
The last comment is that this sort of work is pure creativity. Copying, referencing, emulating, reproducing or mimicking cannot be part of this kind of painting. it all must come from within and from the hints the painting offers as the painter moves forward.
Now I can go back to my linemen and put some of these ideas to work . . . but wait! I have another abstract piece that I must complete first!
Yes, I CAN!!!!!!!

Thinking Compositionally

“The Big Stick”
watercolor 22 x 22 inches

Compositional Sketches

There are plenty of those who are saying under their breath, “I don’t like these pictures of Linemen.” In other words, they might be thinking that these ‘pictures’ aren’t cute enough or pretty enough to decorate their house. Many painters today subconsciously appraise paintings from that point of view. Those artists are confined to thinking purely about the subject of the painting and how precious it might be in a decorative environment, instead of assessing the painting on the basis of its artistic merit.

That said, I have been wrestling with this subject for a few months and today I broke through to a new level of thinking. I finally was able to separate my compulsive little pea brain from trying to replicate the subject and moved into considering the abstract composition FIRST. What a difference it makes!

Seriously, I do know better. In fact, I teach this in my classes. But it isn’t always easy to make the shift. I might be the teacher, but I am vulnerable to habit just like the next person.

Let me illustrate what I am writing about . . . .refer to the sketches you see above . . . . . . .there is, essentially, two values in each of these sketches. It wasn’t until I reached the bottom sketch that I realized that I should consider the dark values as ONE SHAPE and how it sits in the rectangle or the square! Notice the little teeny sketch to the right of the bottom sketch. Doesn’t that abstract shape appeal to your sense of design? It certainly does mine! It was there that I realized (once again my mind says, Oh! I remember!!) that it isn’t the details but the arrangement of the value shapes and the ratio of their sizes that appeals to our deep abstract aesthetic senses.

Knowing that, I grabbed an old painting, flipped it to the backside, and began drawing in the big dark shape. Once drawn, I could see where some modifications were necessary . . . namely to move from a rectangle to a square format . . .there was an awkward space on the left. Then, the decision to put the horizontals at a slight oblique also added a nice tension to the composition. Also, I recognized that the crossbar on the background pole was not a good angle, so revised that, too, in order to drive the eye to the white helmets.

Once drawn, I pulled the three inch brush from its holster and began sloppily painting intp the dark shape and made sure to slop some color variation into the shape but keep the values the same (that was yesterday). The lights and the darks were set . . . .I left it to dry until today . . . .(and worried a bit about the light shapes of the light on the back of the one figure and the light helmets. I was concerned that those light shapes were too isolated.) It needed more of an abstraction of light passing through the composition.

In short, I lifted here and there to add more of a passage of light through the piece, enhanced a few darks here and there, pushed a few warm cool contrasts and carefully kept myself from ever considering details. . . . .or logic. For example, I decided not to fill in the cross bar brace and not to put an underside dark on the crossbar to the left of the pole . . . .why? Because those details would disturb the composition. Yes, those details would make sense but would affect the negative shapes.

I know this is a long explanation, but I believe this to be the place where I break through in the series to much stronger work. Thanks for being patient.

Tapping Into “That Place”

“Sienna Linemen”
watercolor and Conte Crayon 22 x 30 inches
If you read the last post, it was about how this subject has reached me under my conscious self . . . . . that is, the idea of making something powerful and interesting is nagging at me both while awake and asleep.
That level of ‘concern’ or ‘obsession’ or ‘compulsion’ is healthy for us artists, I believe. It becomes a drive or a motivation which cannot be explained (unless you are a psychiatrist). It is healthy because it eventually bolsters confidence to do something . . . .anything! Once begun a flow begins. It may take multiple tries and attempts, but the soul insists that we continue.
After finishing one painting today, I was determined to do another, more simplified piece focusing on Line, Shape and Value. I had several sketches on my desk lying around the computer on all sorts of documents and scraps of paper (organized, eh?!). I grabbed them and headed for the studio after finishing my last post.
On a large sheet, I began . . . .but swore I would draw from the balls of my feet instead of my fingers . . . . .I would get full swing of my arm while in the motions of drawing . . . not flailing about, you understand, but putting some big, strong shapes on the page and doing it sans concern for accuracy. Then I took up my conte crayon and began with strong, heavy black line.
With a two inch stiff bristle brush I quickly carved in some value washes . . . and without concern for color. Just two siennas and a bit of ultramarine blue. I was seeking flat shapes and a strong, large value shape which established the composition . . . . .so I kept the values fairly close as I put in the big shapes. The entire thing took less than 45 minutes and (it seems) I have a strong start at finding that ONE piece that will stand above the rest.
More work is needed, of course, but if progress like this continues, a really good one should pop into existence soon. (that is if I can get the time to paint!)

Under My Skin . . .

“The Power of Line”
Watercolor 18 x 24 inches

Thinking of Sinatra’s song by the same title (and Michael Buble’) “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” . . . .this subject has finally reached the point of bothering me in my sleep. The subject is under my skin.

Drawing figures who are at work is no easy task. Composing them inside a rectangle so there is energy and content spilling out of that rectangle is the part that is nagging at my every constant thought. Mind you, I have plenty on my plate, being the prez of NWS and also working part time in high tech AND teaching. It seems I am doing a bit of each of these things daily . . . . (spinning plates!) . . . . .and these linemen and composing something of them is bugging me!
It has reached the point where if I have a pencil or pen in hand (or nearby) I’ll be doodling them on anything! The business papers have them. Phone lists have them. Recipes have them. The phone book has them. Meeting agendas have them . . . .everything except my checks . . .and maybe these guys will appear there soon.
As you might see, I reversed a drawing of a painting done back in December, added the element of the near vertical pole in the background in order to involve the other edges of the rectangle. Between the poles and cross arm lives an interesting negative space into which my ‘boys’ are placed. Their location of being scrunched into a corner with lots of space behind and above them provides the feeling of height. As you can see, this piece is rather loose, which I like . . . . but that is because I am still experimenting with different ways to say what needs to be said (what ever that is right now) and am painting on the backs of old unsuccessful paintings.
Why do that, you ask? I will, no doubt, gobble up 20 to 30 sheets of paper before I will begin to settle into a rhythm of confidence with the subject. It is coming along, but I have more work to do. There will come a point where I will be certain of what I want to say and how to say it . . . . what surface, what brushes, what textures, what edges and angles, what shapes and what color strategies. For now, while they are bothering my consciousness, I am taking heed that there is something more to do and to say. So . . . I am trying and waiting for those big sudden breakthroughs to appear.
The trick is to keep at it and don’t give up and take advantage of the fact that they snoop around in my dreams.

Playing Fast and Loose

“High Powered Guy”
Mixed Water-media 15 x 22 inches

I am in my workshop season right now. Between traveling and teaching, working and leading a large art society, painting time is preciously little. So, I have to hurry and grab every minute I can . . . and mow the lawn, weed the garden, tidy up the studio, cook occasionally etc. (you know the drill.)

While I am doing all this, my series of linemen is eating away at my thoughts. So, I am slamming paintings together quickly, mostly as trials and experiments to try out new, more simplified approaches, such as have been mentioned in the last few posts.
I want you, the reader, to see for yourself what happens when an artist is on to something and the trials we go through to get to some worthy art. Sure! I can copy photos in this series. I have over 300 pix that I can use, if i wanted to do that. I am much more interested in making a revelation or a statement rather than a report or copy. That is going to take a lot of trials and errors. Eventually, stuff will roll out and be consistent with my internal vision (which I cannot quite see yet). The ideas and trials are already showing me possible paths and approaches.
This painting was a bit of a struggle in the composition department . . . .that is where to put him and how to structure the perspective so that a feeling of being right there pervades the work. I am getting closer!
It took deleting the pole and placing it much further to the right along the margin and using the cross arm to integrate the figure to the rectangle of the painting. The use of the element of line (no pun) to show the wires and cables and some edges in the piece bring another level of excitement to the surface.
Again, mixed media: acrylic underpainting, watercolor, gouache and tempera were all used to provoke a sense of solidity and roughness in the piece. I am thinking this painting could set up a very serious piece. But I am off to teach another workshop in a few days. Maybe I will get to the serious work next month!!! I gotta hang in and keep painting to keep the flow going.

Conflicting Urges

“Yosemite Humpback”

watercolor, 22 x 30 inches

I just finished this piece. It was a challenge in color management because I first tinted the paper with yellow. As you already know, the addition of violet would be grayed and any blues would appear green. So, I had to play with pigments to get the desired effects of a sunny haze.

As I am preparing for Open Studio, which happens Oct 9,10 and 16,17 here at home, I am often hammered with the desire to escape from all the work and just paint. Making this event happen is fully three to four weeks of continuous work from framing, to tidying, to building display facilities in the yard to sorting the piles of work to see what qualifies and what does not. Since I am not one who does well in boring tasks, this big chore pushes me every year close my eyes and forget it. I suppose, the deeply felt urge to paint is an excape . . . . .but I painted anyway. And it is a good thing I did. The act of painting, for most of the painters I know, is a positive energy tonic for us all. It felt so good, I just HAD to paint another . . . .which I will post later . . . .and have ideas for more.

Oh! You are invited to my open studio. If you didn’t receive a card in the mail, send me your address and I get one into the snail mail right away.