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.

Courting Failure and Thinking

“Origins”
Watercolor 22 x 30 inches
The terror of failure often accompanies painters as they make their way through their paintings. The sheer idea that failure may appear and inform the world that we are incompetent scares the liver out of many, many painters.
I happen to believe that in order to go beyond what is accepted as ‘good’ or “just like a photograph” one must come to terms with failing and allow it to accompany every attempt at making art. The reason I believe that is that I know that plain vanilla just doesn’t attract much attention. And, in order to do something truly extraordinary, one must risk failing . . . the extraordinary is, obviously, difficult. Otherwise it wouldn’t BE extraordinary.
To make non objective paintings, the artist has no crutch on which to lean, such as a model or scene from which to reference. The artist is out on the end of the gang plank, so to speak. Every element, Line, Size, Shape, Direction, Color, Value and Texture, come into play . . . . . and every element must be considered in how it affects every other part of the painting. Then, composition also raises its head and demands to be not only recognized, but designed. There is much conjecture by lay persons that “my kindergartener could do that,” or “a monkey could,” etc. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Non objective painting doesn’t happen by accident or by throwing paint at it and hoping that the painting will come out okay.
Painting non objective work entails deep thought and lots of evaluating alternatives for each of the elements mentioned above. The outcome is something the artist tries hard to reach and is most often disappointed . . . . “It didn’t come out like what I had in mind.” It never does . . . .but as we grow, we get closer.
So, when I want a mental challenge, painting a piece like the one above is what I attempt. And a challenge it is!!! In fact, the process is total mental immersion.
Did this one work? Heck, I don’t know yet. But the fun is in the doing.

A Breakthrough

“Straddling the Mean”
Watercolor, 22 x 30 inches
This last week was a big week in my class, entitled “Watercolor Beyond the Obvious.” It is a ten week long course with multiple goals: to paint a series of paintings around the same subject, to learn about and apply the elements and principles of design and to get past mental barriers preventing success. The class is lively with lots of lecture and examples presented, while the participants paint two 22″ x 30″ paintings each week and bring them for critique. Each class session features over 40 paintings for the class to see critiqued.
The above painting was a preparation for class to illustrate the design principle of Harmony. It also was used to introduce the idea of the Golden Mean and how it might be applied in composing a painting.
Using M. Graham’s richly pigmented watercolor paints, this painting was developed using the red and blue green complimentary colors . . . . .opposites on the color wheel and showing a possible way of relating the opposing / contrasting colors and values via the small colored lines across the picture plane. On the red side, the blue green, blues, and greens were employed in the little line strips to relate to the other side of the painting where the same colors appeared in the rectangular shape. And, conversely, the strips within that shape were colored in the colors that appear in the big square shape on the left. The objective was to relate the two sides.
George Post, a famous California Regionalist painter from the past taught his classes to “paint relationships.” That is bucket full of words which sailed right over my head the first time I heard them. But now, after many years of painting, I could not agree more! Relating dissimilar things by emphasizing their similarities, or imposing similarities, as I did in the above painting, is what Post meant. It helps bring a unity to the painting and offers the artist seven different avenues to approach imposing some sort of relationship . . . . .through the use of line, size, shape, direction, color, value or texture. As you can see, line and color were used to impose something of a relationship between the contrasting spaces in the above painting.
It was a big lesson for everyone, including me! It took me many years of painting to come to this understanding so I could express it in words and show it visually, too. A breakthrough!

Dealing With Angst

“Enlightenment”
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.

Inactive?

“Squatter”
watercolor 15 x 22 inches

If you are wondering if I have again become inactive, the answer is an emphatic no. I just returned from driving 500 miles, one way, to San Diego, to jury a show for the San Diego Watercolor Society. It is an interim show with an experimental theme. It was a rushed trip, but well worth the time spent. I listened to two books on tape while driving, met some of the SDWS officials, saw some extraordinary paintings and learned a few more life lessons in the process. And, Oh yes, I did paint the morning I left to drive there.

I think there are five pieces left from my binge that I haven’t posted, yet. Here is one of them. . . .
This series is really excellent for illustrating the effect of large shapes and how powerfully they hold a painting together. In the end, this series is much of the same stuff, same color schemes, and similar designs . . . .actually a similar formula, but just modifying the rock shapes and positions in the picture space. In other words, it is all abstraction.
There’s more. Stay tuned.

And Another . . . .

“Merced Gold”
watercolor 15 x 22 inches
Thsi subject is simply terrific for putting strong compositions together. The shapes really lend themselves to commanding and dominating the picture space . . . . .everything else in the painting is just support of that one idea. Which, incidentally, is how all good paintings should be . . . elegantly simple.
Just look at Sargent’s works . . . .not a lot of extra stuff . . . . just simple shapes of figures or buildings . . .and generally they beguile the viewer because of the light and the way the shapes occupy the picture space.
This big rock is a large as a small house in reality. And its shape and edges are fascinating. I love the way the white sits in the yellow dominant field. The yellow provides such a feeling of light and season.
Am still ‘at it’ as I am putting nearly three paintings a day away. There is more to see! Stay tuned!

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!!!!!!!

Size Matters . . . !


“Bucket Crane II”

Watercolor 22 x 30 inches

So many times I have painted a subject too small for the size of the format on which I was painting (the paper.)

Whaddayamean, Mike? Too small? The details were right. The ‘picture’ looked like the subject.

Yes, yes. I understand. But one must look beyond the details and see the RELATIONSHIP of sizes in subject versus the rectangle in which one paints. The comparison says soooo much!

Usually, for the subject to have the necessary power in a painting, BIG is the answer . . . . . . .so big that it crowds the edges and spills over the edges of the rectangle to assert its power. Or those shapes may appear to be floating in space and not connected to anything if the subject shapes are too small for the size of the paper.

There are times, however, when that feeling of floating in space might be necessary. . . . . . .like the painting above. I painted this idea once before in the previous post. If you compare the two paintings, one can see there is quite a different feeling in this versus the last. In this piece, the shape appears further from the viewer and definitely higher off the ground. If you fear heights as I do, then a painting like this might affect you emotionally putting a shiver of fear into your consciousness.

This is where it makes a lot of sense to sketch first (before painting) and do so inside of a rectangle of the same proportions as that on which you will be painting. By doing so, one can see (and should examine) the size relationship between the rectangle and the subject. It matters!!!