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!)

Workshops . . .

“Sonoma Vineyard”
Watercolor
22×30 inches
The painting above is from a series of photos taken while on a visit to Sonoma, California to spend a weekend with a dear friend, Mr. Dick Cole. As you may know, Dick is a fabulous painter and is the President Emeritus of NWS. The reason for my visit last year was that I was taking on the presidency of that same organization. So, being the pals we are, Dick and I, and our wives, during that weekend, sat about drinking the fine wines of the area, sightseeing, dining at a great restaurant and generally shooting the breeze about the directions and my vision for NWS.
I hadn’t accounted for the fact that my workshop schedule might be impacted by taking on the presidency of such an august body as NWS, but it has, indeed. I am disappointed that I must follow a more limited schedule than usual. Because priorities dictated that my NWS 2011 schedule be set first, I could make only a few commitments for workshops. Now that the schedule has been decided, I am fortunate to report that I have but two to three available time slots for 2011.
If you know of an organization that is seeking a lively watercolor workshop instructor to bring design and composition to life for a group of enthusiastic painters, have the organization email me at mebaileyart@comcast.net.
I am expecting to be on both coasts of the USA more than once this year, so give me a shout!
Meanwhile, I will be “suffering” (while living the dream) with brush in hand at lush locations, such as Sonoma or California’s central coast to make some excitement come to life on a piece of paper or canvas. Rough life!! 😉
An exciting year is ahead and I plan on being right in the thick of the excitement!

Sometimes I play

“Bottom of the Dome II”
watercolor 15 x 22 inches

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.

Haste, Balance and Adjustments

“Hobby Horse Dreams”
Watercolor 18 x 24 inches

Today, just as I am readying to depart to an NWS board of directors meeting, I kept noticing that I had a problem with my last painting.

This time of year is always difficult for me because it is a time of hurrying to complete many things in short time allotments. Open Studio at my home will be held October 9,10 and 16,17. The haste to accomplish all the framing and preparations to make that event happen without hitches is always a challenge.
As usual, I framed pieces I have painted in the last year. This piece, which you saw in the last post, was standing in its frame in our living room . . . . . .and while it stood there, it was as if a big hook and yelling voice was attempting to catch me. The piece was out of balance!
See the last post and observe the left 1/4 of the painting. That area was morose, dark and the only area like it in the painting. That area seemed as though it did not belong with the rest of the painting (striving for unity!). Also, the white shape seemed to be too far biased to the right . . .that is most of the weight of the shape was on the right. Something needed to happen to this piece! Something subtle yet effective enough to upset the current unbalanced nature of the piece.
I had to remove it from the frame, mat, glass etc. Then it had to go back to the easel for adjustments and some needed new elements of line. You can see the vertical / oblique wavy lines were added . . .but no change in balance. The Blue ‘dart’ was added to help direct the eye, but the piece was still out of balance. ( I wasn’t just guessing. I knew what had to happen: the left quarter needed a hint of white to pull the eye back toward the left and to compensate for the right biased weight of the big white shape.) The lines and dart were needed elements for interest.
Darn! Wasted time! Not really.
Having learned the hard way too many times, it seems to me that a good painter never rushes to conclusions in finalizing any painting . . . pending shows or whatever the reason. I have, several times, framed paintings and put them in a show only to be embarassed by what I completely missed seeing. Good paintings need time to be digested and reconsidered. More often than not, after a few weeks of resting, a painting will reveal its inner workings and problems as the painter relaxes from the angst of the act of painting. I believe this to be part of the natural order of making art. You just cannot rush it. Many students find they cannot paint well in workshops. This is part of the reason. Good composition requires reflection, observation and thought. . . . . . and not just for a few minutes. Those tiny adjustments can often make or break a painting. And they may not reveal themselves for long periods. It is a matter of being patient and letting the mind dwell quietly on the composition. The painting process is not always won by the swift, but to those who remain in the struggle to compose carefully.
Moral: Put your pieces up in a corner where you can see them for an extended period before the “Finished” declaration is made.

Throw in the Towel? Never!

Before Modification . . .
“Bad Dawg”
Final Version
watercolor 21 x 21 inches

Years ago, as I was learning to paint and making a few hundred attempts per year, I found only a few of those to be “good” paintings.

Now, as I believe that I know a little more about the structure of a painting, I am very reluctant to accept that a painting is finished too early. Now, I seek a greater complexity than before. But it is waaaaaay more than just complexity. It has to do with balancing all the relationships.

Recently, I heard it said that a symphony is marshalling all the relationships of sounds so that the magnificence of the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Wow! Is that ever true for the painter, too!

The act of creating balance and unity among the relationships is the crux of painting fine work. There is intense mental strife in that effort for me. In other words, it is a continuous battle to adjust and modify until everything fits. And so many, many times in the progress of a piece I mutter “just give it up!”

I am finding, as I grow artistically, that it isn’t always one’s ability to paint as it is the willingness to risk failure over and over until a painting is finished. Every alternative must be tested, sometimes tried, to determine if the painter has gone too far or not far enough. At some point, making new marks threatens to spoil weeks of work. And it sometimes does.

When it does, should I quit and begin again? That is one possibility. Or, should I attempt removal of the mark, or modification of the rest of the painting?

I say never quit! Take the piece all the way to near ruin before giving in. Lifting paint out of a watercolor is not easy, but it is possible. Overwork? Of course! There is a patina which develops which can sometimes be most attractive and displays a bit of history of what the artist did to complete a piece if it is overworked.

This piece, “Bad Dawg,” is one such piece that suffered through several different endings before I finally stated, ‘that is enough.’ Overworked? Perhaps. Muddy? Some would say “yes.” Sophisticated? Maybe. In the end, taste prevails. Your taste? What does it say?

In the process of becoming more accomplished, learning to accept failure as a companion is absolutely necessary. The biggest part of that, I believe, is NEVER giving up.

Why Bother to Doodle??

A doodle to settle down . .
Several years ago, a painter friend was telling me about studying with George Post. Yes, the famous California Regionalist painter. I asked, “what does he teach?” The answer was short, quick and unforgettable. She replied, “Paint Relationships.”
I nodded with that “of course” look on my face while I wondered “what in the hell does he mean by thaaaat?”
That question haunted me for years. It wasn’t until four or five years ago that I awoke one day with the answer. I had been reading books about design . . .(not just looking at the pictures!) . . . . . . .and, while asleep, something gelled in my mind. I understood what he meant! Man!! That took some time to digest that one!!
There are seven ways to cause things to relate. Yep! Seven. The very same as the elements of design: Line, Size, Shape, Direction, Color, Value and Texture. Take any two dissimilar shapes in a painting and one can relate them via manipulation of any of the seven elements. Color and Texture, for example . . . .give both shapes similar color and texture and they will relate.
A painting is a great combining of all of the elements. . . .those elements are the marks made on the canvas or paper. Relating all the parts of the painting is the art. Of course, there are different kinds of relationships, like absolute ooposition or harmony. The goal, usually, is unity . . . . .to make all the parts seem as though there is a feeling of belonging in the painting. I can assure you, it has nothing to do with things or objects.
So, then . . .should I set out to do a masterpiece every time I paint? Heck NO!! There are times when it is necessary to do warm up exercises . . .or when it is necessary to simply try something that might be niggling away at our consciousness . . . .or to just paint to feel the brush slithering out paint onto a surface. Doodling has a place in painting. To put it simply, to just try stuff without fear of ruining a ‘masterpiece.’
It is my contention that all we artists do is try. (there is a big difference between ‘try’ and ‘do.’) We move paint around and often hope for the best. So, why not doodle for the sake of finding out new solutions?
The piece above was a ‘sanity doodle.’ That is to say, to paint just to keep my sanity. I was in Kanuga working hard to bring tough subject matter to reality for a group of driven workshop participants. Preparation for such anxious people can steal all one’s painting consciousness, much less painting time. So, an hour before class, I doodled. Yep. Pointless, silly, exercises I made up just to see if I could find different ways to cause different areas of the painting to relate.
The painting will never, ever see a mat, much less a frame. But it does call to me to remind me that the doodling not only helped me settle down and be ready for class, but it taught me a few more little nuances about relationships that I needed to fully understand . . .and I will put that to work in a serious painting one day, maybe . . . . .or maybe not. But I feel more comfy in the knowledge that when needed, I can establish relationships in any painting. Doodling has shown me that.

On Value Transitions

“Crumpled Considerations”
Watercolor 30 x 22 inches
Last week a gentleman inquired about my method in making these non objective paintings.
First a sketch. A simple sketch which shows two or three simple value shapes. Those different values must, in my mind, exist in a ratio of Large, medium and tiny. Which specific value group is one size or the other doesn’t matter. I happen to like a large lighter compositional shape which reaches for and touches at least three sides of the piece. The dark and medium values would surround the large shape.
Mind you, when I refer to “light,” it may mean several different light values . . . . . .that is lighter than everything else in the painting.
The big trick in putting this to paint is to first isolate the large light shape by blocking it in with various glazes of paint layers. The use of glazes assures variation and, if I am careful with different techniques, texture, too. Over several days, I will gradually begin to encroach on the big light shape along the edges, gradually changing value and color. By edges and the amount of encroachment, this could mean as much as covering the majority of the shape or as little as a mere centimeter into the shape.
The work ensues until there are a series of value steps from dark to medium to medium-light to light to lightest. Those transitions and graduations of value (and color) prevent the eye from being stopped by too much, or too sudden, contrast. Only at one location will there be a strident step from dark to lightest. And that location will be in a very strategic spot.
Gradually textures are created and, toward the end, there are a few stampings and spatters in unique places to help soften or assist a sudden value transition. In short, this process requires a lot of attention to edges and contrasts.
As the piece nears completion, there are always errors and problems with balance and misplaced contrasts. Sponging out areas using various masks (or not) helps to resolve many of these issues.
Overall, the goal is to make a painting which is completely unified from corner to corner, where there are relationships throughout the piece. That is where shapes are related in their character, value, color and or texture. There must be passages and movement through the piece and it must have excitement. That last word is the opposite of boredom. Every single square inch (or centimeter) must have something happening that is related to other parts of the painting, but in that relating must also be different. Texture stampings, for example, must be similar but different. VARIATION is a a key operative.
So!! There you have it. How long do paintings like this take? Weeks and, frequently, months!
Failure is my companion every step of the way. It is part of the process. The trick is to work the painting until it is finished: Never give up. Think think think think!!!!

Planely Scattered

“Planely Scattered”
watercolor 30 x 22 inches

The title today relates to what my life is like at the moment: Lots of different things going on, very little of it to do with painting.

Scattered, for sure. Distracted, yes, but my thoughts, dreams and actions all are centered around moving pigment in a related way to cause a viewer to entangle him or herself in a visual conversation with a painting.
Decidedly, a painted appeals to us on very deep, often unidentifiable levels. Questions like, Why do I get a feeling in the pit of my stomach when I look at this? Or, What is it that makes me want to touch this painting? Why doesn’t this look like a ‘regular’ watercolor? This piece makes me relax. Why am I so curiously inspecting every inch of this painting?
These should be questions that us painters should be able to answer easily and create the visual stimuli necessary to ensnare them. We are the creators of the work, we should be able to steer the viewer to feeling something.
Often, in lectures to those who will listen, the ideas of what makes a ‘good’ painting are openly discussed and argued. There are three things by category, but those three things involve volumes of explanation. They are “”Content”” . . . .that which arouses our feelings and sensibilities, or a story . . . . .””Design”” . . . .The relationships between the marks on the canvas and/or paper, or how all the painting parts fit together . . . .and “”Technique”” . . . .how the paint is applied and is technique in concert with Design and Content. They are all inter-related in one way or another. That is, the technique and design must support the content. However, if the content is extremely strong, and the design equally as strong, technique can often take a back seat . . . or not be as important as the other two areas.
I am often asked what is necessary to be accepted into juried shows. These three items must be in concert to win that admittance. It may seem daunting to the novice painter, but the study of these aspects of making art is what this journey is all about. It really is much more complicated than just making a pretty picture. To grow and to learn about ourself and all that we can do with art is a high calling. It is a step into our higher self.
Not that there is anything wrong with ‘pretty pictures,’ mind you, but how many millions of them are out there? To put one’s self onto the track of learning all the above aspects about making art is to put our minds to the purpose of being our highest self. I would say that is worthwhile, wouldn’t you?

On Composing

Preliminary Sketches
Composition Idea
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.

Testing Limits

“Chestnut St.”
Unfinished– watercolor 22 x 30
When are we NOT LEARNING how to paint? Do we ever stop learning? Should an artist only paint what he or she knows? If I am the person to answer, I would say absolutely NOT to the last question. It is ALWAYS about learning!

So, what should an artist be stretching to learn after painting for 22 years?

Let’s start here: How about learning more about one’s capability? What about testing one’s self to remain in control no matter the circumstances at the easel? What of practice to smooth off rough edges in a project or series? How about testing “What Ifs” in color strategies? If you are a watercolorist, how about painting on wet paper and hurrying the process so the paper doesn’t dry? Or, what about a challenge to finish a full sheet in 90 minutes and driving one’s self a little bit nutz in the effort?

All of these things are about stretching. They are about experiencing circumstances out side of the comfort zone more often . . . . .so when they really do arise in a serious painting situation, the artist is more comfortable in working through the ‘emergency.’ It is in these times of horsing around to find out what happens that an artist gains precious experience.

So!! You tell me. Which is more valuable? A wide range of experience, or a few successful paintings done in the artist’s comfort zone? Do you suppose there is value in being able to anticipate the outcome of something the artist does, either by accident or deliberately? Of course there is! It is called mastery of the circumstances. And the only way one develops mastery is to try different stuff and create challenges. In other words, expand the comfort zone. So what if the painting tests aren’t masterworks?

The above painting was done on wet, saturated paper inside of a time limit . . .in a fairly large format to cause me to hurry to keep up with the drying process. I had fun in the challenge, didn’t finish, messed up perspective, but found some lovely little passages that made me want to do this again and again.