The Power of Line

“Sax and Line”
Watercolor, 11 x 15
“Still Doodle 100”
watercolor, 15 x 22

Line has been used for centuries to create various kinds of art. In drawing, of course, much of that discipline is controlled by line. In painting, also, line plays a vital part in causing the mind to ‘see’ the artist’s intention. And, line can be both expressed directly, or it is often implied by ‘points’ or objects, where the mind imagines the connections and, therefore, can ‘see’ the ‘lines.’

As an element of design, line is often the first element put into play by the artist as he or she sketches or outlines objects and placement thereof onto canvas or paper. It isn’t until later that shading (values), texture and color are added to express some visual feeling of form and space. Line itself can be the dominant element in a painting. If used in certain ways, it can suggest, without actually delineating, shape or form through simple gestural movement in the picture space.

It is often challenging, enlightening and entertaining to select a single element from the list of seven elements and bring it to prominence in a painting. What is more, such choices can often set up ideas for new paintings.

I have shown some line ideas here in these two doodles (that’s what I am coming to call experiments that have no purpose of ever becoming a finished or a “work of art.” Notice how shape is merely suggested with line. Also, you may find some of the lines worthy of noting simply for their own ‘beauty’ or character.

Line is used in the still life doodle to show contour, surface, texture, direction and even shadow. . . . . .all of those things without actually saying any those things expressly. The other piece, line is used as a gestural suggestion without defining shape. The mind has to fill in the blanks.
Enjoy thinking about it.

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?

See If You Can Explain This . . .

“Meadow Stripes”
oil on stretched canvas, 16 x 20 inches
Warms advance and cools recede, right?

I have been painting the wildflowers in this meadow over the last few weeks. In meddling with one of the last paintings to make repairs, I decided to take license with color. That is to change several things to see what would happen (the cool thing about oil painting is that you can cover up anything! So you can experiment till your heart’s content and not waste a single piece of canvas . . .you can always go back over it!)

In this painting, the dark tree line in the rear of the picture space is cool red. While the hills in the back are pale, warm blue. The sky is a warm, pale yellow. The big tree on the right is green and the foreground ranges from blue violet to yellow grays to dull greens. My color logic says “no, this won’t work” . . .but it does.

If I think in literal terms, red is warmer than blue. That part is okay. But why does the red recede like it does in the tree line? The two green trees in this piece scream with warm, intense greens in the light, but out of the light they are icy blue in places.

Maybe the key to this piece is the warm, orange underpainting, which leaks through the colors in the foreground giving it an overall warm, advancing presence. Do ya think?

Thinking about the color wheel, I suppose that the yellow greens live higher, more toward warm than does the alizarin crimson based tree line. Whadda mind trick this painting is. Maybe you can explain it to me. ( I am serious!)

P.S. I’ll be signing off for a few weeks. I am going on a ‘walkabout.’ That is to say I’ll be travelling for a few weeks. This time no paints will accompany me (ouch!) Painting has always been my mistress, but this time I am taking the real mistress with me. She gets all my attention on this junket. If you knew her, you’d wonder who’d be able to pay attention to anything else! I’ll prolly be chewing my nails and twitching from the absence of paint and making art when I get back, but we are going where it’s a bit cold. So, there’ll be some snuggling happening, I am sure of it! 😉 (Maybe that’ll help!)

Meanwhile, be sure to tell me what you think about this color curiosity in the comments section.

Oil Brushwork

“Henry’s Purple Patch”
Oil on canvas panel, 8 x 10 inches
I am not sure this painting shows it off well . . .or that any of the others do either. The reason I am not sure, is that brushwork is actually ignored, infavor of no brushstrokes being evident, in watercolor. I am a watercolor painter learning painting. Yep~! Us artists are ALWAYS learning. Always on the lookout for another way to say what needs saying . . .(or to avoid it).
As an element of design, texture is right up there with Line, Shape, Value and Color. It is clearly visible and adds a sense of tactileness to a painting. In watercolor, one must work to obtain texture. It some cases, texture is almost an after thought. Not so with oil. No siree!! With oil, you get texture with every brush stroke! It is when texture is not wanted that a conscious effort must be made to eliminate it. Just the opposite from watercolor.
I have been scolded and complimented on “brushwork.” And it is the least able to be articulated verbally or in print in order to teach how to do it ‘well.’ It is perceived as good, or it isn’t. At least, that is my take on it. Swirls, swishes, schmushes, schlobs and plops all count in the brushwork world. Its when to and when not to that makes the difference (I think). Brushwork expresses texture and edges throughout the painting.
I suppose one must have a sense for aerial perspective to know when and when not to emphasize it . . . .is that correct? Anyone have any ideas about brushwork? Sometimes, I think I am coming to terms with it and it becomes automatic. Other times I catch myself wondering.
Painting these meadow paintings is giving me lots of practice and plenty of room to try stuff. I am learning that holding that long brush by the last end of the handle makes better brushwork. I am also beginning to consciously make an effort to make it all different . . .lots of variation. I know there are some who would argue that, but I sure am not informed about it.
So, here’s your chance, oil painters. Tell me bout it, if you can. I can’t say I am mystified, but I am not far from it.

No Sooner . . .

“Edge of Quail Hollow”
Oil on canvas panel, 8 x 10 inches
No sooner do I think of something, often, and someone else publishes a commentary about it.

As you know, I have been plein air painting like a crazy fool . . . .just racking up brush mileage. While I have been getting better by increments, I have also noticed that I haven’t been paying much attention to good value composition while in the field. Hmmm! That just isn’t like me! To not plan for that, is to plan for mundane, not so cool, unaccomplished paintings. Then, Robert Genn (http://painterskeys.com/) published this missive in his twice weekly letter about value patterns. ( I think this guys is psychic, sometimes! (or, I am)) ;-))

He made note that it is often after coming in from being sidetracked by trying to capture a scene that we realize, days later, that we didn’t give composition its due effort . . . .and then we set about repairing the image to come to life with a strong pattern of dark and light. Now, that does NOT mean contrasting tones. What he means is a strong proportion of massed dark shades as an organized shape (or grouping of shapes) next to a mass of lights. Mind you, this isn’t about objects or things. It is about groupings of assigned values in order to pull off a strong abstract design onto which the objects are superimposed.

Some painters refer to this as Notan, which is a Japanese word for the same idea . . .massing darks and lights in an organized pattern. This pattern is usually what makes a composition sing out . . . . is is NOT the things in the picture or the subject. We painters call this ‘design’ . . . .or, at least, value design.

So, I caught myself making some re-statements in my recent paintings. Those chunks of dark, or little select areas of clean light against a dark are what makes the viewer sit up and take notice. Thanks for reaffirming what matters, Mr. Genn!

P.S. Robert Genn has one of the finest, most informative art blogs on the internet. His biweekly letters are always welcome and get read, often with more investigation following. If you aren’t familiar or haven’t subscribed, you might want to give it a trial. It is very non commercial and worth your time. Here’s the link: http://painterskeys.com/

Scratching the Itch

Photo 1.
Photo 2.

Photo 3.

Photo 4.

Photo 5.

Photo 6.

“Noon at Walnut Ave.”
oil on canvas panel, 12 x 16 inches

On my third painting trip to Walnut Ave, I saw for the first time!

You think that’s silly? I walked this street at noon almost daily all the while I was in high school! I drive through the street often. My mom lives nearby. I take guests down that street to see it. On my third painting trip, I suddenly saw it differently . . .and made a huge realization. I saw big, amorphous, individual shapes in the canopy of trees over the street. Wow!!

So, here is a progress documentary of how this painting developed . . . .The decision was made to double the painting size, affording more room to express shape, color and texture.

Photo 1. First, the space division problem from yesterday had to be resolved. The sketch was roughed in using transparent oxide red. This is where I spotted the individual shapes in the canopy. Thin color washes were thrown in using a lot of mineral spirits so to set up a progression from warms to cools to the end of the ‘tunnel.’

Photo 2. Continuing with the thin washes I get excited at the progression of yellow greens to grayed blues down the tunnel. I am becoming aware of another possible space division issue with the band of white light on the street surface across the width of the painting. What to do?

Photo 3. A few warm spots, such as the stop sign and a few points toward the end of the tunnel are put in and a few suggested darks are placed into the under side of the canopy. The warm red tones are such a contrast to the green that they act as parenthesis around the white shape at the end of the tunnel, the center of interest. Perfect! I am getting more excited, but the space division issue needs to be resolved soon.

Photo 4. Now the thicker paint layers are put into the greens and other places. Am conscious of the strokes and their direction as each is placed. They help define the light. A false start with the wrong tone is placed into the foreground shadow . . .it is too dark and too warm . . . .but that sets up the hint of what to do with the space division challenge.

Photo 5. Connect the shadows across that white shape! Link them, thus leading the eye directly back to the center of interest. Now the foreground “lights” are warmed up with a pale yellow and very light magenta (hard to see in the monitor) . . .thus bringing the foreground forward and setting up the recession into the tunnel. Edges are softened along the shadow exteriors and some of the interior ‘holes.’ The suggestion of a line of parked cars is begun.

Photo 6. Fine tuning now before it is time to fold up my easel to go home. I can see some places which need more fine tuning, such as the cool grays toward the end of the tunnel in the canopy. Will have to fiddle with that one, but not today. A few darks are added on the far left and the tree trunk is softened. Maybe that isn’t the correct move. Will need to re-evaluate that later, too.

Overall, this was a great day in plein air! I can feel the process becoming easier as I tackle more difficult tasks. This experience really slammed home the idea that one must truly OBSERVE and look again before diving into the obvious.

A Third and Final Attempt

SP-3
watercolor, 22 x 15 inches
Detail, SP-3
This is much better! But, before I go on, let me say this . . . . .this is definitely NOT about me. It is just a face and the answer to a painting challenge. Finally, it is always about learning. In the three SP’s (self portraits) I made substantial jumps in understanding a few things . . . but am a long way from being good at this.

I handled this portrait in a much different way . . .slowing down still more and thinking about design as well as color. . . .one might even say with more ‘sensitivity.’

Using an old technique (and some old manganese blue pigment) I hadn’t used for some time, I first defined the shadow shapes ( in this case one large shape from the top of the head all the way down the face onto the shoulder and off the page) with a huge brush, put down a granulating manganese blue wash. While it was still wet, I began charging in yellows and various reds and allowing them to run down the page (the painting was at or near 45 degree angle) over the granulating wash. That set the stage for lots of color variation and warm / cool transitions. After that wash was dry, making small glazes over small areas to darken and enhance differences in light and temperature. The eyeglasses are a great example of those sorts of subtlety. The end game was to resolve very subtle value and temperature changes in the light areas. The white shirt, for example was left white until the end, when a clear water wash was painted over much of the painting, but leaving the light on the face completely alone, which softened edges, improved transitions and knocked the white back enough that the whites in the face light ended up as being slightly lighter than the shirt.

That’s a long winded answer to how it was done.

And speaking of ‘done,’ I am soooo done with self portraits.

Oh! I forgot to mention that lump on my head. That’s where my wife smacked me for spending too much time in the studio!! ;-)) (Sure, Mike !! )

One of THOSE Days !

“At The Edge of Walnut Ave.”

Oil on canvas panel, 8 x 10 inches
(a better photo injected a day after posting)
On balance, most days are just fine. I mean there isn’t much that I have to complain about, if anything. But some days seem to stand up and scream they are so good. Today was one of those!

A few weeks ago I wrote an article and submitted it to a magazine . . . .and it was accepted. Nice!! Then they wanted hi res images. No problem (I thought). Boy!! Was I ever wrong!

LSS: (that is Long Story Short) I ended up buying a new camera . . . . .wellllll, it was for the magazine article!!! It WAS! Really!! (Yes I am a gadget nut.)

I have spent the last two weeks at the computer learning Photoshop at a breakneck pace and all sorts of stuff about color spaces, workflows, color gamuts, calibration of monitors, cameras, printers and all sorts of non painting stuff in order to be able to send flawless photos of my work to accompany the article. Okay! I am learning something . . .and not just a little bit. I am learning a ton! And I have hardly had the chance to truly investigate my camera.

The plan today was to get out of the house with a great friend to paint en plein air. Oh! The weather was sweeeet. We had lunch together and talked of our younger, sillier, days of lechery and debauchery. The light was uplifting, the shadows gorgeous and the company was almost splitting my sides from the laughter.

Standing on a sidewalk on busy Walnut Avenue, I painted this little lane of a street. Ho Hum, you say? For me, this was a biiig step. I have a tendency to slam my darks and to overdo them so my paintings become overly moody. So, today, I set out to hold down the darks and work in a higher key and depend upon temperature and intensity of the color more than value. I had an absolute ball while I was doing it, too!! I love plein air oil painting!! Every smudge of paint can be felt. Today was one of THOSE days !!! 🙂

Another Shake Down

“Vessels”
watercolor 15 x 22 inches
This painting is the result of taking a few simple ideas and pushing them to shake down any problems and to see what comes out.

Beginning with an under-painting of orange, quinacridone gold and blue, I set about drawing image over image over image over image . . . .much like I had done in the previous two posts . . . . .on top of the painting of the abstract color arrangement. I chose to have the colors dominantly warm with cool accents.

Also, from each position of drawing the image, I changed the height of my point of view, from looking up at the still life set up, to looking straight at it, to looking down upon it. Then, just for giggles, I put a piece of reflective silver mylar partially under and behind the set up which added some repeated shapes in the form of wobbly reflections. Once the line drawing was finished, I left the still life model in another room where I could not see it. My interests were to create shapes by the interweaving and overlapping line drawings and to utilize the warm / cool underpainting as light variations in the painting. By randomly glazing over parts of the painting and implying light from the far left, I wanted to see what sort of design would emerge. Eventually, this design began to take on its own personality. The pitcher appeared in places and merged with the Madonna figure in others. The Madonna figure formed much of the repetition and rhythms in the piece.

I was very cautious (over three days) with this piece not to push the value contrasts too harshly. I believe the darkest dark is but a medium value. By keeping the values more closely aligned, without using white at all, the characteristic differences in the colors used became the prominent interest in the piece. That is, the colors shift from near perfet neutral to slightly increasing intensities, which gives some areas of the painting a feeling of luminosity. That luminous characteristic seems to add a spiritual mood to this painting along with some ambiguity and mystery.

Precious Ambiguity

The Set Up


The Drawing . . .andWork In Progress

The Painting . . .
“Precious Ambiguity”
watercolor, 15 x 22 inches

As a person with an analytical mind and a nature for curiosity and understanding through logical process and detail, I have had to build the right side of my brain. That process hasn’t been easy. My nature is to crisply copy what is in front of me. And doing otherwise has been more than difficult.

Merging shapes, distorting ideas and color for the sake of making something a bit ambiguous is a process which must be learned. That goes for losing edges, creating color harmonies, assigning values . . . .all stuff which is outside of “reality.” For the person of logical mind, these things can be daunting to learn. But, if making art is the goal . . .and fine art at that . . . . .then they MUST be learned.

Someone once said, “Irritatingly precise – Charmingly incorrect.” I think that says a lot about making art that is magically attractive. Those four words hold much wisdom, I think.

The above process shows how a piece is developed to deliberately create ambiguity and hold a viewer’s attention. It is a terrific way to create ‘shapes’ that would otherwise not be possible via sudden epiphany. In this process (also see last post) the overlapping of multiple line drawings makes for serendipity discovery. And, believe me, it is confusing, but truly fun!