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.

Toying with Line and Color

“Line Splice”
watercolor trial 22 x 30 inches

Few a few days I have been alternately prepping for a workshop and painting . . .among other things. This is a hurried painting on the back of a ruined painting . . .in other words, a trial of a few ideas.

The first idea was to set a mood of an approaching storm and a shadow of danger. That meant I had to use color in a way that was moody and foreboding to a degree: few, if any, pure dazzling colors. I chose to paint in a strategy of Shades, Tones and Tints. In this approach, tones dominate the image while I used shades for shadow areas and the darks. The Tints were reserved for the lineman’s shirt . . . .the edges of it which were in the light.
As well, the use of LINE as an element in the painting was another item I had to fool with to get the feel of which technique to use to express the cables and phone lines in the piece. As it turns out, all but one are freehand. I tried taping the lines off . . . .it was too ridgid. I tried painting with a soft brush and it became too fussy. Then I happened upon a very stiff bristle brush, flat, used on edge . . . .that did the trick.
The gray sky area (the negative space) is much too sloppy for what I needed to accomplish, but now I know I must mix a large amount of wash to attain the uniform feel I am after. I will use a tub of premixed wash on my next attempt and use that as a mother color to establish color variation in the negative space.
The line work in the piece definitely gives a feeling of empty space which emphasizes the shadow of danger. The tree trunk and utility pole on the right of the piece hold the eye inward and make for a strong tie to the left margin via the wires and cables.
I like this one. When I return from my workshop, I will explore making a serious painting of it.

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.

Making Value Studies

I just returned from giving a workshop in Sonoma County in California. It was one of those great ones! Intense. Everyone pitching in and enthused to learn. Everyone doing the exercises.

My workshops are all about building a solid foundation of design. We don’t paint pretty pictures just like the instructor. The lessons and exercises are powerful, insightful and full of challenge.
In coaching everyone and thinking about what I might do with my next paintings, I began to develop a craving to be at my easel. Ideas were sprinting through my mind!
If you have followed this blog, you may recall that last November I was working on Linemen as a subject. I felt these held a lot of promise for developing a unique and interesting series.
Exhausted from the workshop and spinning all sorts of images in my mind last night, I awoke at 3AM and could not sleep for all the ideas that were presenting themselves . . .and I was coming down with a nasty cold. So, I got up, grabbed my sketch book and a cup of hot coffee and went to work on the ideas.
I am looking to make these figures flat and to include some judicious use of line to enhance the image. Also, I have ideas for color schemes which may add some interesting mood. But first, I must work out the value abstractions. That is what these sketches are about: Isolating shapes of light arbitrarily, revising shapes, considering the ratio of Lights, Darks and Mediums. Additionally, trying to make some interesting shapes which will spice up the composition. In other words, making as many alternatives as I could dream up.
On one set of sketches I included two helmets to make a unique shape of white. In another set, I kept but one helmet shape and concentrated on shape and value within the single figure. Click on the pages if you want a closer look at the minor changes I made.
Surely there are more alternatives, but this will be a good start to get to the easel and try a few of them. I can imagine that I could be painting for the next several months (or years!) on this series, since it offers so much potential.

The Ultimate Challenge

Watercolor 22 x 30 inches
click on image to enlarge

After years of painting and trying to tackle all sorts of subjects, I came to realize that it wasn’t the subject that compelled viewers to be attracted to a painting and then to study it . . . .it wasn’t the subject at all. It was HOW it was painted.

Well, you say, that’s great news! What the heck do you mean?

In a few of the last many posts, I have mentioned the elements and principles of design. (elements: Line, Siz, Shape, Direction, Color, Value and Texture. Principles: Unity, Harmony, Dominance, Conflict, Repetition, Variation, Gradation and Balance.) It is in the paying closer attention to these principles, rather than the subject, in forming the marks (elements) that one arrives at a good painting (or not so good.)

We have all had the experience of painting places we know, or painting from excellently composed photos, or painting from life. In those instances, much of the work of composing the elements . . . .shape, texture, color, value, etc . . . .is done for the painter. More often than not, however, while we believe it to be the case that the photo or the model will lead us to a good painting, the opposite happens. Something along the way is forgotten, left out, or ignored . . . .and that comes from relying on the subject to lead the way. To be a great painter, one must reach inside to find that which makes terrific art. It is in our most creative state that we bring something better in our paintings to the world. But HOW do we DO that??

That is THE question. It is the stuff that isn’t obvious which brings a viewer to an excited state of examination. It is the contrasts, the harmonies and the surprises that we dream up to make that happen . . . . . .and it takes lots of practice, patience and many trials. . . .and the study of good design.

One must separate one’s consciousness from the world to force that reach into our authentic creative selves to produce visual answers to the question of HOW. The best way I know of is to paint non objective abstract paintings. In my opinion, that is the ultimate challenge.

That challenge, which is to create something not before seen, means there are no visual crutches or prompts. There is no script to follow. It is design in its purest form.

To do it well doesn’t come easily . . . .in fact, it is the most difficult thing a painter can attempt. It doesn’t occur by coincidence or by slinging paint and hoping for the best.

It happens through meticulous painting and cautious, examination and consideration of painting alternatives. This piece, entitled “Breakthrough,” is such a piece, which has taken months to complete. A few hours here and there. Rest. Look. Evaluate. Rework. Enhance. Rest. Think. Wait, Look, think . . . .and on and on and on. I began this piece in August. Here it is December . . . 5 months later. And I am still looking, thinking and wondering if it really is finished. Is it the best I can do? Do all the parts fit? Is it balanced? Is it interesting? Should it go public?

In the end, it is pieces, like this one, that teach us painters how and where to fill in the blanks when we are painting from life or photos. The challenge of creating something from absolutely nothing is the ultimate stretch. But it is also the place from which the NEW and DIFFERENT are born. It is the place which delivers the unavoidable authentic stuff that only you can make.

If you are interested in attempting this, you may want to consider a one week workshop in how to produce abstractions in work similar to this. It is well worth the investment, as the time spent will awaken even the most experienced artist to the importance of good design. As it turns out, I give such workshops. Interested? Drop me an email if it isn’t on my website.( I haven’t posted the dates yet)

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.