Opaque Media

“Stud Bucket”
mixed media 22 x 15 inches

mixed media 15 x 22 inches

In my search to simplify and still entertain the viewer with excitement in my paintings of Linemen, I have begun an approach using orange (or other color) stained watercolor paper as a beginning.

The paper is stained with a weak solution of acrylic paint and water. Once completely dry the paper can be painted over easily with watercolor . . . . .yes! It can! Because the acrylic soaks into the paper, the paper still accepts the transparent watercolor paint. This will make for some interesting surprises in the resultant color, that is for sure!
Then, by adding gouache to the process in certain places, the orange stain is covered completely because the medium is opaque. Using a random brush stroke strategy and letting the brush run out of pigment before recharging allows some of the orange to peek through. This has the effect of unifying the painting by having variants of that orange being the basis of all colors and values throughout the entire piece. Additionally, the surface has an exciting vibrating effect which is stimulating to the viewer.
In “Spidermen”, above, I used tempera instead of gouache. I was most deliberate to also be conscious of edges and line in that piece in order for line to be an interesting element in the painting. The white helmets are pure tempera over the orange paper. The helmets are much easier on the eye in person. (The photograph seems to emphasize the impasto effect here.)
Obviously, I am still playing with simplified shapes and flattening the picture space. I have a long way to go to get what I am after, but the chase is absolute funn!! After all, it is only paper I am wasting.
Oh! You think I am wasting time too? Nope! I would have gotten older whether or not I was painting. Not a waste at all! I am LEARNING !!!

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?

Series Article

Still life 93
Watercolor 15 x 22 inches
You have, no doubt, heard about the idea of ‘working in series.’

There are tons of reasons for it, one of which is to improve on a theme. The least obvious is that through the confinement of doing some single thing over and over again is that the artist’s creative mind is awakened and begins to work overtime. I say that it is liberation through confinement.

In fact, if you’d like to know more about the process of series work and what it can do for you and your art . . . . .or if you are a lay person and want to truly understand what the mystery is inside of an artist’s work process . . . . .pick up a copy of the October issue of “WATERCOLOR ARTIST” magazine.
In that magazine is an article entitled, “Play it Again” authored by yours truly. I hope you find it interesting.
Oh, the painting above is another in the long series of still life experiments. This one was done yesterday. I do these when I yearn to paint but have no specific idea of **what** to paint. This helps me loosen up for paintings to come, exercises my creative muscles, opens thinking channels, allows me to experiment without danger of failure and on and on and on. Thought you might like to see how I ‘doodle’ with my paints.

The Dance

“Red Rover”
Oil on canvas panel, 12 x 16 inches
As stated in a recent post, this month is about focusing on plein air painting.

I can get very excited about this stuff, especially when the weather is offering sunshine and lots of subjects to paint. I must confess that I have taken on a near madness in this pursuit . . . .making two paintings a day! Yes. I am falling out of bed at sunrise, pulling on some clothes and leaving the house to paint. In five days, ten paintings have appeared. So far this month, 20 paintings have happened. And I have more waiting to be done. (Yes, there is other stuff getting accomplished, too, for those who are wondering about that. 😉 )

I am not sure of what to do with all this energy, except that I have an ethic about getting better and better at something. That ethic is to practice . . . .a lot !! If being taught by an expert, the expert will openly say something to the effect of “get the first 500 paintings out of the way, quickly,” . . . . . . which is really about producing quantity versus concern for quality. In that production of quantity, all sorts of things develop . . .not the least of which is to build a firm familiarity with how the medium responds. Moreover, a relaxation by the artist takes over at some point. That is an attitude of accepting what is happening on the canvas rather than trying to steer it. It is there, in that attitude that one’s style emerges. It is there, in that attitude that quality appears as a result of an internal knowing of what that medium will do when left undisturbed. (Am I saying this correctly?) . . . .and so leaving that brush stroke to say what it will.

In a fascinating book I am reading, “The Outliers,” by Malcom Gladwell, he speaks of mastery of anything coming as a result of being involved with it for ten thousand hours. Yes, it sounds like a lot of time. When I thought about it, and recounted what amount of time has passed while I had a watercolor brush in hand over the years (or was studying it) . . . .those hours long since passed. Who was counting?? Not me! I just wanted to paint!! Just like today. I just want to paint. I have to paint. That is to say, there is not a choice. I must!

Maybe mastery will come at some point. Maybe it won’t. I don’t care if it does or does not. In the chase, I get to paint !! And that, Dear Reader, is what makes this guy’s clock tick. It is the music to which I dance . . . . .and dance . . .and dance . . .and dance! What a joy!

And this painting above was simply the joy to undertake the challenge. Life is sooo good!

Crimson Ride

“Crimson Ride”
oil on canvas panel, 8 x 10 inches
While painting another scene adjacent to a local fisherman’s harbor, I labored over getting that painting right. After throwing in the towel, I turned, went accross the street and slapped out this little painting in twenty minutes. I had become very tight and fussy with the last one and needed to cut loose. This painting will never see a frame, but there are parts of it that I find arresting. I will probably go back and make a larger, highly engaging piece from this subject.
Right now, this whole plein air thing is to practice practice practice. I can feel the skills sharpening with every painting. This one was just plain fun!

Self Portrait

“Self Portrait”
watercolor 15 x 22 inches
Responding to David Lobenberg’s challenge of making a self portrait, I jumped in with both feet as I have been thinking of taking on portraits as a distraction from my usual fare.

So, I did.

Something about the usual portraits has always troubled me . . . .that is that many artists are so wrapped up in the details of the face, that they miss the value abstraction possibilities and the interest created by non symmetrical shapes. Mind you, I am not speaking of noses, chins, foreheads and that sort of shape. I am speaking of the shapes of the various VALUES of the light. In my book, it is the pattern of light on the face which makes a portrait much more powerful.

But what do I know? I don’t paint portraits. I slapped this one out in about two hours and realized that there is a lot to learn about color in portraiture. Temperature and intensities make huge differences in the painting of facial perspective.

Blow Hard

“Blow Hard”
watercolor 15 x 22 inches
This location here on the west coast is but a teensy little spot which has massive interest to me. I cannot count the number of paintings which have come from this location (Davenport, CA). Every view imaginable has been put to canvas or paper . . .and more images await the brush.
This clump of trees sits at the very edge of a sheer cliff into the rough surf below . . . .probably 100 feet or more! (30 meters). The cliff face is absolutely vertical and these trees and their roots are holding the cliff from eroding into the sea. The cluster of trees juts out into space as the wind beats at them daily. Thus, the name, “blow hard.” Their shape and their trunks and branches tell much about their struggle to remain in that place. The salt, the fog, the wind, the cold . . .it all contributes to stealing their healthy appearance and at the same time giving them strength.
I have been working on developing a new workshop for the last few months and travelling, too. The mental focus to compose the lessons, examples and order of this workshop was weighing on me. So, yesterday, I took the day to play at the easel. This was the result. I had fun and am now ready to refocus and finish my tasks to compile this workshop.

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!

Stretching Muscle

watercolor, 15 x 11 inches
When we don’t exercise, muscles atrophy. Not good. Exercise is important.

There are times in the studio when one needs to exercise the creative muscle, if, for nothing else, to regain it’s strength . . . . . and to experience something new . . . even if it doesn’t come out right.

Early yesterday morning, I was busy working on a lesson for a class. This idea came to mind as a way to break open barriers to doing something new and different. My classes are encouraged to CREATE. And I attempt to give the participants access to some possible paths they might employ to start the creative thought process. Those hints lie in the seven elements of design, Line, Size, Shape, Direction, Color, Value and Texture.

In this exercise, I took each of the elements and asked myself “What could I do with______? (Insert one or more elements). First, I decided on a dominance which had to pervade the picture space . . . .that, of course, sets up the environment for contrasts and harmonies. Here I chose a yellow green dominance (color) with violet contrasts. Also, I sought an angular dominance (line and shape). By subdividing the shapes into angular ‘shards’ (shape) I created a repetition which set texture dominance. You can also see a diagonal dark crossing the vertical composition which adds other contrasts (value, color and direction).

Some wonder about the disappearance of ‘spontaneity’ in this kind design planning. All the above paragraph does is set a framework under which the artist can explore different design choices. By doing so, the artist assures a degree of success while stretching the imagination. The outcome is that the artist can see more easily the results of interrelationships of the elements. It is in that stretching, exploration and acquiring new experience that can contribute a spontaneous insertion of *knowledge* into future works. All paintings cannot be masterpieces, but they can certainly be part of the cumulative experience which leads to anticipating outcomes and, thus, mastery

A Weekend Away . .

“San Pedro Morn”
watercolor, 15 x 22 inches
There are times when the easel just has to wait. This time, it has been too long.
As you may know, I have two classes for which I must prep . . .and some other workshops I am getting ready for . . . and now, a new assignment on a board of directors with an organization out of town. That assignment has me visiting southern California occasionally. This last weekend was one of those visits. A short flight to LA then on to my hotel near the Los Angeles Harbor.
Wow! What a place that is. I had the chance to go for a few walks in the early morning and a long one on Sunday. Huge ships, tug boats, beautiful golden light, and apparati for loading and unloading ships that would boggle anyone’s mind. They are absolutely enormous (tens of stories high!) and the horizon is littered with them. They are rather strange in appearance and remindful of the “Star Wars” movies.
Here is an image of one of the large tankers parked in the morning light in one of the harbor channels. The colors, the different values of the two shores and horizon and the golden light had me stopped in my tracks more than several times. After taking over 150 photos, I had to hurry to the easel to get something down in paint. A very interesting trip and painting project!