Another Approach / Experiment

Recently, Stephen Quiller introduced me to another angle in watermedia painting. I do not know why it hadn’t occurred to me before now because I use a similar approach in oil paintings frequently. That is the idea of coloring the ground on which the painter paints. In oil painting, or acrylics, orange is often used as an undercolor, letting that color peek through in non deliberate places. It can make for a very unusual spark of energy in an otherwise mundane subject.

In this case, I painted a very thin coat of diluted acrylic paint onto the paper and allowed it to completely dry. Then drew my image onto that orange paper and set about painting the painting using sometimes opaque pigments and sometimes transparent pigments. The results are startling!

Here I have included a landscape with a very dramatic oblique dominance and a brilliant orange underpainting. That orange shows through and helps much of the foliage in the (lower parts of the painting) glow. The opaque gouache used in the sky and a few other spots causes the transparent passages to sing out.

Also, as a class demonstration, the still life (number 103, I believe) was used as a subject. A calmer orange was used in this painting and grays employed to cause the oranges and blue violets to appeal more to the viewer. This piece was literally slapped together to show how the underpainting could be used. Later, line was used through the piece to deliver more texture and interest.

The nice part of doing this is that it sets a color harmony through the entire painting establishing a strong unity. Even subconsciously, we see the orange shining through other colors, which sets a close relationship between all the colors used in the painting. It is a very effective tool to build dominance and unity.
Sort of fun and spectacular at the same time, eh?

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.

Color Tests

Pyrrol Red Tests
Click on image to see color results
watercolor 22 x 30 inches


Still Life – 92
watercolor 15 x 22 inches
Recently, I gave a workshop to the Sierra Watercolor Society on color. The 20 people who took that workshop had not a single moment of lighthearted play during the 3 days. They worked extremely hard to understand color, color relationships, harmonies and, of course, color mixing. M. Graham of West Linn, Oregon made paints available to the workshop so everyone could see the value of extra fine pigments and how they behave on the palette and all get the same results. A salute to the Grahams, Art and Diana, would be minimizing the value of their contribution to these artists and myself. To see the lights come on and the realizations dawn for these artists is absolute pleasure to witness. As the three days progressed, I could see a fluency develop in every single participant. I wish the Grahams could have seen the outcome!

They sent a few of their new colors for me to try. One was Pyrrol Red. I haven’t the slightest idea what the derivation of that color is, but I certainly squeezed as much from that color as I could in determining how it would behave ‘under fire.’

From what I could tell, (see the above chart) it seemed to reside at or very near the 9 o’clock position on the color wheel, midway between orange-red and quinacridone rose (primary red). As you can see, I tested it’s wheel position and validated it’s relationship with other colors. Compared to Cadmium Red, this color is absolutely transparent and brilliant in intensity. I am VERY tempted to put Cad Red aside as this color mixes so beautifully with others and dries with that same brilliance. I need to assess it a bit further before I give up such a stalwart pigment such as Cad Red . . . . .but I am certainly leaning in that direction.

Following the tests, I made another design in the series of still lifes I have been playing with over the last few years. I used Pyrrol Red throughout the painting to make the sienna tones, the greens, the violets and the darks, as well as the semi-neutral reds (browns). The paint performed marvelously!

All the while the testing was going on in the painting, I was mentally busy exploiting more design possibilities in the painting. After 90 some paintings on the same theme, one would think I would run out of ideas, but they just keep coming . . .though much more slowly. More about that later.

Still Life #83

“Still Life #83”
watercolor 22 x 30 inches
Life offers few surprises, if one lets it become boring. The same is true in art. One can let the same subject become boring . . .or not. I have been working on this series of still life paintings off and on for two to three years. And it wasn’t because I loved still life paintings. It was for a challenge and to learn something about what my creative muscles could do when confronted with the same subject to be painted in a long series. I have been surprised by what I have learned about design, what is art and what lies inside of me. Certainly not boring.

This is the 83rd pass at it. I never dreamed it would come this far . . . .nor that I would be painting it in front of 220 artists. But here it is. I painted it last Monday evening at the Kanuga Watercolor Workshops in Hendersonville, North Carolina. I completed most all of the painting, with a few errors, in about 40 minutes and introduced the audience to this series process and what benefits and surprises it has brought into my studio. One and a half days later . . .and quite a bit of thought . . .I finished the piece.

This project was what I have been working on so much these last weeks . . .and the reason for being so quiet here. This project was exactly the reason for my last post . . .the Rainbow Connection . . . .

To be introduced to such an august group of painters from all over the east coast . . . .and some of the finest painters in the world today . . . . .was a very high honor. If you were there, you know it was both humbling and exciting. This ‘confab’ of artists and the workshops were the finest I have ever seen and it was run with an expert hand . . .first class all the way . . . .if ever you thought you would like to learn from the best, rub elbows with the most committed and expert painters or just go to such an event for the adventure, this annual workshop is a must. Check it out at this link.

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!

Stretching Muscle

“Shards”
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 long Term Project

“Still Life # 62”

Waertcolor on Winsor Newton Paper, 15″ x 22″

About two years ago, I undertook a project to learn more about design and shakeout a possible assignment project for my classes. The objective was to paint a single still life set up without changing the point of view or the actual positions of the objects. . . . .and to paint the same set up 20 different times. In short, develop a series. I went off the deep end and have painted over 60 pieces in the project because I had learned so much from it. Ideas for different paintings keep showing up, so I paint them. It is a great way to force oneself not to be enslaved by a subject, but to call up the creative consciousness.

A few weeks ago, my classes began (thus little posting here). This painting is as much for myself as it is for the classess. The groans are loud as they hear the project and what they are to do with it . . .make 20 paintings in ten weeks of the same still life. The objective is to force the painters to think about and try different things with the elements of design; Line, Size, Shape, Direction, Color, Value and Texture. (If this interests you, there are some interesting articles on my web site to read.

My day job has been in the way a bit, also, but my intent is to come back ‘swingin’.”

So, this was a nice diversion . . . .but it was more about keeping sharp at watercolor and reacquainting myself with my methods after a long layoff with oils.

Before I Go . . . .

“Five Pears”

oil on linen/panel, 8″ x10″
Before I go, I had to reacquaint myself with some special feelings . . . .those that run through my arm and abdomen when I am smearing oil paint on a canvas.
After not painting oils for at least 3 weeks, I couldn’t go another day without schmearing a little color around. I have much to get done today . . .dismantle the open studio show, put the house back together, finish up my workshop preparations, then leave in the morning for a week to teach the workshop and attend to some important family matters . . .another marriage in the family is on the horizon!
So, before I get to work and before I leave, I just HAD to make some hasty marks about these five pears . . . .(there are only four now . . . I just ate one of the delicious, juicy rascals!) . . .no time for perfection today . . .just move some paint and get reacquainted. Monday next I begin again painting daily. Can’t wait!!