Compulsion and Haste

“Salt Pot and Pepper”
oil on linen on panel, 6″ x 8″
I suppose, if anything, I am a compulsive obsessive about painting. Is it some sort of endorphin that I gain from moving the brush and solving challenges on the canvas? Beats me! All I know is that I am up to my hips in work that has to be done . . . .and I am talking drudgery . . .to prep for open studio. What do I do? I talk myself into a hasty session at the easel to pop something out for the day. Yes, this one has its issues in terms of a great painting . . .but I gotta git bizzy and quit messin around.
So, after making this little mess. I am off to continue from where I left off yesterday and to continue worrying if I will have it all done.

Designing Compositions

“Pop’s Corner”
Watercolor, 22″ x 30″

A favorite pastime of mine is to create something from absolutely NOTHING. That is, make well designed, non objective paintings. This does not mean just sliming on the paint and hoping for a great outcome or waiting for a happy a accident to happen. It means carefully designing overall light shapes (groupings of light values) and placing that or those groupings into a context of other dark and medium valued shapes. Shape design (making appealing shapes) is at the center of this as is the consideration of the relative sizes of lights, darks and mediums. One value must dominate and the others be subordinate. (This is a huge factor in successful paintings). The character (e.g. organic, geometric, linear) of the shapes in context with others also is a consideration. Then direction / movement plays in as well. Once that is established, color and texture come into the scheme and must play out with the shapes and values to set an overall mood. In keeping with the mood, the artist must also decide how to hold the viewer’s attention with contrasts of various kinds . . .and where to put them in the composition.

Now that it has been mentioned, the exact same ideas and principles apply in making an objective painting of a subjet. EXACTLY the same! Abstract / Non objective / Realistic are all the same in the eyes of the basic structure of a painting. Surprisingly, subject has no bearing on the actual attractiveness (or repulsiveness) of the piece. It all lies in how the artist structured the underlying design and composition.

This piece is going to be featured at my open studio and not offerred for sale, since I plan to enter it into various watercolor competitions. Squint and you can see a great abstraction of values in this piece . . . .and you can feel the musty, dark corner of an old, neglected workshop.

(I post this because I am so darned busy framing and organizing the house and the show. Hopefully, I will have something to show in the next day or so. And besides, “Opa” is waiting to be painted too!}


” Trio”

oil on linen on panel, 10″ x 8″

This li’l guy was fun to paint and a little more complicated than the last two. Circles! Yuch! But I have to be able to do them, so I keep challenging myself. I am learning that the way to paint with oil is not to be tight from the outset, but to block in and gradually adjust and refine. Being a trained watercolorist, the process in that world is much less forgiving. So, I have to shake the habits and develop new ones. I am moving from accurate drawings now to rough, massed in estimates of where things are and their general shape. It is actually fun to do, though a little intimidating if one is driven to accuracy or replication. Then it is a matter of refining. I am finding that beyond the image itself, one must look back at edges and strokes, too.

Today I am visiting with a “famous artist.” We will be playing golf or just flopping around and painting someplace on the coast of California. We have been internet pals since 1993 and get to see each other only rarely. Maybe I’ll record the event and post something tomorrow.

Its A Little Like Golf

“Pompous Pear”
oil on linen on panel, 10″ x 8″
When I was learning to play golf, the ball went everywhere except where I aimed it. Years went by after playing a lot and I noticed I wasn’t in the trees as often . . or in trouble. Almost without noticing, those ‘lucky’ shots came much more frequently. As time took the years, I could almost predict where the ball would land . That IS the intent of the game; to be deliberate and thinking about where you put the ball and avoid obstacles and traps.

The same goes for painting. It isn’t as simple as hitting a ball, but one does subconsciously and gradually solve many of the awkward puzzles and challenges of the process. It really is about avoiding traps and obstacles. It is Waaaaaay more than technique. Deliberation and thought are the cornerstones to good painting. And, it’s also about those little teensy tiny realizations that if you do this, then that happens. (Just like golf.) Sometimes, all it takes is someone else’s comment to help us connect the dots suddenly. And, suddenly, the game takes on new meaning and direction. We actually win a few.

For example, I teach color theory and practice in watercolor. I KNOW that in most circumstances, as the light turns to shadow and a surface turns away from you, the color becomes cooler. I have several exercises in my classes about this! Yet, it wasn’t until three or four days after another painter said ‘that needs a cool back edge to help it turn away from you, that I suddenly went Oooohhh!!!! Fer goonesss sakes! I already knew that! Why didn’t I connect the dots ?!!
Now, if someone would just make a comment about my putting. (pleeeeze!!)

Not Until I Paint Em!

“Pair of Pears”

oil on linen on panel, 6″ x 8″
You have to eat one of these for lunch . . .before they go bad, I heard her say. But I was lost instaring at the subtle shifts of light and color temperature on this pair of pears. I thought to myself, “Not before I paint em!” I was already visualizing a set up and how I was going to show off those subtle shifts of color.
You might note this is another departure for me. High key (all lighter values) and no dark darks. I have resumed thinner painting, but with more penache at the end of the hairy stick I hold in my hand. Bigger gobs of paint . . . flat brush . . . .and again paying close attention to the strokes. No more random action. After all, every plane shift calls for a different direction of a stroke. They may not be as evident here, because I also worked on more subtle shifts from one plane of light to another. Edges, in other words. Sable brushes help that aspect of the work when working with lighter paint applications. They are not the final answer, to edges if working thicker, though.
I caught myself hollering and jumping up and down (by myself!) as I painted this. I had fun with this one!
Now . . . . where did she put that Camembert fromage?

More Practice

“Tree Hook”
oil on canvas, 18 x 24
Sunday, I spent seven hours tidying up in my studio. Yuch! I found a warped canvas but didn’t have the heart to pitch it out. So, today, resisting all temptation to do something more productive, I went for a bigger painting on that canvas. Used a big size 14 Flat brush and shoveled on the paint . . .wellllll . . . .I could use much more paint. I have to get over hedging a bit when I sqqueeze it out. I must say, however, I am much more generous than a mere two weeks ago. There are big piles of paint instead of dabs on my palette. I think it has to do with growing confidence.
This painting was a blast to attempt. Big arm moves. Big brush strokes. and fully considered strokes and stroke directions. Sorry about the color here. It just isn’t as brilliant as in reality. A
The tree is speaking to me. I can see brush marks everywhere. And that big dark shadow in front is also speaking to me . . . .Like :This is WAAAAAY TOO DARK. The planes on the little cups (vases) to the right are showing different planes of light . . . .that is a bit of a breakthrough for me, too. I sorta like the look here.
Lotsa fun and more learning. I can feel the stroke ‘stuff’ starting to make sense. I actually THINK before touching the canvas! How weired is thaaaaaat? 😉

Edge and Stroke Revisions

So, I went back to the studio to make revsions after I had recalled an important piece of information about the direction of strokes versus shifts in value.

These little ‘minor adjustments’ took the better part of an hour . . .and some fussing.

Compare and see what you see. I think this is a measurable improvement.

Edges, Strokes, Temperatures and more

“Bonsai Experiment”

oil on primed hardboard, 9″ x 12″
Usually, I carefully draw my still lifes before painting them. I have always had a burr under my saddle for this because it seems very much like “coloring book” activity when I am painting.
And it is! So, enough of that, already! I am changing that right now!
After yesterday, three big words were banging around in my head this morining: EDGES. STROKES. TEMPERATURE.
Okay. So that’s how the teacher put it out there yesterday. That doesn’t mean I am to copy his methods or the way he paints. I went there yesterday with big questions in my mind about those three things and got way more than I bargained for.
While this painting is sloppy in places, I was attempting a ton of new stuff all at once: If I was to paint a cool passage, I painted it warm first, then went over it with the cool color . . .which sets up a temperature vibration in the passage. (see the background in this piece).
Next, I realized this morning that I have not been using nearly enough paint on my palette or brush. Fixed thaaaaat!! 🙂
Next, when I touched the brush to the panel, I was thinking “which way, with what rhythm do I want these strokes to appear?” I don’t feel that I have this yet, but I do feel like there is a recognition and a gut feeling about it . . .and that is growing fast.
Finally, after a crit of six paintings yesterday, the comment was “Edges, edges, edges!!” And it was explained (I had never had and explanation before yesterday.) He was so right! So, I worked on those today, also. (After this writing, I will go back to the painting and fix a few . . .namely the one on the far right edge of the tall vase. Ugly! Sloppy!) And the one on the far left between the negative space and the box . . .it left a shape there I don’t like.
Here’s was I get from this practice piece: I am getting intermingling of colors that I adore! There is a huge improvement (and reason) of the edge work. I know where to look now! Also, instead of drawing with charcoal or paint first, I looked carfully at the shape and massed it in without line. I had done this with some drawing while in France and had not yet made the mental transer to my oil painting. DUH!! And, of course, letting the surface quality of the paint speak. This stuff is waaay more than making a pretty picture. This is about making paint look like PAINT not a tree or a vase or whatever. This is about making a piece of ART.
I may not be very good at it, YET. But I am determined to get there! More brush mileage! And more and more and more!

Red String

“Red String”
oil on wood panel, 6″ x 8″
Today was a continuation of yesterday . . .flat brights and smooth primed wood panel as a painting ground. I am finding I actually DO like the flat, square stroke marks given by the brights. The extra smooth surface allows visibility into everything the paint is doing on the surface . . .every swirl . . .which imparts a nice surface quality.
I am concerned that not only do I have to learn how to handle this medium better than I am, but now that I am becoming a little more facile with it, do I add more variables by stepping up the degree of unknowns, such as stroke history and surface textures?
As I look over my past paintings I notice that I seem to opt for circular subjects. As I am painting at the easel, I continually check for the appearance of the circles or elipses . . .and they appear to be okay. In the photo, I am surprised that they don’t seem to be the same as I saw them on the easel. I guess I am going to need to add another quality control step to verify shapes. Today, I am not sweating it because string balls tend to be lopsided anyway.
By the way, you might have noticed the new photo and format revisions here. That is my studio at the top of the blog. I am fortunate to have such a space. This photo was taken at last year’s open studio event. It hasn’t been this tidy since!!! I am now stepping over stuff and searching under piles for things. My paints and brushes and supplies are in good order, however. When I am focused on painting, all else takes a back seat. But now it’s time to tidy up for the October show. That is what I’ll be doing this weekend. Digging, scraping and polishing everything but canvas or paper.

Mental Conflict

oil on primed hardboard, 12″ x 9″
Some time ago I made a promise to myself to open the doors to my studio and let anyone watch my painting process here on cyberspace. That also meant letting everyone who looked see my failures. Frankly, I don’t like it . . .showing my failures, that is. Who does? After all, I am a teacher. I am supposed to be the example, right? Well, I have decided to be just that. Be the example that people can follow and not look over their shoulder.
So, here you have it. I do show what I consider to be the poor ones . . . always have. And I will continue to do so. I think it shows those who are learning that failure, or mis-steps, or crummy results is not something only beginners have. Some of the best painters I know destroy as many, if not more than, as they put into galleries or sell. It’s just part of the game. No one likes that aspect, but it just is. And it particularly is if you experiment or try new things.
So, I tried a new type of ground on which to paint . . .to show the brush more . . .and agreed with myself to use ONLY a size 8 flat brush. The object was to remain loose and schmutz on the paint in places. Just to see what would happen. I used a subect I used earlier this week because I think it lent itself to the experiment. Petals and surfaces that splay all over the place. And many variations of one color combination . . .green and red. Again, I had fun. And I learned a little bit more . . . . .big chunks of light and dark and medium can be fooled with indefinetely until you ruin em. “Ruin” may not be the right word, but I can see a lot of places that I could take some serious direction from a master painter.