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

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!

Working Mulitples

“Rotating Still”
watercolor, 15 x 22 inches
This vase has been in my family since 50 years. And the lil rascal has been taunting me to paint her in an extraordinary way. You have probably seen a few versions . . . .the last post not withstanding.

An artist friend told me how he taught eighth grade kids about cubism. He put a still life set up in the middle of a square table, asked the kids to sit on one side, and draw the subject in a five minute time limit. Then, they would move to another side for five minutes . . .and so on until they completed superimposing drawing over drawing over drawing on four sides of the table. Then he sent the kids home to “fill in the spaces.”

The vase and the little pottery piece have been begging. So, today, after a dozen different drawings, I decided on doing the above exercise . . .in four non similar view points . . .sitting at different angles and slightly different heights to draw the still life (vase and jug) sitting in front of a large brass lamp four different versions superimposed one over the other.

At first the lines are confusing . . .and after a spell, it becomes exciting to play with different, nonsensical combinations . . .filling in spaces, varying colors, putting the wrong things in different places . . .building a combined composition that is pleasing.

I had a blast! I could hardly put the brush down today. It was sooo much 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

Back to The Drawing Board . . .Literally

This morning I couldn’t get to the studio quickly enough. Yesterday’s painting had so many things WRONG that I was chomping the bit to make some sense of this subject.

When I thought about it, I had to ask WHY was I painting this subject . . .(the big ship) ? It was the immensity of it that grabbed me, then the light and how that golden morning set colors into a different world. It sure as heck is NOT about the details or correctness of the ship.

So, back to the sketch book! . . . . and to play with some color ideas. The reason for the color investigations is that the superstructure of the bridge of the ship is white . . .but against the sky in that light it was actually quite dark. So, how do I put that rascal in the painting, make it dark, and still get it to read as white? Now there is a question for you!

To get this painting on the right track, for once I actually have had to resort to perspective and vanishing points. I need to exaggerate the perspective to make the blocky nature of the bridge of the ship more interesting. It’s a shape thing !

Then I MUST put scale to work. So, I have decided that rather than having a path in a park like I had yesterday, I should put in a road with cars travelling on it . . . .and the comparison of those . . .and a few palms . . .will send a clear message of enormity.

It has taken me several sketches to come to these conclusions. I can feel it now. I am getting closer. Now that I have this in mind, I must decide on technique to fit the mood. I still have more decisions to make and challenges to resolve. Does this EVER get easy???

Manipulation of Technique, Design

Three Different Moods
watercolor all are 15 x 22 inches
I am still working on the “Miroir d’ Eau” painting of people on a grand reflecting surface (Last few posts). Progress is slow, but it is mostly about practice.

Meanwhile . . . my classes have begun and I am in that space of dreaming up different ways to show painters ‘how to’ and to help them capture new paths of thought in their work.

I am spending more time emphasizing the interrelationships of Content (subject), Technique and Design and how those relationships affect the mood outcome of a painting. Of course, I have been demonstrating different techniques to some of the classes . . . .recently, painting into wet or damp paper . . .to achieve different edges and textures of the paint. That technique, with variation, and the manipulation of value arrangements, color and edges can express many different moods.

In the paintings above, the drawing has not changed (except just a little bit, unintentionally), but dominances of intensity, hue and temperature have definitely changed. See how the emphasis has shifted from the top of the painting to the bottom? See how the process of moving from painting ‘things’ to constructing an overall atmosphere can completely shift an idea? See how limiting contrasts can affect the mood? And how the increase of contrast can move the mood, too?

Isn’t it interesting how such different feelings can be generated without changing the actual drawing?

Practice Matters

practice sheet
watercolor, 15 x 22 inches
I have a friend in Myrna Wacknov. She is a fellow watercolor painter, teacher and a likeness of me in her art habits. So What, you ask? She practices a lot.

Check her blog out and look back at the incredible amount of practice and challenge she puts to herself. Her recent article about the value of value studies talks about her struggles with them, but it reveals an aspect of her character: that she is determined to conquer the most basic elements and decisions prior to making a painting. Do you suppose that is why she has so many successes over and over again?

Looking at the last few posts here, you know I am working on this one idea of a lot of figures in a single scene.

So, the mood must be set properly. The lighting (values) and the figure movement and placement must be right. That is a sure set up for becoming neurotic and tight in the painting process. This image needs to be loose and free to go along with the mood of the piece.

I am lousy at painting figures, (but getting better every time I do it). I need to be better at the gesture with a brush in making the figure. I need to practice until it is second nature.

No pouting allowed, Mike. Practice it until you get good at it. Just like throwing a ball. No good at first, but the skill can be developed. I am only interested in using a big brush and laying down a simple few marks to indicate a moving figure. No details.

This could take WEEKS !! Really! Yes, it IS that important to me. Practice matters.

This piece of practice was a 45 minute exercise with 3 sizes of figures, using three different sized brushes: a ¾ inch flat, a one inch flat and a 1 ½ inch flat. All for the want of simple, direct moves . . . .flicks and twists of the brush to indicate human movement and mood.

I often remember my learning process in the skill of handwriting as a child. You probably remember, too, how much practice it took to become nearly unconscious as you make the letters now. Practice matters.

Stepping up To The Job

“miroir d’ eau”
watercolor, 22 x 30 inches
This is the first real attempt at making a painting of this subject after many practice sessions sketching, fiddling with the brush and silhouettes, value studies and all sorts of seemingly unproductive ‘time wasters.’

I can say, without hesitation, that all this practice has set up several different ideas and has bolstered my confidence to attack this subject with a loose approach. And it has alerted me as to where the bombs are buried in the path to completion . . . .and there are many, as I have learned.

Values . . . .this subject behaves like a backlit subject, but the light comes from the reflected sky in the floor of this ‘fountain.’ Incidentally, the floor is black granite on which there is 1/2 inch of water. The reflections are incredible! I have learned that there must be a value comparison between what value is in the background and the figure . . . .the darker the background the lighter the silhouette. Conversely, the lighter the background, the darker the figure. Multiple sources and bounces of light make this a very challenging painting subject which holds enormous potential for some dazzling images.

Color is lost in the figure and details disappear in back lighting.

Clothing shape and figure attitude say much . . .and accuracy isn’t always necessary . . .it is the impression that matters.

The large shape of the buildings in the rear also make for an interesting shape, but must be toned down to not call attention . . .with a cool to warm temperature transition left to right. The top edge of the buildings tell the story . . .not the building faces.

Having said all that, It’s time to step up to the job. I have more changes to make and will be making more of these in the next few weeks to become intimately acquainted with the subject and lighting. This is the first.

Figures into Shapes

Sketchbook studies
I have returned from my holiday hiatus.

The last post was about a scene in Bordeaux, France of a very famous fountain / walking area.

I have decided to go forward with this painting . . .and in a bigger way . . .I will be using it as a demonstration, later. But first, I needed to build a degree of comfort with the story being told by the postures of the people there.

In order to have a sense of instant recognition of what is transpiring there, it is most important to do so with shape rather than details. So, I believe my notion of gesture to be correct. Shape must tell the whole story. It isn’t necessary that the shape be accurate to what each person looks like. Quite the contrary: We are dealing with extreme value contrast in the forthcoming painting. The silhouettes aren’t even true to the actual color or value changes that appeared in the actual place. Instead, it is the entire shape . . .even complex, combined shapes which must speak about a minute story. The shapes cannot be static. They must appear to be in a moving state, though slowly moving . . .and they must provide a rhythm of sorts. That rhythm must exist in size changes, intervals between the shapes, attitudes of the shapes and their individual directions . . . vertical or oblique. I seek a feeling of promenade or strolling with children playing, people enjoying a connection in an odd but relaxed atmosphere.

This will be a challenge. Such as it is, I must practice and practice and practice more with the figures as a singular shape with complete concern for how they relate to each other rather than the details. Here’s the first of the practices. A good 2 to 3 hours work in the sketch book . . . .so I will be able to pick and choose from the poses in the paintings that will be done from this subject.. . . and to be completely acquainted with the gestures that make up the whole.