Breaching Fear

“Just Plane Spilled”
watercolor 22 x 30 inches

After a long layoff of painting abstracts/nonobjective paintings, I began to wonder if I could, indeed, do it again. Painting linemen, stilllifes, teaching, presiding over a large national watercolor association, working part time, etc. all take their toll on developing one’s skills in the art world. My dear wife has been challenging me to do more of these kinds of works. Alas, I am as most of the other artists I know . . . . .afraid I might not be able to do it once again.

We all fear failure and, worse, going public with it. There is that ever lurking voice “Forget it! You never had it in the first place. Those others were an accident when you really had it. you’ve lost the touch,” etc. etc. One must step up and face it head on, if for nothing else but to once again be able to say, “yes, I CAN.”
What a difference in how life tastes when we can say that. Right?

I have had a sketch of an interesting composition taped to my easel for over a year. The day I painted the last painting of linemen (see last post) I decided to take the challenge. Working at it some four to six hours per day (every day save two) has gotten this piece to this place.
It is a fine effort to take on something like this because it forces one to focus on the elements and principles with nothing more to use as a reference, except for the initial shapes of the composition. Then it is a matter of subtle adjustments of value transitions, textures, movements, shapes, tangents, convergences, not to mention color dominances and harmonies. In other words, I have found that painting a piece like this takes every bit of design knowledge and calls into play techniques and color skills which have been developed over a long time. . . . . . . .and all of these can become stale if not used.
The last comment is that this sort of work is pure creativity. Copying, referencing, emulating, reproducing or mimicking cannot be part of this kind of painting. it all must come from within and from the hints the painting offers as the painter moves forward.
Now I can go back to my linemen and put some of these ideas to work . . . but wait! I have another abstract piece that I must complete first!
Yes, I CAN!!!!!!!

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.

Size Matters . . . !


“Bucket Crane II”

Watercolor 22 x 30 inches

So many times I have painted a subject too small for the size of the format on which I was painting (the paper.)

Whaddayamean, Mike? Too small? The details were right. The ‘picture’ looked like the subject.

Yes, yes. I understand. But one must look beyond the details and see the RELATIONSHIP of sizes in subject versus the rectangle in which one paints. The comparison says soooo much!

Usually, for the subject to have the necessary power in a painting, BIG is the answer . . . . . . .so big that it crowds the edges and spills over the edges of the rectangle to assert its power. Or those shapes may appear to be floating in space and not connected to anything if the subject shapes are too small for the size of the paper.

There are times, however, when that feeling of floating in space might be necessary. . . . . . .like the painting above. I painted this idea once before in the previous post. If you compare the two paintings, one can see there is quite a different feeling in this versus the last. In this piece, the shape appears further from the viewer and definitely higher off the ground. If you fear heights as I do, then a painting like this might affect you emotionally putting a shiver of fear into your consciousness.

This is where it makes a lot of sense to sketch first (before painting) and do so inside of a rectangle of the same proportions as that on which you will be painting. By doing so, one can see (and should examine) the size relationship between the rectangle and the subject. It matters!!!