If you are wondering if I have again become inactive, the answer is an emphatic no. I just returned from driving 500 miles, one way, to San Diego, to jury a show for the San Diego Watercolor Society. It is an interim show with an experimental theme. It was a rushed trip, but well worth the time spent. I listened to two books on tape while driving, met some of the SDWS officials, saw some extraordinary paintings and learned a few more life lessons in the process. And, Oh yes, I did paint the morning I left to drive there.
There are plenty of those who are saying under their breath, “I don’t like these pictures of Linemen.” In other words, they might be thinking that these ‘pictures’ aren’t cute enough or pretty enough to decorate their house. Many painters today subconsciously appraise paintings from that point of view. Those artists are confined to thinking purely about the subject of the painting and how precious it might be in a decorative environment, instead of assessing the painting on the basis of its artistic merit.
That said, I have been wrestling with this subject for a few months and today I broke through to a new level of thinking. I finally was able to separate my compulsive little pea brain from trying to replicate the subject and moved into considering the abstract composition FIRST. What a difference it makes!
Seriously, I do know better. In fact, I teach this in my classes. But it isn’t always easy to make the shift. I might be the teacher, but I am vulnerable to habit just like the next person.
Let me illustrate what I am writing about . . . .refer to the sketches you see above . . . . . . .there is, essentially, two values in each of these sketches. It wasn’t until I reached the bottom sketch that I realized that I should consider the dark values as ONE SHAPE and how it sits in the rectangle or the square! Notice the little teeny sketch to the right of the bottom sketch. Doesn’t that abstract shape appeal to your sense of design? It certainly does mine! It was there that I realized (once again my mind says, Oh! I remember!!) that it isn’t the details but the arrangement of the value shapes and the ratio of their sizes that appeals to our deep abstract aesthetic senses.
Knowing that, I grabbed an old painting, flipped it to the backside, and began drawing in the big dark shape. Once drawn, I could see where some modifications were necessary . . . namely to move from a rectangle to a square format . . .there was an awkward space on the left. Then, the decision to put the horizontals at a slight oblique also added a nice tension to the composition. Also, I recognized that the crossbar on the background pole was not a good angle, so revised that, too, in order to drive the eye to the white helmets.
Once drawn, I pulled the three inch brush from its holster and began sloppily painting intp the dark shape and made sure to slop some color variation into the shape but keep the values the same (that was yesterday). The lights and the darks were set . . . .I left it to dry until today . . . .(and worried a bit about the light shapes of the light on the back of the one figure and the light helmets. I was concerned that those light shapes were too isolated.) It needed more of an abstraction of light passing through the composition.
In short, I lifted here and there to add more of a passage of light through the piece, enhanced a few darks here and there, pushed a few warm cool contrasts and carefully kept myself from ever considering details. . . . .or logic. For example, I decided not to fill in the cross bar brace and not to put an underside dark on the crossbar to the left of the pole . . . .why? Because those details would disturb the composition. Yes, those details would make sense but would affect the negative shapes.
I know this is a long explanation, but I believe this to be the place where I break through in the series to much stronger work. Thanks for being patient.
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.
Nope! It just Izzn’t!
Our eyeballs just can’t see what we think we see.
Yesterday was another beautiful day in the sun . . .warm and bright . . . .a perfect day for Butch, my painting buddy, and I to go out and paint. So we went back to the harbor where lots and lots and lots of white boats live. I am telling you true: What seems white just is NOT!
The little device you see above is a value viewer. It is very helpful to look at an area, (such as the side of a white boat hull in shadow) to judge the value. When peeking through the little hole and comparing the value of the white in shadow, one can instantly see that it is more a mid value than a light white. Then . . . comes the problem of getting that value onto the paper or canvas. That big piece of white paper can really throw off our judgment, too. We make a paint mark on the big white page and the mark seems darker than it really is because we are unconsciously comparing all that white field with the value of the mark . Yikes! That little viewer helps.
BUT . . . .there is still another problem (these difficulties are some of the reasons artists find plein air painting so difficult) . . . .that is if you are painting watercolor, the paint fades after it dries. Which compounds the value difficulty!!!!! One must be able to predict how the value of a mark or wash after it is dry. GAAAADS !!!! Is there any end to this stuff??? !!
How does one solve it? The viewer helps. The rest of it is fixed with plain old mileage.
Huh? Did you say Mileage?
Yep! That is what I said. Let me clarify: BRUSH mileage. Translated, it means tons of practice.
I have been painting for 20 plus years and still find plein air painting full of problems and difficulties. Yesterday was no exception. After getting home from a 4 hour painting stint and looking at the painting in normal indoor light, I could see the values of my boat hulls were wrong . . .not dark enough. Like I said, white just izzn’t white!!! So, several glazes later (and spoiled pristine washes) I came up with this painting. A lot of fussing and much self talk about what I will do next time and solemn vows about not letting this happen again, I finished the painting attempt.
You may think this is an okay painting. It was certainly fun and most instructive, but I simply MUST go back and try again and again. Butch and I discussed this aspect of being a painter: the compulsion to get better . . . . .and it is indeed a compulsion. Maybe someday, with enough brush mileage under my belt, it might happen. For now, though, it is best to focus on doing the best I can and having fun in the process because to be out there is simply a total gassss!!!!
Failure is my companion every step of the way. It is part of the process. The trick is to work the painting until it is finished: Never give up. Think think think think!!!!
Figuring the Large Shapes
The demo in my last post came out well. In my humble artistic opinion, it had less to do with the act of painting and a heckuvalot more to do with the initial planning and composing.
I won’t say that “anyone can copy what they see” because that is simply not true. But seeing is not always the best means of making something extraordinary out of a bunch of ‘things.’ Namely, trees, cliffs, colored succulent, rocks etc. It is much more a task of arrangement of shapes, shapes, values, colors, textures etc. It is in the arranging or composing those elements together that wonderful things happen.
It begins in the early sketches and assessing those sketches for design flaws, then, re-doing the sketches to account for the flaws, re-assessing and making still more changes. In that assessment process, I find that I must remove my thoughts from the subject and move to considering how the various shapes combine to form three to five large shapes and how those large shapes interrelate with the rectangle of the canvas or paper on which the painting is made.
That recent demo (last post) went through this very process. Once I was happy with the large shapes which connected the edges of my rectangle, I could insert and fit the ‘reality’ of the subject into it. It took some cramming, shortening, shrinking, expanding, squeezing, eliminating, adding . . . .well . . . .you get the idea . . . .the subject had to fit into the composed arrangement of large light and dark shapes. Looking at the sketch above, it boils down to an abstraction that is interesting to look at in its own right.
For you painters who are less experienced, the large dark shape that sprawls across this page is actually a combination of many items . . .trees, grasses, succulents, rocks, etc. It is in the act of painting that the artist must use caution and value control to insure that the large dark shape is still expressed through that combination of ‘stuff.’
It may seem like hard work to those who “just want to paint.” But, I believe that the disappointment which most often follows rushing into a painting is a big price to pay. . . . .especially, when we artists put our treasured sweat and tears into the act of painting. It is worth the effort and time to work out the composition first, then set about getting it all on to canvas or paper.