Friday, April 25, 2014

Have the Courage to Paint Badly

Josh Shenk, author of "Lincoln's Melancholy" suggests to writers:

Get through a draft as quickly as possible. It's hard to know the shape of the thing until you have a draft. Literally, when I wrote the last page of my first draft of Lincoln’s Melancholy I thought, Oh, shit, now I get the shape of this. But I had wasted years, literally years, writing and re-writing the first third to first half. The old writer’s rule applies: Have the courage to write badly.

I came across the quote above and it struck me that the same is true of painting. So often students will put weeks into a painting and it ends up looking no better than it did a few hours after they started it. They are lost in learning how to paint. You can't take a painting further than you know how, no matter how much time you spend on it. Every painting is practice and the fastest way forward is to do your best, move on, and make lots and lots of starts. Let each painting go. Accept that it is what it is. Progress is in the process, not in insisting on perfection ... before you are perfected!

You won't know the shape of your creativity until you've risked letting go of the result.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Color Block Exercise

I highly recommend studies of colored blocks set up in a variety of light sources - one light source per painting.  You will learn more about color by doing this exercise than painting from a photograph. Use a  9 x 12" or 11 x 14" canvas panel. Don't labor over these. It's an exercise. Observe the color spot; match the color; apply the paint. 

1.   Using a brush, draw the blocks on your canvas as close to life size as possible.
2.  Observe each side of the block or the background adjacent to it and mix a single color spot and apply it with a palette knife or as few strokes as possible. 
3.  Cover the canvas before you go back and assess your choices or make any changes.  
4. As you work compare each color spot to the one next to it by running through the three properties of color.  Is it warmer/cooler, brighter/duller, lighter/darker than the spot next to it?  Relate.  
5.  Don't jump all over the canvas.  Relate each spot to the adjacent spot.
6.  As you compare on your second/third/fourth pass at the canvas, make any adjustment you see.  Trust your eye, not your brain.  If the gray cloth looks alizarin-ish, add alizarin. 

Keep in mind two types of comparisons you are making:

1.  Compare the adjacent sides of a color block in the set-up.  Then make the same comparison in your painting.  So, in the set-up, compare the top of a block to the side of the same block.  Then, compare the top of the that block to the side of the same block in your painting.  Relate within the set-up, then relate within the painting. This is to this, as that is to that. The goal is to accurately see the relationships in the set-up and to create the same relationships in the painting.

2.  You can double check the accuracy of your color spots by rapidly flicking your eyes back and forth between a spot in the set up and the same spot in the painting.  Quickly glance back and forth between the top of a block in the set-up and the top of the same block in the painting.  What is lacking in your color spot will rise to the surface.  If your spot needs green, you will see it's lack as you glance back and forth.

So, relate this is to this as that is to that to make your color spots.  Then, relate this to that to check yourself.

What you do in this exercise is what you should be doing all of the time when painting from life, whatever the subject matter.  You cannot learn about color from photographs.  The photograph is not subtle enough to make distinctions. It generalizes color.  It does not accurately record relationships, so the information is simply not there for you to use.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Don't be ambiguous. Commit.

I have been working on some paintings that I started in the past but had not finished.  With each one, even though they were started, I have had to go back to the beginning.  I thought at first this was because I had lost my train of thought and needed to find my way back into the painting.  It is more complicated.  I had to go back to the beginning because in each painting I had not done the work that needs to be done at the start of a painting.  I had not decided what it was that I wanted to do.  It's probably why I never finished the paintings.

I had not made basic, essential decisions about the value distribution in the design. About shapes.  Really, I had not decided what the painting's story was. You can't reach a destination if you don't know where you want to go. I'm rather shocked by the ambiguousness of my block-ins, about my reluctance to make decisions and commit to a direction.  What I am having to do with each of these paintings, is to decide.  Is to commit.

What shape exactly do I want a field to be.  What is the purpose of this tree to the design.  Do I want the painting to be about the sky or the land.  What is the focal point.  A blob of a tree is randomly placed because I didn't stop, observe what was happening in the landscape and decide how the tree was useful. I didn't make a decision about what to change and what to keep.

Block-ins may be loose, but they are the bedrock of the decisions that make a painting.  Don't be ambiguous.  How can the viewer understand what I am seeing, if I am not clear about it myself, and not clear about how I want to organize that information.  Decisions about value, shape, placement and design have nothing to do with style, or whether a painting is loosely or tightly rendered. They are the artistic process itself. Confront and solve each painting from the moment you pick up a pencil or brush.  You can experiment with possible solutions, and they are infinite, but you can't paint the painting until you commit to one solution. Then, everything you do must support the direction you have chosen.