Here's what I'm working on and thinking about at the moment:
Heart-shaped Fern. Oil on panel. 6 x 12”.
I [painted] sunshine on a cloudy day… it’s been lovely bathing in this warm yellow color on the eight straight day of rain…
I set a goal a few weeks ago of painting 3 little paintings every week, in addition to work on larger pieces. This is the first week I’ve actually gotten 3 little ones done – but made no progress on any of the bigger ones. Still, had some fun with the little ones, below. (You can imagine I spent a lot of time thinking about coffee this week, wishing for more!)
3 coffee pots, painted in oil on panel, 6x6″ or 6x12″
I think my favorite part may be the background of the tall one on the right. I LOVE colorful patterns in fabrics, but they can quickly become a problem in paintings… For this one I roughed out the colors and values from the background and then scratched a pattern in – it feels fun and referential, but not too bogged down or distracting. I like the effect – now, how can I use it more?
I enjoy when curators add textual descriptions to shows at museums. I love to have a little bit of the context within which the artist was working. But sometimes I have to laugh at the effort to find some Big Meaning in what is often much more likely to be a small decision on the part of the artist.
I remember, for instance, a teacher suggesting that when one gets stumped, paint pears. It turns out to be a great trick to keep you painting — which is what will give you ideas for new things to paint, which pulls you out of your slump. Ever afterwards, whenever I see pears in a painting, I think to myself: no, that artist was not making a statement about loneliness, or body image in the 21st century, or the the bougie nature of monogamous relationships… nope, that artist got stumped, went to the grocery and grabbed the first pears they could find, then settled down to work and get to the other side of that slump.
I was fighting the pull of my blue couch one day… and instead of spending so much energy resisting it, I decided to run right at that darn thing and give it a hug. By which I mean: I decided to paint it. And of course, as I was painting it, I had some ideas about creating the same image with a different process, and that led to two more paintings.
3 blue couch paintings; in oil or acrylic on panel; each 6″ x 12″
Interestingly, embracing the blue couch (metaphorically) instead of trying to fight it, seemed to weaken its hold over me for quite awhile. Hmmm.
So, now, whenever I see an artist’s painting of their studio space, I think: yup, they were fighting themselves that day. We have a lot of paintings of artists’ studios over the years — which means that even people like Picasso, Matisse, Sargent had to fight personal demons in their work… Sort of reassuring! Plus a lot of those paintings are pretty wonderful — offering a quick peek into the working life of some very talented folks.
Opportunities in limitations?
I’ve just started going to a weekly life drawing session on Mondays in Calais. I love it! I haven’t had much exposure to this sort of thing and it’s really challenging and energizing (and tiring, in its way, too).
Everyone in the group works quite differently — different media, different compositions, different speeds. In the time I worked on one paint sketch, for example, the person next to me would do 6-9 pencil sketches. We had people working in oils, acrylics, pencil, clay and pastels.
Usually the model holds the same pose for the whole time, which I find appealing — it gives me time to work on whatever I’m trying. But yesterday we ended up doing three 60-minute poses and I think my work was better. Is that because I had less time to overwork things? Had to keep my aspirations simple given the time limit? Additional attempts to capture the same person?
sketches of model John LePage, oil on canvas, 10/16/19
Next week will be another long-pose session. But I think I should at least try two paintings instead of my usual one — to replicate some of the pressures/opportunities that yielded pleasing results this time ‘round.
A fun departure last week – while I was in fact departed from home, attending a great, weeklong workshop in Gloucester at the Northeast Arts Workshop.
Most mornings I got up early to take a walk before heading to the studio and on one of them was treated to a tour of large lichen-covered boulders that littered the woods, thrown up so so long ago by the glaciers. It was like a sculpture garden in a forest… Even though I’d mostly been working on portraits and figures during the week away, I whipped out several little abstracts that morning and loved the simple energy and abstracted planes in them.
But they had such thin layers of paint that I tried to goose the colors a bit when I got home – which quickly threatened them with overworking. As I tinkered with this one, I tried to be really intentional and, to me, it still has that spontaneous feeling that pleased me when they first flew out of the brush…
Fungus Amongus, oil on panel, 6″ x 12″
Went to a very cool, 4-hour life drawing session in Calais yesterday. The people were terrific, the environment was totally low pressure. I am excited to go back!
My painting? I think I may focus about what about the process went well, and not so much the final result. I stayed focused; I didn’t quit when it was tempting to do so; over time I could see more and more colors in the model to put on the canvas; I kept the internal chatter of my mind on a gentle track rather than the hyper-critical one that can lodge itself so persistently in my head.
Clearly still lots to learn, but some progress too.
First week back
Climbing back on the blog horse after a loooong time away. There were kids, there was cancer, there was an (awesome) exchange student, there was a crazy decision to join the school board… there was LIFE in all its glory.
But the kids got back to school this week, I headed back to the studio, rearranged the furniture (always a good way to signal the start of something new), lay on the blue couch, fought back the demons, procrastinated by looking at my website, and realized that was yet another area of the art work that needed some attention (doh). Ah well.
While I often feel a bit unmoored during the summer when I am out of the studio, the return to painting is always still a little scary for me – will I still be able to paint? Will I have any ideas? Should I just give up? It was a rough couple days, but I did pull out the paintbox – and actually use it. Here’s what I worked on Thursday, developing a little 6″x6″ oil from a photo I’d taken this summer:
Uncomfortable or unnatural... does it matter?
For a few days in a row, I have been trying this new model of painting: do a detailed but monochrome underpainting, pre-mix the colors, apply colors not in layers, but adjacent to each other (with only minimal mixing when two adjacent pieces come together).
Boy, is it hard for me. I WANT TO PUT ON LAYERS! I WANT TO MIX COLORS! Is that so wrong?
Is it that I want to put on layers and mix colors because that’s what I’m used to and so this new approach (which seems to create beautiful, painterly paintings when I see other people do it!) is out of my comfort zone? Or have a I gravitated towards a process of using layers and mixing on the canvas because that’s more about the way I think of making pictures? Perhaps how I even approach life: get started with what you’ve got and adjust as you go. Can I work with my habitual approach or will it just get in the way?
I don’t think I want to reduce the world around me to shapes and blocks of color, yet that is what I think it would take to be successful at laying down correct color one location at a time. How far do I push myself with this other approach when it feels like, for me, it is yielding blobby, messy shmears?
Today I am compromising a bit: experimenting with a hybridized approach: do a monotone sketch with OMS-thinned paint. Fill in canvas with darker-than-local colors (also thinned with OMS). Take time to pre-mix mass tones and maybe a highlight or lowlight color, coincidentally letting the canvas dry. Begin painting with pre-mixed colors (thinned today with galkyd light), using higher and lower values to bring out shapes and texture. WALK AWAY as soon as the canvas is basically filled in again with this new layer, giving time/visual space before going back in for detail of reflections, etc.
I’m in the walk away stage right now — went out for a jog, am going to heat up some lunch and then return. We’ll see how it goes… (below, how it went:
Blossoms, oil on panel, 6″ x 6″
And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming...
It’s been a busy painting fall, but I’ve been off my regular studio routines (more on that in later posts). Today was the first day I held my feet to the fire (in this case, keeping my feet in front of the easel is the challenge — it’s so tempting to turn away and distract myself with something else that supposedly needs doing) and worked up a couple of little experiments.
Morning Cloudbreak, acrylic on panel, 6" x 6"
The first came from the drive in this morning, a gray and gusty November morning. Winter suddenly looms ahead. It’s easy to get a little nervous: how long will it last? will there be too little or too much snow? how long till the days start to lengthen again? will it melt and bring spring before we go insane? Ruminating on the negative possibilities (a long, dark, cold winter of icy roads), I looked up to see a break in the clouds, sun beaming out and felt a moment of hope that it will be okay.And then, gratitude for the chance to see all the problems were in my head — today is just another day I am given to make what I will.
Latte Lace, oil on panel, 6" x 6"
The other piece was finished up from an effort last week — today I went back in to try and brighten and warm it up a bit. I had noticed a neat, almost-honeycomb pattern on the latte glass at the bakery last week. The warm colors of squash soup and wood and pottery, and all the dish circles, felt cozy and lovely. Could I transform the detritus of lunch into a glimpse of the shared moment of companionship that had brought me to the bakery in the first place?
Ups and downs
Life is so up and down, this little roller coaster of experience, and almost all of it invisible to anyone not inside my head. Every day, I ride this sine wave of excitement, worry, fear, joy, concentration, distraction, focus, procrastination, love, angst… At the end of the day, all there is to show for so much emotional drama is a painting (or not), and yet that painting often reflects very little of how the day felt.
Last week I found a new painter whose work was really exciting to me, Sarah Sedwick. At first, this made me feel bad, because here was yet another person able to do what I want but usually can’t do. Plus, she’s teaching classes around the country and, presumably, selling her work pretty regularly. Sometimes I take this to mean I should just put everything away and find something new to do, since someone’s already doing what I want to do, and how many me’s does the world need? And yet, that yucky day, I made a decent little painting of azalea blossoms (below, left).
The next day, I came back, decided to see if I could maybe take a class with Ms. Sedwick, and found her blog, which includes some demo videos. So, I started watching these, and found them to be really exciting in terms of thinking about developing a painting process that is more likely to support the outcomes I hope to achieve than what I’ve got so far. (Hers is: detailed monotone underpainting; pre-mix colors; apply paint deliberately and resist the urge to go back in and fuss with strokes already placed.)
Anyway, after I found Ms. Sedwick’s videos, I watched several, got totally excited, but didn’t paint a thing. Good day, yet no painting.
Came in the next day and worked up a little piece trying to adhere to Sedwick’s process and, while I really liked the process, produced a dark and mediocre little painting (below, top right) when I’d been hoping to produce a wee bit o’ joy. Still, I stayed curious and open and tried to be encouraging in my head, as opposed to letting the killjoy get too vocal. So, decent work day, mediocre painting. (Of course, since a transformative miracle did not occur in my painting, I felt sort of disappointed — classic!)
Today, an effort to try her process again, see if I can learn from the gooey mess of the other day, and to stay both deliberate in my painting and kind in my head (below, bottom right).
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