Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The color comes from...?

Color is most of the reason I paint. Some days, it's the only reason. Although one of my goals is to learn how to capture and reproduce the colors I see around me, another one of my goals is to make paintings with glorious disregard for the "normal" colors of things. On one hand, I really want to become skilled in recreating what I see. On the other, I have a growing urge to for my work to result in what can be recognized as existing only in the imagination. I want to get off the train before it gets too far into cartoonville. But I do want to ride it past the "that's exactly what it looks like" to where "that's exactly what it feels like". I think color has a lot to do with creating that sensation.

I want my imagination to have ultimate control over what ends up in the painting. I'm thinking now that including imagination in the process is what makes the difference between a painting that just sits there on the surface, and one that lives and breathes on its own—a painting that looks back at you—and says something to you.

Here's another quick color sketch, this one from a photo I took last fall in North Clackamas Park. the actual colors were just shades of green and pale gold, but I wanted to try out a color scheme I found and liked in a John Holland painting. That color combination was really an effect in itself, something that you would never see in real life. The other special thing about this painting was that the value scale created an enhanced sense of airiness and light that particularly coordinated with the colors he used. The end result was an unreal image that came across as an extremely real feeling.

I painted the background and foreground above in separate sessions, and did a bit of correcting in the second session. I have a few more touches I want to add, and I see some correcting I want to do, so I will be working on this one a bit more.

I've also done more work on my ferns, and it may be finished now:

The illusion of water completed itself, and a distant shore and evening sky with clouds developed to add the final touches. It's very rare that these ink paintings turn themselves into landscapes with any illusion of depth, so this one was a pleasant surprise. And in this one I got to explore a wonderful relationship between hues of turquoise and rich red-browns. Mmmmmmm.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Getting (maybe) too technical...but I am a nerd, after all

So, my friend Jackie left me a comment a post ago about composition being an important feature in a non-objective painting, that a good composition can "draw you in".

Okay, I'm tossing that around in my brain, and the same question keeps coming back—what would it be about the composition that would bring about a reaction of feeling? What exactly do you mean by composition? Simply the arrangement of elements, or are you considering the elements themselves? Do the colors play a part, and if so, how important are they? How does a set of meaningless forms, with no connotations or denotations of their own, "work"? Or "draw you in"? If the most descriptive thing we can say is "it works", then do we really know why it works, even for us as individuals? Okay, it draws you in. Then what happens?

If you, in making a painting,manage to arrange the lines and forms so that the seer's eyes keep bouncing around in the painting, is that enough to make it interesting? Or is a painting like a box of cookies, where if there aren't any cookies in the box, the box itself ceases to hold any interest. I want paintings I look at to have cookies in them, something that makes me keep wanting to look.

So that's one question I can ask—is composition a cookie? Will a black and white pattern that causes your eyes to focus on some particular point within the confines of the canvas make you feel good?

What about the shapes and lines in the painting? Is there anything there that makes you feel good to look at it? I think the answer to this might be yes. I have fond associations with colored blocks. I don't know if it's because I still like looking at any jumble of primary and secondary colors, or if it's because I really loved playing with colored blocks when I was a baby. I feel like I've always been attracted to color, but I was also really attracted to Lincoln Logs, partly because my parents didn't ever let us get any. We had to get by with cold, colorless erector sets. Well, we had tinker toys too. Boring beige.

Color is definitely a cookie to me. Interesting lines are cookies. To some extent, repetition is a cookie, especially repetition combined with variarion. Three red rectangles is interesting. Three red rectangles and one red circle is a subtle morphological statement.

I'm not like Kandinsky, I don't have synesthesia—I don't see music, or hear colors. But I do feel like patterns in visual objects affect me the same way patterns in music affect me. Maybe those stimuli are just moving chemicals around in my brain in a way that creates a physiological response.

Or does a non-objective painting stimulate your emotions because it fools your brain into thinking you're looking at something else? Does it see a puzzle that it can't solve, and that's what interests it?

I think what I'm trying to do here—besides just arguing—is look for the underlying reasons that exist within us, not within the paintings, why some nonobjective paintings appeal to us and some don't. When you see something that "works", why does it work? Does it remind you of something else that you like? Does it make your mind feel like it's getting a massage? Does it trick your eye somehow? Or am I just responding to the colors, because I looooove that color, or those colors together?

For The Sun-Drenched Afternoon (2 posts ago) I think part of its appeal to me is the sheer randomness of the elements. It seems to de-focus my mind when I look at it, perhaps inducing a more meditative state. Each little element can be taken individually, or I can look at the painting as a whole and feel as if it's much more than two by four feet. It creates an illusion of space in my mind, and that feels comfortable to me.


Thursday, March 12, 2009

Out of hibernation

I know it's not officially spring yet, but I think we've had our last freezing night. At least I hope so, because I'm ready to get out and garden! I have lots of plants on my patio that I've gotten since the warm days last fall that want to get in the ground and start growing. And that's just where I want them. I'm always so happy to see March come because things are starting to grow and the thermometer keeps climbing toward 60, but I always forget that March is burning month—smoke everywhere—that it's still cold and rains a lot, the wind still comes out of the northeast, and only the toughest flowers are ready to show their faces in Beavercreek. But even though spring here doesn't really come until late April and the month of May, when the whole universe seems to be in flower, I can still jump up and down this bright sunny day and wave my arms, and yell, "It's SPRING!!!!"

So what have I been working on all this winter? For starters, it really took some effort to wrap my head around the idea that I'm now really, truly, completely retired. For someone who's worked full time for thirty years, there are some major mental adjustments that have to be made. I also made the decision that I was no longer going to put the idea of sales ahead of my desire to become the best painter I can be. I decided, after working really hard and long hours all summer and fall to complete as many paintings as I could, it was more important to me to say, I'm going to pretend I'm back in art school, and I'm going to work on building the basic painting skills I have not acquired before. I want to be able to make solid compositions that are as interesting in black & white as they are in color. I want to really learn how to "draw" with my paint brush. I want to learn how to make quick sketches, either in the studio or outside, so I could become more competent (and confident) in experimenting. I want to get really good at capturing the colors I see. In summary, I want to become skillful enough to be able to paint completely intuitively, to basically improvise paintings at will—and have them turn out to be really good paintings.

In other words, I want to change my fundamental painting goal from one of completing paintings, to one of acquiring skills.

So my activities have changed a little. I'm reading more. I got a library card. I'm recording the useful painting shows off PBS and watching them very closely, looking at how they handle their brushes, how they actually put the paint on the canvas, how they go about creating a painting. I'm getting more videos on artists I don't know enough about, listening to them talk about their art (that is, the ones who are alive, like David Hockney). I'm doing sketches—a one or two-pass painting that isn't intended to look like a finished work, but gives me a chance to try out a color combination I've never tried, or make a composition from one of my favorite photos. For instance:

This is a two-pass sketch from a photo I took at the top of Council Crest Park in Portland. It was one of those beautiful late winter days in-between storms and I got lots of pictures. My ultimate goal is to paint a panorama (inspired by Hockney), but before I do that, I want to do several sketches to get the feel of the place, and just get some practice. This feels like retirement thinking to me, not get it done now because you're running out of time. This is saying, play with your ideas, play with the picture, try whatever you want to try. Work on paper. Work small, work fast, work slow, work however you feel like working.

I like that.

At the same time, I am working on a couple of paintings that I started late last fall and early this winter. One of them I'm enjoying is an ink print of ferns. It's not finished yet, but here's what it looks like now:

It started with a contact print of the ferns in acrylic inks, and now I'm adding colored pencils. I'll post more pictures of it as I wrap it up.