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.

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