I took a couple new mixed media paintings down to the gallery this last week. One of them turned out to be kind of a sequel to one I finished last winter. The first painting is called The Grotto, and was based on a small cave in the Santa Monica mountains west of Malibu:
What I really enjoy, however, is when I'm not thinking about anything but the marks that the brush or pencil is making, the colors that I'm mixing and putting down, the wetness and texture of the paint and how it's going onto the surface—smoothly, or with effort.
I used to spend too much of my painting time focusing on the reference photo or object I was painting from; I actually thought that if my entire focus was on the subject, if I was absorbing it through all my senses, that a perfect copy of it would magically appear on the painting surface. Sort of like the Think Method from "The Music Man". I was blurring the line between the reference and the subject—the reference being outside the painting and the subject being in it. I notice that I seem to be shifting more of my attention to the painting instead. I'm beginning to think more of the design that's appearing, what the overall pattern is, and if there's anything I can change or add—or remove—to make the pattern stronger. I'm looking for opportunities for visual texture with either stroke marks or color changes. I'm looking at the colors already on the surface, how they relate to each other, and if additional colors would make the painting richer, or just more complicated. I'm looking for where the pure hues are, and where the neutrals are. I'm thinking less of what the colors were in the original subject, and more of what they need to be in the painting, in order for it to work. These are all things that I've read about for years, from the many sources that say how important they are. But more and more, I'm feeling them as I'm painting.
I got another great painting video from the library, one by Stephen Quiller. He shows several examples of combining watercolor and gouache, in small studies and in a plein air color study and the studio painting done from it. He mentions as he begins the studio work that he doesn't want to copy the color study, he wants to create something new, based on it. Those words are really sticking with me.