Monday, December 14, 2009

Painting: New Year's Resolutions for 2010

I'm working on my painting resolutions for next year. The first one is something I've been thinking about for a couple of months. I want to sit down with my paints and brushes and just practice brush strokes until I find every kind of stroke I can make with each of my favorite brushes--wide strokes, skinny ones, curvy, loopy, wiggly ones, straight, horizontal, vertical, angled. With thin paint, thick paint, dry brush, wet-in-wet, and any other way I can think of that's different. The only excuse I have for not having done it the first time it occurred to me, is that I'm very lazy and a professional procrastinator.

Second is to keep working against a habit that I've almost broken. Even though I've always felt that my goal is to capture the feel of a place, the essence of it, I've always been a slave to copying what I see. Even though that copying is counter to my goal, I do see a reason for trying to doing it: it's a way of testing your ability to produce a particular image. I feel like it's the first stage of creation, training your skills, and using the way your results look to tell how well you succeeded. The problem with that is that I always feel obligated to not get creative with the image, but to represent it faithfully so its viewers will see what I saw. I don't want to feel that way any more. I don't plan on doing any documentaries, and I really do want to evoke a feeling with a painting. If that happens now, it's purely by accident. I wouldn't begin to know how to do that, or how to tell if I succeed. I want the viewer to feel what I feel.

It's too cold not to (stay in and) paint

Welcome to winter! Plenty of time to paint now, with the temps outside too cold to garden--at least for me. Last week was actually pretty much frozen, at least it's back to "normal" this week, back in the 40's--which feels pretty warm after the mid-teens and 20's.

Actually I've been pretty busy painting since October, first for the change-over at Howden Art gallery, then on one commission and then on a potential. Now I'm back to doing color sketches, working on my brushwork and color practice. I happened to get yet another technique book from the library, Landscape Painting Inside & Out by Kevin Macpherson, which as most of the other books and videos I've studied lately, talks about working in large blocks of flat color when you're first laying out your painting. I first noticed this in Carolyn Lewis' video, as I mentioned earlier this year. I've been trying to follow that practice since then, with varying degrees of success. Even though I had switched over mentally, my brushes and paints didn't seem as ready to stop my old habits. I'm not really sure why it was so hard to get there, but it definitely didn't happen overnight. Between canvas paintings and quick paper sketches, it took about ten paintings to get here.

Something must have clicked lately though, just in the last two weeks, because I'm finally getting the look I want in these sketches. I had a couple photos from a nearby city park that I took right at the height of the fall colors that I really wanted to try. I set up my sheet of paper to put two 8x10's right next to each other, thinking I would try the same composition with two different color schemes. However, when I finished the first one:

Wilsonville Park Path 8x10 $40
Acrylic Paint on Paper

I decided to use my second color scheme for the other composition I wanted to do:

Wilsonville Fall color 8x10 $40
Acrylic Paint on Paper

I let them stay rough--that's the kindest way to describe the brushwork on them--but the colors I got were a pleasant surprise. I finally started to get the hang of making believeable branches, with the long edge of my flat brush, and got good service this time from my new-ish red-handled Windsor Newton flats for acrylics and oils. They're still new enough that the ends aren't splayed out from my scrubbing. I was using the thinned out Golden regular paints that I've used for all my "burridges", the ones that let me work fast and loose, getting some wet-in-wet effect before it dries.

Yesterday I started another one, from a photo of an old garage with some dahlias in front of it that was discovered on a plant-buying trip with three other committed plant addicts during the first major storm this fall. Sidelight: At Sebright Gardens near Salem, where we went to snag some prime hostas, the wind blew a big fir branch down, which downed the nursery power line and trapped our car in the parking lot until PGE came and put it back up. We heard the snap and thud but stayed oblivious, touring their really beautiful garden, and we got a little extra time to choose the 30 or so plants we left with (addicts, for sure). So it goes. Anyway, here's the old garage:

Garage On The 99E 8x10 $40
Acrylic Paint on Paper

I'll probably tone down the blue wall on the left a little bit, but not too much. I'm not usually much for painting buildings, but this garage was so old, leany, and mossy it was about as close to being compost as anything. It looked one good wind gust away from becoming a lumber pile. Maybe the dahlias were holding it up.

I had taken 2 photos of the garage, one pretty much as shown here, and another showing the whole length of the garage, including the front and door that were sloping about 15 degrees off vertical, giving it even more whimsey. I decided no one would believe it really was that crooked, and couldn't figure out how to balance the length. When I initially blocked in the dark shapes in dark blue, I saw that the half-garage really did make a nicely balanced composition. That's what you always want to have happen, but this time it actually did.

I was so happy with these I spent a few hours last night sifting through my photos for more things to paint. I found a few more from the Rhododendron Garden that I'm eager to try, maybe even on canvas. More trees! More flowers! (And hopefully, more days in the 40's and 50's.)