Friday, September 7, 2012

In the throes of experimentation

This week's hot spell gave me my first chance since Art In The Garden 2012 (which was wonderful!) to stay inside and paint again. In between going outside to move the sprinklers around the garden and check all the newbies and transplants for hydration, I pulled out some old 9x12 watercolor blocks and set about experimenting with pretending that acrylics are watercolors. Watercolors were the first paints after elementary-school finger paints that I ever worked with, and I'm feeling those roots strongly right now. It's been really fun! I started with no ideas, basically, except to just see what I could get away with. The first one came out pretty fanciful:

Sky To Earth

I really had fun just playing with decorative color, but I wanted to do something a little weightier. For the second one I started out the same way, with a pattern of different-colored lines on wet paper, but when that dried I came back with a different brush and the same colors and played on top of the first pattern. It took a while for it to take form, so long that I was getting nervous, but eventually I liked it. It reminded me of a spring landscape in my local hills.


Next I tried a different line pattern with a new color scheme. This time I tried painting color into a wet gesso surface and that gave a completely different effect, much thicker paint—thick enough to scrape into, and basically no wet-in-wet effect. Painting into wet gesso is almost exactly like painting onto dry gesso. When I came back for a 2nd pass, I wet the surface, which was completely covered with acrylic so the water couldn't soak in. I was able to get some wet-in-wet effect that way, and with very little lifting of the previously laid colors. I did 3 more passes, adding one color at a time until I was happy with it. I used my hair dryer on each layer to speed up the process.

Light As A Flower

When I picked up my brush to start this last one I decided to draw a flower shape. No gesso this time, and I made use of the same layering and wet-in-wet techniques I'd used on the previous painting.

Bright Flower

In between each painting I felt a familiar anxiety—the fear of starting a painting with no idea of what it was going to look like. Two of the 4 times I had to take a little time to screw up my courage to keep doing the same thing, before I could actually sit down and start a new painting. And partway through both the second and third paintings, I had to go through the mental argument of "Why am I wasting time on this? No one's going to buy these, they're just exercises." I seemed not to have quite grasped the point of doing exercises.

Until I started playing with color schemes last fall, I had never actually done a painting except with the single goal of completing a saleable, or at least a hangable painting. I've picked up a few skills in the process, but there are so many things now that I want to try, to experiment with, that I really want to just focus on these experiments for a while. When I do get back to landscapes, I'm hoping I can make use of whatever I'm able to learn by just playing.

But beyond the practice of trying lots of different things is the desire to see if I can keep it up—just sitting down and starting to paint, without a preconceived plan or any idea of a subject, and end up with a satisfying painting. I want to develop a habit of painting without thinking about it.

I think I'll get a lot more painting done.


  1. Hi Patty,
    It is fun to see your experiments and read about your process. Good on you for making an effort to paint without being attached to the outcome. It is more difficult than it sounds, I know from experience! It was fun to see you at the Garden Party!

  2. Hi Ruth,
    Thanks for the encouragement! It's hard to break habits!You make a little progress or discover something new and then you want to rush back and incorporate it into your regular work, and then it seems to almost disappear. Good to see you too, and wasn't it nice that it wasn't raining or cold this year!