Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Fast and loose with the brush

Coralbark In Morning Light
I got this painting blocked in from the photograph, and then looked at all the lovely points on the Japanese maple Sango kaku leaves and thought, oh no, I'm not painting those. Then I argued with myself for a few days over how to make this painting looser than the last one without really changing the way the way I paint. On the third day, the answer came back to me from the Robert Burridge work I did: paint it fast. Go quickly. Don't think, just paint.

I did, and it worked! I didn't worry about keeping it loose, or making it look like the subjects, or how the texture of the paper would affect the brushstrokes, I just loaded the brush up with the colors and put them on. The absorbency of the paper made it pretty easy to get nice texture, and I was amazingly relaxed while I roughed in the first pass. After the first pass was done, I took a smaller brush and put in a few details here and there—probably should have resisted painting the fern fronds, but I couldn't—tweaked the colors a bit, and that was it.

But the whole way through, I had to keep arguing with myself about how much to paint the shape of the maple leaves. They're so small in this 11x14 painting that I'd have to use the smallest round brush I have to get them right, and I convinced myself that I don't want to do that. The gardener in me wants to do that, it wants to show the beautiful shapes and textures and complex colors of every trunk, stem and leaf. It wants to show the magnificent architecture of the simplest ancient flowers, and every luscious satin petal of a camellia, rose, or dahlia. But the artist in me is the one painting here, and I want to convey the feeling of being in a garden, not do botanical illustrations. If the viewer is a gardener who recognizes a little heuchera, a bank of sword ferns, or the trunk of a mature Douglas fir, great. But I'd rather have a viewer see how this spot in my garden looks in the pale sunshine of an Oregon fall morning.

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