Sunday, April 21, 2013

Acrylics as watercolors

Meadow Afternoon
I found this scene one summer afternoon over a year ago but I never felt I could paint it before. One thing transparent water media are great for is skies.

The first painting instruction I ever had was in watercolor, and I guess some of that experience has stuck with me, because I enjoy painting on paper as if I were painting with watercolors. I do love my acrylics, though, and I'm in no hurry to go back. I love that they're so versatile.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

You must play to be good

Flying Dream
After doing three "serious" paintings in a row, I was desperate to do some things just for fun. I wanted to explore some other colors, and I wanted to try doing a painting purely from my imagination. The painting I wanted to do was a dream I had about 25 years ago—it was the first dream I flew in. I wanted to put background figures in it, I wanted it to be full of color and and very loosely painted. In the dream, I was in a rather boring party in someone's yard, which sloped down towards a street. After standing around for a while, I started running down the slope, and after just a few steps, I leaned forward, reached out my arms, and started flying.

I worked on it for about two weeks, and while that work was ongoing, I did several color studies, just totally painting out of my subconscious, thinking about the colors, and seeing how they played against each other. As I painted, wishing that ideas came more easily to me, I was realizing that it's all about vocabulary—you're only fluent with what you've done. So if you don't paint things that you don't think will work or you have trouble with, you'll just keep doing the same things over and over and you'll never do anything new or bold or innovative. So I played.

I used these paintings to try out two different canvas pads, one made by Fredrix and one with the Dick Blick brand on it. The Fredrix one is sheets of really heavy artist's canvas, and despite my using very wet paint, thickly applied, the sheet didn't warp even a tiny bit. In fact, I wouldn't have even thought about warping except that the Blick sheet warped like a cheap sheet of 90-lb. paper. It mostly flattened back out after I used binder clips on the pad to keep the top sheet stretched, but the edge is still ruffled. Both pads say they're triple-primed, but the canvas in the Blick sheets is so thin that except for the loose weave and cotton threads, I'm not sure it really qualifies as "canvas." It's more like chambray weight, just more loosely woven. So if you want a good heavy canvas pad, the Fredrix ones are great. On the other hand, if you want primed fabric that's probably flexible enough to sew, go for the Blick. It's cheaper than the Fredrix, which is why I wanted to try it.

This one didn't do anything except help loosen me up. I do think it looks kind of fuzzy-cuddly.

Expanding Levels
This one convinced me that turqoise and lime green look great together, and also go great with burnt orange and blue-violet. I like the movement in this design. It was on this one that I discovered a new way to mix yellow-green, a very important color for me.

Lines of Direction
This one I resolved to do as an ink painting but with a different arrangement of lines. Love the blue and gold.

Nuclear Dahlia
And this one I worked on for several days, adding one color at a time, as I went from thinking it was a waste, to really enjoying looking at it, even though it's just a dorky flower motif. I think the reason I like it is the colors and the little white highlights, but the radiating form is sort of like a mandala. Or it would be, if it were more carefully drawn.

I really had fun doing all these. Besides finding new colors and new shapes, I also got some practice working wet in wet. The virtue of working on supports that are cheap and take no room to store (if you want to keep them for a while) is obvious. And I can always reuse the heavy sheets. But I think the biggest thing I got out of doing these things is the same value you get from doing any painting—starting with just a vague idea and taking it to some stage of completion. And I was playing—no expectations, no pressure, no tension, just relaxed playing. It was a new experience for me to get up every morning for a couple weeks and feel excited about getting into the studio to just have fun.