Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Sketch painting for practice

Zion Sketch 1
Once again with a full palette after the two florals, I decided yesterday it was time to tackle some of the 1" thick stack of my photos that I've thought about trying to paint, and picked one from Zion National Park. I wanted to do as quick a sketch as I could, just enough to work out if the image would translate to a painting both composition- and color-wise, plus be as interesting as I thought it was as a photo. I already had the colors I needed on the palette, so I grabbed a scraggly brush and started brushing in the shapes, and filling them in with what I already had mixed. Since there were a lot of dark and shadowy areas, I brushed those in as well to locate all the shrubbery and rock contours.

I loosely followed the colors from the photo, inadvertently intensifying them. This composition seems to play the light orange off the fairly-pure yellow of the central tree, but with plenty of support from blue, greens, and the grayed violet. So once again, the same basic combination—yellow & violet, and orange & blue, but this time with a lot more of the yellow-greens. I really can't believe how versatile this set of colors is.

I was thinking as I started that doing sketches would give me both a lot of practice, and a low-pressure place to figure out how to handle the more challenging areas, which in this case were the shadows, the large rock mass behind the front one, and the tree in the foreground. The rock mass I had to repaint a few times, and it took a few tries to get the hue and value of the shadowy areas on the orange rock, but the yellowish tree in front was a lucky break. I like the way the simple shape and bright colors attract attention to the foreground while they're playing off the more distant orange. I had thought I would want to refine the whole painting more, but was happy to find it had a lively rough look that suited it.

I see lots more sketching in my future.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Same colors different balance

Floral 4
I still can't get the paint to run out the same time the painting is done, so I ended up with a palette full of all the same colors after the last one. I flipped the emphasis to blue flowers though, with only bits of darker lime green around them. I finally managed to make an unsymmetrical arrangement, and added the geometric design in the background to set the whole thing off.

My brushstrokes look better in this one, more like the shapes of the flowers. Competely imaginary flowers, sort of salvia-like. It started out with a much more placid orange; this one is more like candy orange slices at sunset.

This one was fun.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Trusting the chaos

Floral 3
I've started doing quick (for me, that is—one or two days) studies and improvisations. I started with an owl I copied from some photos on the web that appealed to me and that went well enough, after having to re-draw it after I blocked it in, that I decided to try another floral, totally from my imagination. I had a lot of paint left over from the owl, mostly purple, blue, and yellows, so I settled on blue & orange plus purple & yellow. That is not an official color scheme, but I started with it anyway. Along the way I added in some dark yellow green, which seems to have added to the harmony.

I've been wanting to give myself a little more freedom in choosing colors, based on how all the different ways there are to harmonize notes in melodies. Different harmonies convey different emotions, along with implied familiarity, or its opposite, exoticity. This harmony leans toward the exotic, but they're also very common spring colors, and my mind is pretty focused on Spring at this point, hoping to hurry it in a bit.

I collaged a couple paper pattern bits on it, like I did on Hum Day, then tried painting on top of them and made a quick, ugly mess. I let that dry, decided I did want to do a floral, and started again. In the process, I completely covered up the collage, which was fine. I was making shortish, broad strokes, trying to create a nice composition, and that got scary too, as it looked to be turning into another   amateurish mess, when I suddenly thought of Joan Mitchell's flowerscapes. I laughed at myself and decided it was okay to keep playing, just to see what happened. I think about playing at painting a lot,  and I write about it a lot, but I was so afraid of making schlock that I failed to recognize that I was playing. I let go and kept up with the completely non-thinking paint application, and in another couple minutes it started looking like an interesting blocking-in. It's like running down a hill where you can't see what's at the bottom, but it's so fun to run downhill you want to keep going.

So that was the creative part of painting—the scary part where you can't see anything good and you have to trust. Four, five minutes tops, was all it took to see that I had a nice color composition. Then I had to make it look finished. I went through about ten cycles of analyze, paint, analyze, paint over it again—fixing the bad parts, then adding new parts which were also part bad, and fixing those. I was 98% done with it last night, and added a couple tiny bits this morning.

The green strip in the corner was one of those happy accidents. I just wanted to add some more green to the background, and when I held a mat over it, I thought it added immensely to the composition. Without it there, there's just a vase of flowers, but suddenly it's more interesting with that green there as some unknown element in the room. It seems to anchor the flowers into the room, more than the purples in the bouquet do, and throws the darker blue-purple farther back.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Painting the blues

Spring Blues
Another music painting. In this one I wanted to focus on blues, but surprised myself by using the entire cool half of the color wheel, from yellow to violet. I'm including yellow because it's a cool lemon yellow, not a warm golden yellow. I'm surprised how balanced it looks, being mainly yellow-green and blues. I thought I would have to add some red or orange to balance all the blues, but I never felt the need. Maybe that's because I do include the complementary pair of yellow and violet, and they're acting as kind of bookends. Analogous colors do constitute an Official color scheme, so I haven't violated any laws.

I did a couple things differently on this painting—I left some of the edges a bit blurry, and some of the note bars a little transparent, and made the background a lot more interesting.

Theme-wise, it's expressing my longing for the bright green foliage of spring in this particularly cold January.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

An infinity of possibles

Snowbound and tired of the relentless freezing, I decided it was time to do a collage experiment. I printed up some sheets of black & white pattern, tore off some pieces, and used an old jar of liquid matte gel to glue them, completely without thought or intention, onto a small panel, just as I'd watched Robert Burridge do. I tried painting and scraping into it while it was wet, but got a little too vigorous and tore some of the paper, so I let it sit till it dried.

Next I overpainted it with transparent blocks of color, just looking for something interesting to happen.

I stared at it for a while, enjoying the starkness of the designs. I have honestly never played with collaging like this before, so most of my reaction was surprise, and my brain was jumping around, doing flips and cartwheels at the infinity of possibilities of direction. All from just one step of randomized activity.

Eventually I realized I couldn't choose which patterns I wanted to leave and which to keep, so I decided to negative-paint a silhouette over it, and worked up a mask of a hummingbird. Where the patterns got in the way, I painted them out, and where they added to the painting, I featured them.

I really like playing in this "there are no rules" place—very engaging and fun. I'm still coming around to the idea that neither a painting nor the elements in it have to make sense logically, as long as they work together visually. I think that if the parts do play off each other well, the mind will work very hard to make some kind of either feeling or thought viewpoint of the painting. The hummingbird design is instantly recognizable, and has positive associations of nature, colors, and flowers—unless you're a gnat, in which case they're scary predators—they make me think of bright summer days and gardens. So this painting became symbolic, in a knee-jerk way. I went for the quick and easy symbol. But it could have become anything, as simple or complex, emotional or logical, as you want.

Even as I was painting on it, I realized I could have started with the hummingbird idea and shaped and laid the patterns to support that, but once I get a concept in my head I start to get rigid about what I should and shouldn't do with it. Less problem with that this way, where you can put off any kind of decision-making until you're tired of playing.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Painting comes out of nowhere

Southwest View
Ever start on a painting and think it's going to be a walk in the park, and then you find out the park is Denali National Park and you're getting dropped off at 18,000 feet?

I had one like that early in December—I repainted every part of it at least three times, and I was beginning to wonder, is this painting? Or trial by brush? Sometimes making a painting is an expression of joy; other times it's a test of my resolve. How stubborn am I?

Then I got inspired to work on one of my half-done book manuscripts, and left it—abandoned it, really—on the easel. Every day after that, I disliked it a little more and got more and more angry that I'd wasted a good 16x20 panel on such a conspicuous failure. The only reason I didn't paint over it at that point was because it was a concept I really wanted to do. So much for that.

Then just after Christmas, I was sketching with my brand new Pitt Pens with brush tips that I got myself for Christmas 😀, and got an idea to do a self-portrait with a plant. I set up my paints again and started painting over it. I blocked in a figure and a plant, and then a bunch of abstract shapes in the background, thinking about how I wanted to rough in the dark-light balance and decide on colors before I started shaping anything. Within an hour of completely relaxed, fun painting, I had a rough composition that I liked very much just the way it was. It didn't look anything like my initial sketch, but so what? I wanted to leave it rough on the figure and background, but wanted to make the plant and pot more defined, adding a shadow to emphasize the idea of bright, sharp light and a defined space. The only change I made after that point was to add the little window to make the top part of the painting as important as the middle and bottom.

I kept remembering what Burridge says, "Don't fall in love with it too soon," but I really was in love with it. I did keep playing with the image in photoshop, to see if I wanted to change the colors or add other elements, but I didn't want to. When I got it to almost final, I showed it to a couple friends and they both liked it. So here it is. It's so completely different from anything I've ever done that I'm still getting used to it. I'm thinking of it as minimalist. My first minimalist painting.

BTW, I really do love my Pitt Pens. I had ordered two small manga sets from Blick, and enjoyed playing with them enough that I decided to make myself a custom set and ordered 25 more colors in the regular brush tip, including a big size "opaque" white pen. It's only semi-opaque, but still quite useful for lightening and adding highlights. You can get very fine lines with the brush tip, or nice 2mm strokes, but if you only want to do fine lines, you can get a few of the colors in a superfine nib. They're $2 each, less in the sets. I bought a small Strathmore 300 Mixed Media Pad and it's perfect for them—no warp, no bleed-through. The only thing about the pens I wish is that they had pale colors in more hues, but that's where the white pen comes in handy. I love having different shades of grays to sketch with, especially trying to do faces.

I hope to do a lot more sketching this year, both to play and to rehabilitate my now very rusty drawing skills.