Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Roeliff - How I "Think" while Painting

More snapshots of the Roeliff painting process.

Below is where I left off in the last post...  I don't think in words as I paint or draw, generally (the verbal silence is such a relief for me), but I can look at these intermediate photos and recall what I did, and in some instances why.  I'll try to provide some glimpses into the reasons.  The living process is much more like feeling or dancing and a lot less like thinking or talking than it sounds in the paragraphs below.  Think of this as a translation into a very different language.

In the snapshot below you can see where I added green in the upper right (which made my life more difficult) and in a few places on the upper left, to help the trees stand out a bit more and engage the top edge.  I also added blue to the center to unite some fragments and create more of the sense of water I was feeling.  Also more intense blue in the bottom center to accentuate a vertical edge and echo the falling line of the fish above.  The small light stripes near the right edge put the red kayak into motion for me.  (That neighbor's red plastic kayak was too small for us, but it featured in several adventures.)  A few sections are starting to make some sense to my eye, while others (top right hand corner) are bothering me more.

Here is where I decided that the problem, for several reasons, was the pearl crescent butterfly in the upper right, as well as the green being too bright.  Actually, in this image I've painted out all of the flying insects, added more wild roses, and several orange accents in the lower half.  I also darkened up the lower left corner.  That shape doesn't work for me - more on that later - but what was there previously wasn't working, either.  This is also where the sun starts being even more of a child's sun, but I feel I did not go far enough or let go enough.  I also warmed the lower right corner with some burnt sienna.  That section might be closer to the actual color of the Roeliff much of the time - she ran muddy after every rain, and she had a green-brown bed due to the silt and plant life covering many rocks.

By the snapshot below I had added two more roses in the upper right, removed the small orange shape in the center (which was interfering with the movement of the fish down the center and dividing the page too much, top to bottom AND side to side), and reduced the intensity of the lower central orange shape (I have no idea what that shape is - it is there to echo the fish to the right and lure the eye back around to the left and up after the visual fall down the kayak).  More wild strawberries and rose leaves.  And the most important change, to me, is the fixing of that jarring end to the red-winged blackbird's tail. The same softening is applied to the sharp edges of the yellow green strokes coming down from the lowest roses in the last snapshot.  Those edges were also breaking up the flow.  There is also a little ultramarine blue added to the left hand edge, down from the house, which ties that side of the painting into the center, somewhat.  More dark between the two sycamore trees helps their flow and also ties the upper left to the rest.  I removed some of the sun's echo (the hard curved edge of blue below the sun) and helped my feeling of water by adding a level edge, instead.  This is getting close to what I want, how I feel about my childhood Roeliff.  The bottom left doesn't work for me, though - it feels cut off.

This last image below shows a solution for the lower left, where I added ripple/motion lines in white, and softened the hard thalo green edges between those ripples, toward the top left of the triangle.  Those changes help create the visual motion I want (closer, anyway) and unify the piece more.  I sacrifice some drama, doing that, but it's the wrong kind of drama for my vision here.

Frankly, the original is darker than these illuminated snapshots, and the thalo and ultramarine do not always play well together.  The entire painting is far more acid than I wanted or like.  I had to over-work some of the surface, and lost freshness.  A few areas look a bit scrubbed.  But I learned a lot here, and this is the closest I've been in a long while to letting my heart paint and keeping my head more on the sidelines.  There is a playfulness that promises to open doors and windows.

I may fiddle with this a bit more, but I'm frankly itching to get a fresh sheet on this board.  And short of minor adjustments, I doubt I can improve this much without taking it in a totally different direction.  I might do that...  It would mean breaking out inks, and/or acrylics, and that changes everything (right now it's all watercolor).  Or I may keep this as-is for the lesson and direction it points out.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Sketching is Like Multi-Exposure Photography

This watercolor and ink sketch was done from the roof of our town's parking garage.  I loved painting the trucks.  The fire department kept moving them as I sketched - so this particular arrangement of the trucks never existed in reality...  For instance, the truck in the foreground and the truck mostly behind the building on the right is the same truck, and the white SUV was also moved during the course of the drawing time.  The police car in the background left half-way through the time I was there.  When I began, the ladder truck was still in the garage, not pulled most of the way out.  So this is a bit like a multi-exposure, time-lapse image.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

To Get Somewhere Different

Warning - LOTS of links in this post.  I'm connecting many things.

I have always had a strong habit of making the same shapes and marks - particularly on a blank surface.  I tend to echo or reinforce what's there already, or things tend towards an "X" overall, or shapes all around the edges, but not engaging the middle (sort of a circle).  The predictable marks of tic-tac-toe.

So I find it useful to get initial lines and gestures from somewhere outside me, and then react.  That gets me somewhere new.

Usually this means pencil lines on paper.  Today, however, I took a sheet of paper I had already covered with a loose and somewhat muddied blue/red/yellow scheme (mostly blue) and covered over most of it with a cream colored acrylic (a warmer white).  Then I made marks through the paint with the handle end of a paintbrush.  The result is above (not a good photo, I was in too much haste to let the paint dry and I had to shoot from an angle that got no glare off the wet paint - but you get the idea).

That was pretty unsatisfying, as I was falling into usual patterns, and that is making me twitchy, lately.  Discontent.  So I pulled up a photo of something fairly random, but between pleasing and not pleasing in shapes and composition.  A photo that I both like and dislike (I'm not neutral, I'm conflicted).  Here's today's example - from Flickr.

Then I did blind contour drawing forcefully with a purple pencil while looking at this photo.  Maybe you can see some of the tag shapes in here - or at least a few of the circles where the string goes through the paper, but I was not working for resemblance.  I wanted a more unpredictable mess of lines to have to deal with.  I threw on some yellow watercolor while the acrylic was still wet.

All of this took about 15 minutes.  The whole point is not to think too much about it (until after - and generally not then, either).

This surface is just begun.  It's still too predictable.  It's not rich enough.  Nothing has emerged of interest yet (to me) - or at least I can't see it yet.  I was reading The Great Discontent this morning and I was struck by several sentences from the illuminating interview with Elle Luna.  She was talking about her life, design projects and products, and about painting - all at once.  "I'm in the exploratory, divergent phase, where you brainstorm a lot and encourage wild ideas and defer judgement.  I believe that the longer you can hang with that ambiguity or unknown, the greater the results will be at the end."  I am doing this with the paintings I am working on at the moment.  The Roeliff painting (more on that mess in a later post - I worked on it yesterday and will do more today), this piece, the weird automatic drawings I am doing before bed each night...  I'm making a mess because I'm refusing to do anything "right."  Right goes to all the usual places, and those haven't been where I want to go...

On a different, but related note:  I no longer have much interest in painting non-representationally (what many people call "abstract" painting).  I like to paint recognizable things, shapes, and symbols.  I am fascinated with trees and animals, in particular, and some architecture (particularly houses).  So this "painting start" will have to find it's way to something I want to paint.  Right now the accidents and lack of control are about getting the unexpected into the surface, where I have to react to it, change it, still see it under whatever I add later...  They're not an approach to a final painting.  I love and appreciate a number of abstract and non-representational painters' work (Richard Diebenkorn, Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell, to name a few), but I'm the most intrigued and engaged by late Matisse, Hundertwasser, and the compositions of unique representational masters like Degas, Hopper, Toulouse Lautrec, O'Keefe, Benton, Lawrence, Schielle, the Wyeths (NC and Andrew).  (Links are not general reference links - they show works I find particularly inspiring by these artists.)

When I was at UNC-CH in a painting class with Marvin Saltzman, he told me that I surely did not want to be an Abstract Expressionist.  "They're all old men, and doing nothing new."  That was the day he asked me the tough question I still haven't answered, though I'm now more engaged with the question than ever before:  "What do you WANT to paint?  If you want to paint fruit, do it, but make them your own.  If you want to paint red, paint the reddest damn red in the world.  Paint what you want to paint - all the rest is crap."  I HATED that question.  I love it now - even if I still can't answer it.  NO - BECAUSE I can't answer it.

But I am getting closer...

Increasingly I am finding that what I want is to recapture the fascination and glee of painting when I was a child.  I sense that the heart of the garden is brightly lit and deliciously unembarrassed about the simple love of shapes, things, and colors.  That's where I'm going.

Some of my paintings to-date are directionally correct, but still only pointing to that place.  Below are a few - they provide some hints.  I can't describe how each of these seems to point the way - what it is about each.  Maybe you have some ideas.  I'd like to hear them.  

Paintings below are (all rights reserved):  Amaryllis Chickens, The Dragon Keeper's House, Trilobite, City, Coming Home, Toad.  Of these, Coming Home feels closest.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Hillsborough Methodist - Sketch

This is from one of my sketch books.  Sometime recently the old hemlock in front of this church was cut down.  Hemlocks have been dying all over the East, due to an Asian insect, and this tree may have been another victim.  I'm glad I drew the church before the tree was gone, so my memories are stronger.  Every time I walk past this church I think of the tree.

It was fun to sit in my crazy two legged backpack chair (an Alite Monarch - mine's purple, a color they don't seem to make anymore) in the middle of a sidewalk to draw this.  People's reactions vary widely.  Some stop and talk.  Some offer encouragement or praise. Some pretend I'm not there.  Kids are the most fun.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Roeliff - Painting Childhood Feelings - Losing Control

I got a hint several weeks ago that I should depth journal about the Roeliff, the stream that flowed past most of my childhood.  I could write at length about that dialogue, and the twilight images that came out of it - but that's another post.

Here I am revealing how this painting is unfolding.  I am "doing it all wrong" and that's perfect.  I started in an unconventional way, I've lost control of this piece, the composition, the direction, the emotions I was trying to invoke.  It feels a bit like being thrown out the window and the car careening on without me.  No broken bones... I rolled end over end a few times, dusted myself off and walked away to come back later.  I was grinning.

I've waited a few days (these photos were all taken last Sunday, July 20); I worked a bit more tonight.  I'll show later stages in another post, but for now I'm posting Sunday's photos and waiting for the paint to dry before I try a few more things tonight.  Click any of the images below for a closer look.

Here (above) is the drawing, with taped borders, ready for painting.  Normally I would resolve more during the drawing, but I deliberately left plenty of decisions for the brushwork - lots of room to lose control.

Here are the first few objects emphasized with bright color.  These are almost like icons or totems for me in my stream memories, and I want the painting to be sparked by them.  More about what's what in a later post.  I would love to hear your guesses and impressions.

This is where the water starts, and the sycamore trees, the house where I grew up...

I'm starting to lose control here...  can you feel/see it?

And here is where I seriously went off the road.  This doesn't work for me at all, and I could not even see where order could start to spread from one area to others.  I have no idea what composition to assert here, or what to do next.  It made me a bit giddy, and that was great.

I have moved beyond this a bit, tonight, and it looked less like nonsense to me when I pulled it out this evening, but it's still totally over the curb and into the weeds, to me.  I wonder how it will look Friday.

Tomorrow several family members open in Seussical, so I probably won't paint.  I'll be deep into someone else's art and enjoying the sets designed by my oldest.

(Painting above is 18 x 24 inches on Arches hot press, stretched on plywood to keep it from puckering during the many times it will be wet and dry over the next few weeks.)

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sun and Moon 2

The sun and moon theme continued in some of my doodles/sketches.  These are not as automatic as the first Sun and Moon drawing, but I didn't start with anything premeditated.  I over-controlled both of these, and the results are not what I was after.  Often I can't let go.  I'm determined to show more than just the successes on this blog...  What do you think?  The first one (below) feels like a cartoon landscape to me - wave, tree, mountains, ploughed land, clouds, luna moth, sun and moon.  It feels like a formula, or a picture of a word-problem.  "If the sea were the height of the trees, how fast would the luna moth have to fly to reach the moon before the sun set?"  Or maybe it's the four elements in the four quadrants.

The second of these (below) gave me the feeling that the sunlight is somehow locked up and off limits, while the moonlight and night are more accessible, but to me less desirable, less luminous, and I'll have to stoop or crawl through that half door.  Do I take what's easier, or struggle for what seems impossible?  And this captures some of my frequent feeling (and dream theme) of being compelled into a smaller and smaller space, where a decision will be required from too many poorly understood options.

In contrast, when I painted today (I photographed at multiple stages - that will be a later post) I was quite loose and totally lost control of the surface and the composition.  It's the piece I'm doing about my childhood along the Roeliff, and I'm excited that I lost control.  Now I have a harder situation on my hands, and I have to think differently.  Instead of painting what I already knew, I'm going to end up somewhere unexpected.  I deliberately put precious things in the painting, which I probably can't keep, and that will be a struggle, as well.  I will have to decide what I really want - something I'm not good at.

Rereading this, I'm revealing more of myself than usual...

Friday, July 18, 2014

Sun and Moon

I've begun doing more drawing and painting without intention.  I just let my hands go.  I have to work hard to keep myself from intervening.  In a way the results are a surprise to me, and I can't usually explain what they are.  Sometimes they are just a mess.  Sometimes they seem to mean things to me, but I can't tell what.

This one stirs up feelings about sun and moon, and both appear in the drawing (hot orange sun on the left, blue moon on the right).

Often I try to do a simpler 10 minute exercise like this in a bound journal just before sleep.  I've been using Louise Fili's Perfetto pencils for those last moments of my day, switching back and forth between the graphite and the red ends as my hand and heart direct.  I just watch.  Often the results are too personal to share here...

I highly recommend both the pencils AND Louise Fili's book Elegantissima.  Both are deeply satisfying because everything about them is so beautifully designed and executed.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Clarity of Vision and Heart

I just had dinner with one of the friends who has been the most clarifying for me.  Things that have been puzzling or troubling me get straightened out in conversation with him.  The fog clears.  If I've embarked on something new recently, but without confidence or without velocity, after a dinner with him I either adjust or I step on the gas.  We may not have talked (except in short e-mails) for months or even a few years, but from the time we enter the restaurant for dinner until the wait staff is putting chairs on the tables, it's like a continuation of the last conversation.

I hope I have even a fraction of the positive effect he has on me.

This time, when we met, I drove past him in the parking lot and so he saw me in my new ride, which he later confided has been one of the automobiles he has "lusted after."  As I drove home, in falling darkness, I enjoyed her a little more than before - a shared appreciation is magnified.  I exited the highway a mile before my road, and pulled up to the top of the ramp.  I lowered both windows and opened the roof.  The western sky had just enough light left to show the silhouettes of summer clouds, and the katydids were loud in the dark countryside all around me.  I put Anginetti in first gear and appreciated the low growl as we turned south and drove into the woods.  The wind was almost too cold, even in July, and the smell of fresh grass increased with our speed, and the insect chorus got noticeably louder as we approached the one-lane bridge over the stream.  I felt very much alive.

Thank you, David, for an exceptional evening and the renewed energy I will carry with me for weeks.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Charleston Wrought Iron

It was a great pleasure several months ago to sketch in Charleston with my oldest son.  Wrought iron is on display all over the historic district.  These lyre gates are a typical Charleston example.

Pencil, ink, watercolor (a tiny set I carry in my backpack with Cotman trays of pigments and a cute little flask of water that is also a mixing tray) in a coldpress watercolor sketch pad.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Roeliff - Part 1

When I was about six years old our family moved from the suburbs to the countryside of southern Columbia County, in New York State.  The only things dividing our new front yard from a noisy section of the Roeliff Jansen Kill was Jackson Corners Road and a steep bank.  There were many things I loved about living there for the next eleven years, and a number of my paintings are about that place and time.  Increasingly I find those memories emerging through dreams and in my depth journaling.

Recently I was doing a twilight image dialogue and the Roeliff filled the session as an ancient, wiry man with a lot of wild facial hair, limbs like driftwood, and a face full of quiet light and laughter.  I feel like that water, and my boyhood obsession with it and with the rocks and fish and sycamores that shared its bed, still run through my veins thirty five years after moving away.

A recent painting start seems to be about the Roeliff, and I decided to post progress here.  This photo has the contrast hopped up so you can see the lines - they are fairly faint on the actual paper. Click on the image to get a closer look.

What do you see in these scribbles?  Maybe you see things I don't see yet.  And there are many things that I see in my heart which belong in this image, but they haven't arrived yet.  My memories of the Roeliff are of abundance, things all crowded on top of each other, continuous movement, distractions, the constant chuckle of water, and light.  I doubt I can capture the ancient man who came into my dreams (yet), but I will take a shot at catching some of the feelings and images which have bubbled up as a result.

Here is another post about the Roeliff Jansen Kill.
A few other posts about that place and time:  Pursuing My Father, Landlocked SycamoresMy Shadow (Pouch of Seeds),

And here is another painting I did years ago, with the Roeliff in it.  The painting is called Turkey Hill - the hill on the other side of the stream from ours.  To my young boy's imagination Turkey Hill was a magic unattainable place, across the deep water.