Many people ask me questions about my artistic process, and sometimes I find myself a little stumped. They want a peek into how and why artists make what they make, and if the person asking doesn’t make art, it turns out that usually what they want to hear is less technical and more abstract. I started this blog because I wanted a forum for discussing the more technical aspects of oil painting. That’s why it’s called what it’s called. As I go through the process of teaching myself how to glaze flesh tones over verdaccio and grisaille, as I go back and forth between indirect and wet on wet pieces, and as I explore the possibilities of the medium that I love so dearly, it would be great to have a public place to share all these things with other people who are also learning or interested. But I’m realizing that actually, I also want to use the blog as a forum to tell my story and to explain to a degree why I make what I make. Talking to people directly about my work is absolutely something I must learn to do with ease and grace, but like many artists, I am heavily introverted, and am more comfortable alone in the studio.
I get asked often where my ideas come from. The honest truth is, they come from everywhere. They come from articles I read, people I know, from conversations I have, and they come from my personal writing practice as well. When I become very stumped for ideas, I take strange photos of myself. That is how quite a few of my paintings have been born. I greatly admire those artists who start with what they want to say, and build a piece around it. I have only successfully managed that a few times. Very often, I start with a basic idea or image, and I allow it to grow organically. I may allow a piece to sit in my head for a year or more before I decide it’s ready to be developed.
Sometimes the images finalize themselves in that space just before sleep, when the conscious and subconscious are brushing up against each other. That’s where this old painting comes from. The butterflies are ideas being born. The figure is illustratively cartoonish, because I jumped out of bed and made it.
I will admit something personal – sometimes I make a painting and I don’t understand it until I’ve stared at it for a really long time – days, weeks, even months. Sometimes I paint what I admire, things I want to do, but don’t because learning the skill seems intimidating, and I’d rather paint. I’ve been playing guitar on and off for about two decades, and will likely never get that good at it, but the desire to play guitar has never left me, so I continue to play it maybe once a week or once a month, but that’s not enough to steadily improve. Instead, I made paintings about women with guitar necks, and then spines.
I imagined vertebra morphing into tuning keys, and these two paintings are the outcome of this imagining. And yes, of course I am fully aware of Man Ray’s’ Le Violon D’Angres. There was a procession of images that lead to the guitar spines however. It started with the Guitar Neck Woman, a painting from around 2010 that I wish were more technically proficient, but hey, we all start out somewhere. I strive to always grow and improve, hopefully for the rest of my days. If you think that’s strange, you should know the Guitar Neck Women I used to doodle evolved into Guitar Neck Peacock Women. Then the necks became like vacuum hoses. That got really weird.
It’s fun to see the progress though, and I hope that by showing older works it might inspire one of the many people I meet who tell me they tried to make art, but it wasn’t any good so they gave up. Don’t give up. That’s what it takes if you feel discouraged about making art. The saying for poems is the same for making art. Write one hundred poems. Throw them out. Write one hundred more. Some of those will be good poems. So maybe don’t actually throw out your paintings – maybe just paint over them. I’ve made scores of paintings that don’t exist anymore, because they were bad. I’ve even burned a few, and out of all of those destroyed pieces, I only regret destroying three of them. So be careful about what you destroy, but if you need the canvas to make another painting, just do it. You need to make a lot of bad paintings to figure out how to make a good painting, and man, those bad paintings take up so much space.
(Note – I wrote a post today for the first time in forever, and then found this half finished draft saved and forgotten, so I went ahead and finished it.)