“Visual Reality” – A nod to Magritte

“Visual Reality” – A nod to Magritte

I just finished a piece that I’m very excited about, and as a fellow (and much admired) painter put it – Making an Art Joke. It is an art joke, and also dropping a big heavy anvil clue as to one of the artists I’ve drawn a great deal of inspiration from over the years. So much so, it crept into my psyche to the point where I wasn’t even thinking about it consciously as this piece progressed, up until it was a chuckle over how obvious it was. That is why I decided to just chuckle to myself, have fun painting, and stick a floating rock in the background. The rock is from Rene Magritte’s “La Bataille de l’Argonne” (The Battle of Argonne), and I relished in getting to have something of a conversation with him during this “master copy” inserted into my own work.

This idea for this piece was born in a PetSmart. I was browsing languidly to buy a food bowl, and stopped to look at the beautiful tiny birds for sale, and was struck by their gorgeous coloring and stripes. I took a bunch of photos deciding to paint one of them. I’d been thinking about making a painting exploring and weighing the concepts of Free Will vs The Law of Causality. This is a topic that has haunted me since college philosophy classes, which spun me around and pulled me in two directions at once while I struggled to blend the two ideas into something I could live with. As I age, I keep leaning more and more into Causality being the responsible party for our lunch choices and more, tugging at the strings of our hearts with a cold firm grip. But let’s keep it light, shall we?

Originally, I decided the live bird would represent Free Will and a stone bird to represent The Law. I thought about this for a long time before even sitting down to sculpt the stone bird (which turned out a little derpy to be honest, so the painted stone bird does not resemble the prop I made) for my model to hold during the photo shoot. The model is my friend Katrina, someone who works tirelessly to help those around her, supporting and building up her community of artists and volunteers.

kat hand detail wip_web
WIP Detail of looser paint application attempt!

I think my favorite part of the entire painting, to be honest, was solving the puzzle of painting lots of little braids. I still think they look a bit like dreads (which I’ve painted before and adored every moment), but I’m happy enough with the results. I had to figure out both the color and the application technique – darks down first, then mid tone, then highlights. Solving this was vexing at first, but as it started to click things flowed smoothly, and the experience was joyful. A lot of my painting time is trying to solve problems and failing! I go through a long list of what doesn’t work before finding something that does. The most vexing part of the whole piece was the clouds – I painted them several times, and now have a photo file of cloud reference photos, because making them up didn’t work out quite how I wanted. My clouds will evolve to be certain, needing a lot more practice! But those are fluffy and floaty and do fine for this piece. There will be more clouds in the future. Finally, I really enjoyed the flesh tones recipes I used here, but think next time I paint these wonderful tones I will use the limited pallet to develop more broken up color. The colors here are off a base of yellow ochre, cad orange, b. sienna plus titanium white, with the reminder that lead whites make for less chaulky mix.

Advertisements

Sandra as Chronos – “Get to it!”

Sandra as Chronos

Something I think about constantly – and you likely do as well, is time. It doesn’t feel like there is ever enough of it to accomplish what I’d like. This is definitely because I went back to working a day job and paint around that now, which is why my production slowed so much the past 6 months. One the one hand, working a day job is great, obviously for the financial security that being an artist doesn’t always provide, but also because it makes me appreciate the time I do have to paint more, and forces me to be more productive with that time. I had started back full time, and now getting ready for a bunch of shows, I’ve gone to four days a week, so I can focus more on painting again. It’s also great because it takes so much pressure off of what I do make. I don’t need the sale to pay the utilities, I’m free to make what I want, for myself, and then just put it out there and see what happens. If it stays with me for a time, that’s okay. I made it for me anyway.

This painting is definitely for me, I made it while ruminating over time, what I’m doing with mine, how I spend my nights after work, and it’s really just a little kick in the butt – a painting about getting back to the work of painting. I don’t have forever.  None of us do. The urge to paint for me is a compulsion, but if I don’t have the energy, I can’t always force it. If I go too long without painting however, I start to feel… itchy. Unsatisfied, lazy even. I feel unfulfilled. Once I get back to work, all feels right again, I’m doing what I am supposed to be doing with my time. The precious little I may have, and there are so many paintings I want to make! I struggle a great deal with maintaining balance in my life – work, painting, family and friends, and simple alone downtime, those things all need to happen, and they need to be balanced. Too much of any one thing, and everything begins to feel a little claustrophobic.

So this is my good friend Sandra, personified as time. It’s okay for her to tell me to get off my ass, because we support each other a lot. She’s never actually said anything like that, but it felt right for her to be the subject in this one. I had envisioned it as a female Chronos, the keeper of the ticking moments, though definitely sans the whole child eating thing. She’s staring hard at me, goading me, saying  “Hey, quit wasting time. Get to it.” The original reference photo has black lace draped over the chair, but I decided to leave it out because it didn’t need the extra reminder of death, it keeps it a little lighter,  more positive and I can’t bring myself to cover the peacock chair. Man, I love that chair.

Sandra in progressThe experience of painting this feels like a bridge in a strange way – I’m happy with the painting, I’m proud of it, but there are a few things about it that vexed me throughout and still do – it’s best to be seen as a learning experience for sure. Proportional issues and edge work, brushstrokes and all. I love painting large hands, because I love hands, but it really bugged me here once I got there. If slightly larger hands are a mark of my work, I’m for it, usually. I was working on it last night and listening to an artist interview podcast, and the artist said something that really struck me as being exactly how I felt at that very moment – the reason I’ve been so frustrated is because I’m learning and growing. All the things I see that are wrong with this painting are because I can now see what could be better about it. All my successes with it are points to be proud of, for sure, but the problems are glaring at me like a neon sign. The hand placements was different at first. I got over a week behind schedule dealing with it. Here’s a peak at what it was like, I felt it was unnatural looking and the entire arm was moved!

Process and creative flow

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Dream before Sleep, 2009

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
We all start somewhere. Gosh, this is strange.

 

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.)