Sunday, May 27

A Painting Gone Awry

A Lemon of a Painting
I am here blogging as one painter to another on the struggle we go through to put paint to paper (or canvas) and end up with anything we’re remotely proud of.

 I just ran water  all over my recent watercolor in an effort to salvage a painting that has gone awry.

I started it yesterday with such high hopes. The drawing was good; the composition was good; the initial washes were good or so I thought. 

But the painting went awry. Although the painting wasn't finished, I was completely satisfied with the results at the end of the day yesterday.

Today I began again with high hopes, but I noticed that some of the darks that I painted yesterday had dried darker and with edges that were much too hard. Now I know what that means--I was painting wet-on dry when I should have been painting more wet-on-wet.

But my recent wet-on-wet watercolors were just that—way too wet. And when they dried they were all washed out and with little change in value or color intensity.

So I thought I would be more deliberate and use more paint and less water. But the execution was lousy, obviously. And the result? A painting gone awry.

I know it takes years, or at least 10,000 hours, to become proficient at anything.

Painting may take longer.

When my water-logged painting eventually dries, I will try again to get it right or at least to a state of equilibrium somewhere between awry and a masterpiece.

Keep On Painting

Tuesday, May 22

Obsessive & Compulsive

My Acrylic Relief on Watercolor Paper
Copyright 2012
I have been what some would call obsessed with improving my watercolor skills over the past few months. I’m not sure why. Perhaps painters are supposed to be obsessive.

I am compelled to read and study, to watch YouTube videos, and even to purchase DVDs of several of the contemporary watercolorists who I think are the best at what they do. Perhaps painters are supposed to be compulsive. 

I’ve been studying and painting and viewing and painting and buying and painting.

I have gained a good bit of new knowledge, or I like to think so anyway, and I have tried to incorporate that knowledge into my work. I must admit, I wish the results were speedier.

It’s hard to be satisfied with your progress when you want immediate results. Of course, in art as in life there are no short cuts. We must persevere in our efforts to succeed.

At what point does perseverance and practice and stick-to-it-iveness become obsession and compulsion? I don’t know for sure.

What will I do when I have reached all my goals in watercolor painting, if that is even possible? “It’s the getting, not the having,” they say. I think they are right.

However, just to ensure I wasn’t becoming too obsessive/compulsive, I took a break from watercolor last week and painted in acrylic. It provided some relief and a brief respite.

However, wouldn’t you know, come Monday morning I was right back at it with my watercolors and my paper and my bucket of water.

The quest continues.

Keep On Painting

Thursday, May 17

How Do You Like Your Paper: Single, Pad, or Block?

Following up on my last blog about the choices a painter gets to make, let me tell you about my experience with the different forms of paper you can use for your watercolor (and acrylic) paintings.
If you know all this already, well, then you can run on back to your studio to work on your painting.
Otherwise, I will tell you about the basic three: single sheets, pads, and blocks.

When I started painting in watercolor several years back, I began with single sheets. Why? Because my mentor said to do it that way, and not knowing any different, I followed orders.

A single sheet, as the name implies, is one single sheet of paper. Single sheets come in two sizes: full-sheet and elephant sheet. The full-sheet is 22 x 30 in (55.9 x 76.2 cm). The elephant sheet, which, I suppose, gets its not-very-creative name from being as big as an elephant (maybe?), is 25 x 40 in (63.5 x 101.6 cm).

Of course, these relatively large single sheets can be cut up into any size you want or need, but the common ones are called, again not so creatively, the 1/2 -sheet and the 1/4-sheet, which are exactly as their names imply. (I’ll let you do the math to determine their dimensions.)

Other than having to cut them into 1/2- or 1/4-sheets, the single sheet is ready to go right out of the bag, so to speak.

The pad can be convenient depending on how you plan to paint and what you want to do with your work after it's finished. Pads come in an assortment of sizes and are either spiral-bound or edge-bound with glue on the “top” edge.

I think pads are great for sketching and/or painting studies or other relatively quick work, much like a sketchbook would be. If they’re edge-bound it’s easy to tear out the sheets for single use or to leave them intact until whenever. I find the spiral-bound pads a nuisance because it’s frustratingly difficult to tear off a single sheet from the metal or plastic spiral band.

And even after that you have to trim off all the ragged edges, which you hope will leave you with a straight edge (not to mention the messy scraps of confetti all over the place).
Then there's the paper block, which seems to be the choice of those painters "in the know." Why that is, I do not know, but there seems to be some mystery about purchasing watercolor paper in a block. Maybe it’s because most people have never done it until they are exposed to it as an artist and painter. I certainly wasn’t.

As the name implies, the paper is bound in a single block; that is, with no loose sheets. It comes in various sizes with various amounts of sheets. But here’s the big difference--it’s edge-bound with glue on all four sides, such that you must use an X-acto knife, or some such, to separate and remove each sheet.

Aficionados of paper in blocks swear by them. They say you can just begin painting on the very top sheet and only need to remove it when the painting is finished. Better yet, they say, is that with the sheet attached to the block, you never need to stretch it because the paper self-stretches itself as it dries on the block. I guess that's an advantage if you ever stretch your paper, which I never do.

Anyway, I am currently using a block of watercolor paper. I do, however, remove each sheet before I begin painting—it just seems more normal to do that. I guess I'm afraid the paint will seep through to the next sheet if I don’t (and this is not inexpensive paper either). I do take care with that X-acto knife as it can be tricky (and dangerous).

So, in whatever form you choose to purchase your paper, the choice is yours. Lucky you.

Keep On Painting

Sunday, May 13

The Painter's Choice

(Happy Mother's Day)
You have to make choices as an artist. Why? Because in the end you have to decide which door to open, which path to take, how you want to paint.

You have read. You have studied. You have learned. You have been tutored. You have practiced. You have tried out. You have completed. You have persevered.

But with all the advice and all the practice you have to decide.

There are at least two opposing views, and sometimes more, on just about everything you do, every choice you make as a painter. And these are the various opinions of the professional painters, the art teachers, the well-respected in art circles and societies.

Should you paint loosely, impressionistically or realistically, figuratively, even photo-realistically?

Should you use big brushes or small brushes? Do you like using hakes and squirrel mops or hate them,  or would you rather use rounds or filberts or even scrubbers?

Should you use student quality or artist quality paints? Most say to go with the more expensive artist quality, but at least one well-known watercolorist says to buy the cheaper student quality tubes in large sizes so you won’t be afraid to use enough paint--he even says to keep several tubes stacked in plain sight so you can see how much you have.

Should you use hot-pressed, cold-pressed (aka Not), rough paper or try Yupo or clayboard?

Should you stretch your watercolor paper. Some say absolutely you must and others absolutely not—they’d rather be painting.

Should you build your frames or buy them? Should you stretch your own canvases? Some pros say of course for quality and authenticity. Others say forget about it.

How many colors should you have in your palette and which ones should they be? Most painters say a limited palette is best, but what would you rather do?

You can dread or embrace these choices; that is, you can say you either have to make a choice or you have the privilege of making a choice.

In the end it’s ultimately your decision about your way of painting. Lucky you.

Keep On Painting

Wednesday, May 9

Painters, Accept Your Own Unique Talent

Acrylic on Canvas
Copyright 2008

Last night I finished reading a book about Vincent Van Gogh. Like many who have studied a little art history, I knew something about his life and work. There has been so much written and discussed about Van Gogh over the last century, that finding something new in his story was unexpected.

 Van Gogh’s life and paintings, along with those of Monet, Picasso, and several others have, in my humble opinion, become celebrated to the extreme, way more than was ever acknowledged during their lifetimes. It’s the bane of artists throughout art history: you don’t usually gain your greatest acclaim until after your death, and any wealth that comes from that celebrity goes to others.

So be it.

What I realized that I previously had not is that, as a painter, you must not only believe and have faith in the ultimate likeability of your work, you must also accept your artistic talent for what it is, yours and yours alone.

Van Gogh never seemed to give up on his work. He kept going under all kinds of hardship, including monetary, familial, and mental.

Van Gogh's paintings and his style of painting were and are unique and unmistakable. He didn't appear to question what art critics or other artists thought of his work or style of painting.

In his own words to family, friends, and acquaintances, Van Gogh simply stated what he had painted and described the composition and rendering of his paintings. He seemed to be secure in his ability to paint what he saw in his own unique style without question.

Ironically, in the last year or so of his troubled life he produced his greatest work.

My take-away is this: a unique style must not be evaluated, it must be embraced. Be secure in your talent, as Van Gogh was, and accept it as your own. 

Keep On Painting 

Saturday, May 5

Know When to Stop Painting

Happy Cinco de Mayo
 to my friends of Mexico
(Copyright 2008)
I have re-discovered something about watercolor painting that I had somehow forgotten, and I bet you have, too, at least occasionally.

That is, when to STOP PAINTING.

I know this. I have read and studied some of the finest contemporary watercolorists, and they all say the same thing, “Know when to stop.”

It is counter-intuitive to being a painter. A painter paints. He or she does not stop.

But it’s true. Knowing when to stop painting on your work is just as important as all the other aspects of good work—drawing, composition, value, harmony, etc.

I don’t know why, but we forget as we paint. We go into a trance of sorts that prevents us from stopping.

One great watercolorist says to listen to that inner voice that says, “You’re starting to fiddle too much with details; it’s time to stop.” Rare is the painting, especially the more loose and impressionistic it is, that benefits from more work after some point.

And that’s the hard part—knowing when you have reached that point. I can’t explain it, and probably no painter can. You just have to know when.

The tru-ism goes something like this: All ruined paintings are preceded by the phrase, “I’ll just fix this.”

So stop it!

Keep On Painting

Tuesday, May 1

Just Relax and Paint

Relaxing With My Watercolor
(Copyright 2010)
There are some days when art blogging, like painting, does not flow freely, and today is one of those days. I have decided it’s time again to update the blog, but without a clue as to what I’m going to blog about.

I can definitely understand the creative kinship between artists and writers.

We’ve all heard about writer’s block—that time when a writer, or anyone writing anything, really, just stares at a blank screen or piece of paper with nothing to say. (I’m experiencing it now.)

Artists have the same issue with paper and canvas and even digital media when their artistic muse is just not clicking.

Nothing happens until either inspiration or dogged determination finally breaks the ice.

Similar to solving a problem by mulling it over in your subconscious, artists will be better off if they don’t press too hard.

They should take a walk around the block or maybe begin to clean out their studios or offices until lightning strikes, so to speak. And it will eventually.

A painter should not get too discouraged if he or she cannot immediately find that perfect next picture to paint or is having trouble rendering a particular scene. The same goes for writers/bloggers who cannot conjure up any content.

OK. I knew if I sat here long enough something would happen, and it did.

Today being May 1, I thought of Googling the term "May Day Art" and see what happened. I did, and this is what I got. There were 1,820,000,000 hits—that’s billion, if you can believe it, so I’m only going to mention the first three:

Mayday Underground Crafts + Art, which appears to be a site promoting local artists at Village Gate, mentioned as being in or near Rochester, but it’s not clear if that’s the one in New York or Minnesota or somewhere else in the world; I guess if you live nearby, you already know where you are, but it must be a big hit since it’s no. 1 out of 1,820,000,000.

Shepard Fairey MayDay-Dietch, which is a site promoting a May 1, 2010, exhibit of posters of Shepard Fairey. Remember him? He’s the artist who was sued by Associated Press for using a likeness of President Obama during his campaign, but I bet it was an excellent exhibition.

The network website of Arts & Culture, A NYC General Assembly Workgroup (whatever that is), which is promoting Today: MayDay Arts Assembly II on April 7, 2012 (go figure); described as beautifully disruptive and an exercise in radical imagination informed by dreams, it must have been real interesting.

I will close on the point I am trying to make: don’t let a short-term bout with indecision or fear get you down; just relax, take a deep cleansing breath, and the creative energy will soon begin to flow.
Keep On Painting