The Workspace

I have been a busy bee in studio with two shows coming up soon. It’s about time to show some close-up shots of the studio.

Yep…. that’s a tool chest I recently requisitioned from the garage. It’s got a built in power-strip ~ how cool is that?

I’ve lately fallen in love with Natural Pigments Rublev Oil Colors. Since I paint in an old style, I thought I ought to paint with historical pigments. They’re wonderful in glazing and have subtle nuanced color. I mean they somehow make brown paint very interesting. It’s my new attempt to have a safer studio practice by working with mainly non-toxic pigments. My new mantra: keep it simple. On the palette at least…

Painting and Memory

Crowning the Grand Sow

Painting is the power of suggestion. There is nature and then there is art. When painting you look at something, and then you have to shift your eye to the canvas. There’s a few seconds where there’s only memory to guide you.

It would be interesting if some real authority investigated carefully the part which memory plays in painting. We look at the object with an intent regard, then at the palette, and thirdly at the canvas. The canvas receives a message dispatched usually a few seconds before from the natural object. But it has come through a post office en route. It has been transmitted in code. It has been turned from light into paint. It reaches the canvas a cryptogram. Not until it has been placed in its correct relation to everything else that is on the canvas can it be deciphered, is its meaning apparent, is it translated once again from mere pigment into light. And the light this time is not of Nature but of Art.” – Sir Winston Churchill.

Churchill is talking about painting, say a landscape, and the seconds needed to transmit in code what is seen in nature onto the canvas.  I think there is a certain style or look in painting which has been lost because of  modern aids like projectors. You lose those moments when you hold a reference in memory. After all, how a painter transmits this code onto canvas (basically how their brain works and interprets visual cues) is what makes each painter unique. A projector cuts out that middle process, creating something more photographic in nature. That’s ok if that’s the intention. But I like the natural awkwardness that working from memory lends to my works. I don’t work from models (also partly due to antisocial behavior) and rarely from finished drawings. I like to hold compositions in memory. This process of recollection and piecing things together is vital to my art. How else to create images a step removed from reality and suspended in time?

An approach on how to learn to paint (recommended books)

There are two schools of thought on how to learn to paint. The first is the atelier based education where technique takes precedence over vision with the goal that if you know how to draw/paint what’s in front of you, you can then have leisure to cultivate a vision. The second school proposes that once there is a vision, the artist can figure out a way to execute it and thus tailor her education towards that end. Being self taught, I naturally belong in the second school. For myself, vision is synonymous with soul or authenticity. It is often possible for a work of art with a lot of soul to overcome its limitations of execution or technique but much harder for a technically superb painting to overcome its limitations in soul or vision.

La Fortunata

My self education is comprised of a lot of looking, reading and practice, practice, practice. Here are some books which I recommend in the order of (1) tackle the history, ideas and philosophy to gain knowledge on what art is, (2) a study of composition and visual perception for the complex knowledge on how to put it together, (3) drawing and anatomy for the basics and lastly, (4) the actual study of painting. This progression from cultivating the ideas and then narrowing it down to specifics of technique is an example of how you can learn to paint on your own but with a less than haphazard game plan if you were desirous of structure. I might have approached it this way had I any foresight, but to tell the truth, I went head first in the haphazard manner (works remarkably well albeit with a lot of pain). If you know what you want, you’re halfway there. I have a dislike of instructional books which show a painter’s (usually the author’s) particular painting technique as they only teach a particular “how” but never address the more important question of “why?” I also add a fifth category of books relating to keeping oneself motivated and cultivating a studio habit because in the end, the hardest part about painting is sitting down to paint. Click here for the booklist or reading room page.
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Young Pierrot as Hunter

Young Pierrot as Hunter

I worked on my new little Pierrot intermittently over the course of a month. I knew I wanted an austere background, gray and atmospheric but I didn’t know how to give form to the original idea. Almost through serendipity, I happened on a lovely and very gray George Inness at the American Impressionism show at the New Mexico Museum of Art here in Santa Fe. Inness’ “Gray Day Goochland Virginia” was hung low to the ground below another painting. One had to kneel to take in a closer look. There was a mystical quality to the painting, the subtle repeated glazings, and scrubbings almost seemed evident of some prayer or meditation. I wanted that same diaphanous gray.

After seeing this painting, I knew how to make something meaningful out of a solid gray background. The joy in painting “Young Pierrot as Hunter” was not just from the impasto of white paint gracing and dancing in the highlights and the little humor of a young clown and his simian assistant engaged in mock hunting. The passage of grays enveloping the two figures was a delight in itself. I wanted to follow the tradition of Pierrot standing in a theatre, spotlighted in his own world just as Watteau commemorated Gilles as Pierrot.

Oil painting demo:

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Painting on Copper Panels

An oil sketch on copper of  a dead bird I found on my morning walk. See the photo here.

A Small Death
A Small Death

I thought it fitting to paint this bird on my first copper panel painting. Here’s a traditional method of preparing the copper plate with garlic from National Gallery Technical Bulletin Volume 20: Painting in Antwerp and London: Rubens and Van Dyck. pages 26-27:

It is thought that the development of etching and engraving during the sixteenth century may have contributed to the use of copper plates as supports for painting, particularly as many painters also produced intaglio prints…. The use of plates previously used for etching or engraving seems to be fairly uncommon, however. Copper plates were occasionally coated with another metal (tin or zinc). In order that the paint should adhere to the smooth metal surface, it was necessary to