Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Real Life

I am just emerging from the studio and seeing that it is going on 2 in the morning.

One of the things that I'm trying to do in my life right now is go to bed at "a reasonable hour." This goal has eluded me for my entire life but I will not give up because I keep reading about how good it is for you to have regular sleep habits and to let the sun wake you up. As a painter, I should be highly motivated to be up with the sun, but as a modern woman with really great studio lighting and really bad habits, I burn the midnight oil; I simply lose track of time. My theory/excuse is that, when you are doing the thing that God designed you to do, you have one foot on earth, one foot in heaven. Well, in heaven, as everyone knows, there are no clocks. Time is irrelevant. One is never late in heaven.
So I have a very lofty excuse for not being in bed at this time.
Now, to blog.

Someone recently said in my hearing that still lifes were boring. I asked him why he thought so and he replied that they always look staged, fake. Well, as a genre I suppose still lifes are long on still, short on life, but one of the fabulous things about still life painting is: YOU CAN CHANGE THAT. You are the master of everything when you paint still lifes. Clayton Beck once told me that if you don't like what you see in a still life, change your set up, change your position, or change your lighting. That is not possible for the landscape painter and it has only limited application for the portrait painter. (I might also add, when comparing still lifes as a subject to a model as a subject, that still lifes are free, you don't have to give them breaks every 20 minutes, and they stay up all night if you need them to. But I digress...)

These conversations were floating around in my head and my thinking was, just observe real things. Boring still lifes are just overly-orchestrated. Do what the landscape painters do and capture something from REAL LIFE and make a work of art out of it. Then BAM! I had the opportunity to practice what my mind was beginning to preach. My husband and I came home the other evening and when we turned on the kitchen light, he said, "Wow, that's a painting!" Looking at the produce on the counter I said, "Yeah, that would be a good painting!" Then he said, "Paint it! Now! I'll help you set up your gear."
Ha! Bluff called! My mind was saying, "But I'm tired! I'll take a picture of it and paint it later. It needs better lighting than the stove hood light anyway..." Immediately I was thwarting myself, but before anyone knew what was going on in my head, I said, "Okay, I will!"
So here you have my set up, my gear, my block-in:

And here you have a zoom of the produce because I'm not sure I like the composition, after all the work of painting it "as is." But the experience was very liberating; it was fun to explore something so close, so spontaneously. Perhaps I have a painting from it... we'll see: 


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Lone Star Color Guard

One of my favorite painter peeps and I went to a Civil War reenactment by the 3rd Texas Cavalry Regiment last fall. What an exciting and wonderful experience! All the reenactors were required to be true to the time period. Even the children had their Ozarka water in authentic period bottles. Nary a cell phone nor digital camera was to be seen and I was beside myself with glee!
I have been working on paintings from the experience ever since then and many of them will be in the show coming up. I will shuffle them into the blog line-up but will save some until the opening, too.

This is a painting of the Texas Color Guard. I don't know why he was alone but the image was poignant: The Lone Guard of the Lone Star. One of my friends said the painting makes him feel sad but it makes me feel very proud. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Life Painting of a Tree

It’s hot. Even when it’s only 95-100 degrees, the heat index has been up to the 120’s here during the day and it’s a challenge to paint out. I’ve discovered though, that if I go against the natural orientation of every atom in my body and set my alarm for 5 a.m. I can get out there and paint a couple of quick ones before it’s too unbearable. Also, if anyone else is going, we can have lunch afterwards, wax philosophical about our profession over some sweet tea, and leave much the richer for it!
Such was the case recently, two weeks in a row! This painting was the only one I caught on the second outing because, shocking, we were stopped by rain! Our drought has been so severe for so very long that I really don’t expect it anymore, regardless of the forecast. But, happily, rain it did.

Before the rain, there was a high, light overcast as the sun came up and most of this painting was laid in during that gray time. About a half an hour before the sky let loose, the sun peeked out a couple of times and I knocked in the spots that it caused and brightened the grass. When we were forced to throw in the towel, we huddled under a hatchback talking about our morning before dashing off to lunch. It was fun to be soaked and cold in July in south Texas.
Driving back to my studio afterwards I was thinking about how very much I love what I do. How many people can say that? I love every part of it, and just being allowed to do it makes me profoundly grateful.
One question we ask ourselves as painters is, “Is painting about painting, or is it about the painting?” Is it the experience of producing, or is it all about the product? My answer is, “Yes!” If you’re painting your experience, your product transcends the materials and conveys a time and a place, an experience, to someone else through the filter of a human being. It’s the beauty of 3 again: time, space, artist. I was the only one in that exact spot at that exact time and I had a skill that allowed me to create a unique record of it. Richard Schmid once said that fine art is the only form of communication that goes directly from mind to mind, no translation. I need to think about that some more but for now, here’s a painting of my experience and joy one recent morning, from me to you, with love.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Risky Business

Two big challenges face us when we work. Tackling them requires a pre-existing plan, wisdom and courage.
Many, many things are happening when you paint. As you endeavor to convert 3 dimensions into 2 so that it looks like 3, your mind has to be both in the present and the future. You must be totally in the moment as you process the information and translate light into pigment, but you can’t lose sight of the final painting. The final painting will stand alone. If it doesn’t work, you have to deep six it, even if you’ve spent a LOT of time and effort on it.

So the pre-existing plan: to go for the most excellent product possible. Wisdom is required to remain objective in your judgment, and courage, to do something rash if the work does not meet your pre-existing plan. If you aim for nothing, as they say, you will be sure to hit it.

The two challenges then are, do not let any work become too precious to you, and do not over-work a piece. These are both lethal to good painting. If you grow fond of a passage that is holding the rest of the painting back, you will be reluctant to sacrifice it for the good of the painting. If the painting is not working, over-working is not necessarily the best solution. Sometimes you have to just scrape a painting. If there's a question, answer it honestly. I tell my own self, "When in doubt, scrape it out." 

Dan Gerhartz tells a story about painting with a friend for an afternoon. When it was time to wrap it up, he could hear, scriiiitch, scraaaatch, scriiiitch… He realized that his friend was scraping his painting off, and asked, “Hey, what are you doing?” His friend replied, “Well, my palette knife isn’t sharp enough to slash my wrists so…” It makes me laugh because I know exactly what that’s like.
Last Friday, our group had a lovely girl in a Greek costume posing for us. At the end of a very engaging 3 hours, I had a painting that maybe I should have left alone; it was only an exercise after all. But since I had a reference photo, I decided to use it and fix her crossed eyes. Once I started, I saw that really, she was all wrong, and Richard Schmid’s voice was whispering in my mind, “Never knowingly leave anything wrong on your canvas.” So I wiped from her eyebrows down and started over. The photos show the original work in progress, then the re-entry as I began the make-over (you can see how terrifying this step is, haha!), and finally the painting as it was when my time ran out. My favorite way to work when I'm doing portraits is to start from life, spend some time with reference work, then finish from life... but since this is only an exercise, I'm stopping now.