The Necessity of Changing My Style June 17, 2017 20:08

My paintings have almost always involved the use of line as opposed to mass. Maybe that's why I have always enjoyed the work of Lautrec, whose paintings were often very much dominated by line. You can see it here in one of his many circus paintings. I love a beautiful line.

But sometimes I get a little obsessive about lines and get lost in the detail and occupation of making lines. That happened in my most recent painting, Fires of Alchemy. You can see it easily in this detail of one of the flames.
I don't think it's necessarily a good thing for me to get so lost in such detail. One of the main reasons why I rejected digital painting for myself was that it allowed me to spend WAY too much time working on tiny bits of a work. But even with painting I find myself buying smaller and smaller brushes. Many of the brushes I use regularly were designed for people who paint little figures or miniatures. Not really appropriate for someone working on supports 18 x 24".

I know that part of that is coming from my desire to create a fully fleshed out world, one that can bear close examination. And it's why I feel much empathy with photorealists who say they can create an image that shows more than the eye can see (why they paint such large portraits, where they can capture every pore). For me, though, since I am not a photorealist or hyperrealist, the time spent caught in the net of lines in a painting is counter-productive.

But there's another reason now for me to move away from incorporating so much line work in my painting. My hands are shaking. I'm seeing a doctor about it, but it seems to be mostly just age-related. It's mostly in my left hand, which is a blessing, since I'm right-handed. But it's present in my right hand as well, and unless I rest my entire forearm on something, I cannot paint a thin, flowing line anymore on account of my hand shaking. This is one of the reasons why I am painting on hard surfaces like wood panels instead of springy ones like canvas. I need a steady support that doesn't give with pressure.

I was surprised to find out just how very many painters experience this same thing, almost all because of "essential tremor" rather than something horrific like Parkinson's. And they have created many ways to deal with this trembling--like resting a forearm on a painting or using some other kind of prop to help hold their painting hand still. But for others, it has gotten to the point where such remedies are not so helpful or it just plain becomes tiresome to keep forcing your hand to do persnickety detail.

I found that in the center of the Fires of Alchemy painting, I did not have a good position to rest my whole forearm on the painting. It was fine for the two outer flames, but for the middle one, it was an issue, especially because when making a line, a person tends to do it in the same direction they write. That's the most comfortable way with the most control. And it just wasn't working for the center of this painting. It sucked.

I've been thinking about this for a while, and I have noticed the tremor is getting worse, which is its natural course to do. So I have decided I will work to forestall its worst effects on my painting by changing HOW I paint. Instead of getting lost in fine lines, enjoyable and beautiful as they might be, I will work on using mass and color to create images--in effect, to become a bit of an Impressionist in technique. In fact, this is precisely one of the remedies that other painters who experience hand tremors go for. 

I won't be changing WHAT I paint; I will still be painting surreal or occult or mysterious images. But they will have much more to do with color and shape than with line (so more like Rose Moon than Fires of Alchemy). This is going to be quite a challenge for me, but one I feel I must take on in order to keep painting and become a better artist. It will mean retooling how I go about painting, and I know it will take me a while, but in the end, I think that not only will I have a workaround for my hand tremors but I will be making better art. 

Chthonia by Harold RothI'm about to start a couple of new series of paintings that I think will go hand in hand with learning to be more focused on color and shape than on line. One series will be about portals, in particular, entryways or proximity to the Underworld. I've gotten really fascinated by narrow canyons and other semi-underground spaces and want to do a series of paintings that bring out the aspect of canyons as entrances to the Underworld or meeting places between the mundane and the sacred. I touched on this way back when I painted "Chthonia," one of my favorite paintings, shown here (lines but no small ones). I do expect my coming works on portals to be more realist than this. Or perhaps I should say more surrealist. :)

The other series I plan is of "spirit castles." These will feature landscapes in which nestle spirit-produced architecture--buildings that are formed by spiritual forces like planetary energies or the vibrations of Elements.

I'm thinking my next painting will combine these two series in one painting, showing a palace of lead at the bottom of a slot canyon.

I feel very excited about these two new series and about learning new techniques for painting that will move my work forward.