Time to Experiment January 25, 2023 16:37
I promised myself that if I got into senior housing, I would take advantage of not having to work so much and instead spend more time experimenting with my art rather than trying to paint things that I think will sell. It's not that I dislike anything I've painted. If I do, it never makes it to my site. I probably throw out or paint over about 20% of what I make because it's not good enough or I just plain hate it. But it is much more difficult to take risks with art when you need sales.
But where to start?
One thing I came across that was very helpful was a video by an artist named Chelsea Lang. In this video, she talks about learning what it is that you really want to paint, that you can be passionate about consistently. To discover exactly what that is, she advises gathering images that inspire you. Once you've got a pile, you create a "curated" collection composed of images that you would be proud to have painted yourself; I've posted some of them throughout this page. You then go through the curated collection and make note of the drawing (or not, like with colorfield), the values, the color, the edges, and the composition.
Was I ever surprised what I came up with! I thought I would end up with a lot of landscapes, probably somewhat abstract or subdued. Instead, almost every single one of the 40 images I "curated" were purely abstract and many of them were even monochrome, which I never expected in a million years--get this: even though I often find myself using max 2 colors plus white & black. I marveled at this.
But I also considered it gold in terms of self-discovery.
Chelsea Lang advises that once you've got your curated collection and determined what aspects they most have in common, you have found what you should begin learning how best to paint and start practicing and studying. She also advises worrying about the mechanics of selling once you have worked that out. I think this is the most sensible advice I've heard in a really long time.
So I've begun practicing. It's the best thing I have done for my art in a long time.
Fresh Horses July 29, 2021 12:59
I've been mulling my next steps in painting because of the issue with fumes from gouache burning my eyes. I started another painting with just plain watercolor, but I disliked it a great deal (<--). I could not get it to look even close to what I had imagined. I guess I would have to use oil paints to do that. I just kept looking at it and hating it, even though folks on Instagram were very supportive about it. Maybe it just looks better online than it does in person.
One problem was that I have never been able to draw a straight line. So I've got that issue throughout the painting. I decided to use painter's tape to remedy that, and it helped, but it was still an issue (I will say that Frog tape is much better than masking tape for that purpose). I bought some tools like a metal ruler (couldn't find my old metal ruler) and a ruling pen to do that, but I just didn't want to work on it anymore. They are just sitting in front of the easel.
So this morning I took the painting off the gatorbord and put the line-drawing tools away. And frankly, I was relieved. I am not cut out to be precise.
I haven't been happy with my art lately. Nothing I've been doing has been good, in my opinion, and it certainly hasn't seemed like me. I have felt very cut off from it.
Some time ago, I gave myself 10 years to become a successful painter. "Successful" for me meant that my art income would be sufficient for me to scrape by when combined with my Social Security benefits. I have not even come close with that. For the past couple of years I've made only about enough during the entire year to support myself for one single month. And that's the gross, not the net. Sheesh.
I chose ten years on account of hearing Renato Muccillo talk about how it took him that long to become a successful painter. He inspired me, even though I paint nothing like him. I like how he paints landscapes with detail but without becoming photographic. His painting is always painterly. I also like how he often uses cheap brushes. :) And I admire how productive he is. I feel like being productive is one key to becoming successful and hopefully, a good painter.
The thing is that one problem I've always had with art is that I want to do too much. I'm greedy. I want to learn how to paint everything in almost every style and in all mediums. So that results in jack of all trades, master of none syndrome. It also means my paintings have no cohesiveness as a body of work, and I feel like that should be there. I have little style of my own because I am always careening around from one thing to the next.
This is quite the contrast to how I am as a writer. I realized recently that I'm a better writer than I am an artist. Kind of a disappointing realization. Writing is work, but it's easy work for me. I never really thought about why. But I started thinking about that why. Maybe I could apply that info to my art.
It isn't just plenty of practice with expository writing that makes me a good writer. It's because when I write about something, I dig deep. I research the crap out of a topic, I read everything I can find on it, I make notes on the best info, rearrange it, write that up, and when I do that, I have gained enough knowledge and experience on whatever it is so I can come up with original ideas on the topic. So IOW, my writing is good because it's about depth, not breadth. Depth is the the environment for my writing.
I thought, how can I do that with art when I'm always all over the place? I can't. And I think that's why my art is not anywhere near as good as my writing.
So okay: concentrate on one thing. I paint three kinds of things: landscapes, abstracts, and surrealism. Which one should I concentrate on?
At first I thought landscapes. I've always loved landscapes, and I still do. George Inniss is one of my favorite painters. I've got tons of books on landscape painting, and I've already signed up for Mitchell Albala's forthcoming landscape workbook (I highly recommend his first book for landscape painters--and Suzanne Brooker's and John Carlson's). And landscapes are popular. People love them, right?
They do, but they don't love mine. I looked over the past couple of years to see what had sold. One landscape, and it was small. Most of the rest were abstracts.
I have to admit that I like painting abstracts best--better than landscapes or surreal stuff. I feel very connected to my brush when I paint them. I like that abstraction helps me dig down deep into myself and my connection with the material and spiritual worlds. Of the three focuses of my painting, abstracts feel like the most me.
And I don't have to make any straight lines if I don't want to. In fact, I usually default to curving lines and biomorphic shapes, because that's what I like to look at in life. They have a special meaning to me that I can't put into words.
Plenty of folks paint very colorful landscapes, but I have often felt constrained by local color. Conversely, with abstracts I've often painted with only two or three colors because I've been wary of jamming too many colors into one painting and losing all unity.
I want my colors to have a reason to be on the support, even if that reason is only their relationship to the other colors there. But I also want to become less wary about using them, as in this little work in progress (-->). In the past, I never would have added that pyrrole red.
So I'm going to focus on the abstract stuff for the next three years. I'm going to learn about a ton of abstract painters and go see abstract works in museums and galleries and listen to lectures about abstraction. And I'm going to paint a lot more than I have been, because for one thing, in three years I'll be 70 years old.
Gouache problem July 23, 2021 11:45
I enjoyed doing the underdrawing for my next painting. I've been wanting to work with a public domain reference photo of two Victorian women sitting on the porch for a long time. I decided to include just one of the women and modified the photo quite a bit. I looked forward to not having to worry about the pencil marks smudging into the paint because they are so opaque that they just cover the pencil marks no problem.
Once I got the drawing done, I hesitated for a few days trying to solve some background issues. I wanted more detail in the background, but none of the things I tried felt right. So I just left it as is and started on the floor.
First thing I noticed was that the perspective was off, but that was not too difficult to fix due to the opacity. However, I was sitting there thinking how much easier the floor would be if I were using transparent paints. Hmm...
I really hated how the floor came out. The color was very hard looking, even though it was ultramarine, which is one of my favorites. It just looked cheap and garish.
So I tried to tone it down and give some modeling to the floor with other colors. This took me a lot of painting thin lines up close to the paper.
I went to bed satisfied that I had improved it somewhat but still bothered by how ugly it was.
Had a lot of interesting dreams and woke up late, around 8:30. My eyes were burning like hell.
How reminiscent that was of the end of my using acrylics. I was loving using Golden's Open Acrylics, but after each painting session, my eyes and throat burned. I had gotten sensitized to the small amount of ammonia in the paints. I was really upset by this. I felt like I had finally gotten somewhere with acrylics.
I had to switch paints and diddled around with M. Graham gouache, which to me smelled absolutely horrible, and home-made casein, which worked okay but it was a pain to make the casein binder all the time. Eventually I went back to watercolors because they don't smell and don't give off any fumes. I also had a much more informed perspective about pigments and painting in general, so I did better with them.
I also got into oils at that time, thinking that would satisfy my opacity jones. I really miss the ability one has in acrylics to just paint over whatever you don't like.
I never could get oils to be as thin as I wanted them because I cannot use solvents and have had problems doing detail on account of it. I also had problems with space. Without having a separate studio space anymore, I couldn't have five paintings going at the same time, which helped me deal with the slow drying.
Recently I even started using lead driers in my oil paints just so I could get the stuff to dry faster. I even bought some lead white and put other lead-based paints on my wish list, all because they would speed drying.
Then I got the idea of gouache. Solution to all problems, right?
I went and looked up the MSDS for WN gouache, and sure enough, they may cause eye irritation. Luckily, I haven't spent TOO much money on gouache paints.
My experience with acrylics was that once I got sensitized, that was it. I tried other types of acrylics, used a fan, wore eye protection, waited weeks to see if the sensitization would disappear. Nothing worked. And I ended up with some serious eye problems, which I concluded had been caused by the ammonia fumes. I never want to have that experience again. I have one good eye; I can't afford any damage to it. So I am not going to persist with gouache.
That means that unless I want to start making casein again, which I guess is possible, I am back to using watercolors. I could try painting opaquely with them. There are some pigments that are naturally opaque. But maybe I just have to suck it up and deal with the issue of drawing underneath paint.
I could use india ink and thin lines. To me, though, that looks more like illustration.
I could also try using the grey watercolor pencils I have.
Or I could start making casein again. I still have the powder somewhere and the pigment dispersions, which I use nowadays with gum arabic. Lifting was a big problem I had with casein, but I have learned how to deal with that in watercolors and to turn a bug into a feature, so maybe that would work.
I think, though, that I just have to stick to watercolors.