My Blog About Art

Almost finished with "Hope of Transformation" December 26, 2016 14:18

Hope of Transformation, work in progress, acrylic on wood panel, 18 x 24" by Harold Roth This painting has been harder than the last three or four. First, I've had so much to handle in my personal life for the past couple of weeks. But second, I've been having a very difficult time doing fine detail on some of my paintings. Last night I realized that I could remedy some of that issue by resting my entire forearm on the painting. Good thing I paint in acrylics so I can do that. It has really helped. But also good that this is a wood panel. Although I can rest the heel of my hand on a canvas, resting my whole forearm to steady my hand just doesn't work on canvas. For that reason, I'll be using up my wood panels for this series, which has a certain amount of detail. When I use up the panels I have, I'm going to splurge on gessoed wood panels, because I am just a slob when it comes to gesso. And as I mentioned last time, we hates it. Since I "grew up" painting on paper, I got used to using the support for a support. I love the feel paint-wise of a well-gessoed canvas, but the bounciness I hate.

I still have a bunch of canvases, so I'm going to use them for paintings that don't require the same amount of detail. I've got some ideas, most especially a series on the various moons and another on all sorts of water.

Vials Series: The Black Crow December 07, 2016 10:43

My next work in the series is "The Black Crow" (sometimes also called the Black Toad) which is based partly on the alchemical idea of the first stage in alchemy, which involves, yes, rotting or putrefaction. The Black Crow means the decaying of all the gunk that is part of the Prima Materia ("A formless primeval substance regarded as the original material of the universe"). What's left is purified. I wanted to combine that idea with some of the images from vanitas paintings (yep, still on the vanitas thing--that's what the image is in the corner of this paragraph): an hourglass, most importantly, although I am thinking about including a tipped-over glass and skull and perhaps a pipe in the foreground around the hourglass. I'm not so sure about that. But I know the hourglass will be there, along with a black butterfly and a piece of lead, the quintessential Saturn metal. Saturn rules this stage of alchemy.

Saturn is dry and cold, like the Dry Valleys of Antarctica, which I thought would make a great background for the hourglass and crow. So I started that landscape on canvas. Then painted over and started it again. Then decided to put the Milky Way in the sky instead of just blueness. Didn't like it, painted over it, and painted the Milky Way again in another way. Painted over that and found it had too much texture to paint over so I had to trash that canvas, something which I almost never do. I always reuse a canvas, but I pretty much never paint with texture. Thing is all the dots of the stars stuck out like warts. So I stuffed it in some cardboard and put it in the dumpster. <cringe>

I started again on a wood panel, but after just putting the ground on, I didn't like the feel of it and put it aside. Felt like I was really spinning my wheels. 

I dug around in what I have on hand and found a pre-gessoed Ampersand panel I got a long time ago. I forgot how slippery they are! I don't like how bouncy canvas is, but I like how the paint glides over a well-gessoed canvas. 
The Black Crow work in progress, sketch inAt any rate, I started over yet again on the panel. Then again. That time was the winner. And why? Because I went for some colors I really like to use together, pink and light blue. I just love the sort of shimmer they give. This is a strong pink from anthraquinone red and zinc, and the blue is anthraquinone blue and zinc. Then together I made a violet. This is not the best photo, since I took it at night, but it gives an idea. I have been having good luck with doing drawings on my paintings using Faber-Castel pastel pencils. These erase great with a wet paper towel and don't make dents in the paint. I painted the crow last night but still have more work to do on it.

Speaking of canvas, I've been thinking of switching to panels instead because of gessoing. I usually add about 6 layers of gesso to the pre-primed premier canvases I get from Blick to make them as smooth as I like, but I hate doing it. I make a big mess and I never get the gesso layer perfectly right. I often don't have a gessoed canvas ready to go when I am ready to paint. So I am going to try something else. It's much easier to gesso a wood panel, so I'll try that, and I also would like to try some pre-gessoed linen canvases that Jerry's has. I've heard that linen is stiffer than canvas, and this brand is supposed to be pretty smooth. It would be great to not have to gesso things ever again. Because we hates gessoses.

Vials Series: Moon Vessel Finished December 06, 2016 18:46

Moon Vessel work in progress 112316I got the base painting of the crab done. I used titanium plus a bit of green I mixed to start the underpainting of the body (and didn't go further on, because it was not the right color for that). The crab is not symmetrical, which I know is going to drive me nuts, but then, real crabs are not symmetrical either. I am forcing myself to stop being so OCD about symmetry in things I paint. It's just another way of letting perfection turn into an obstacle instead of being a tool. 

Moon Vessel surreal landscape by Harold Roth acrylic on canvasI finished the crab part of Moon Vessel but ended up with the crab being too dark and had to do it over. It was worth the extra work, though, because the crab shows up much better from a distance now. I still have lots of work to do when it comes to keeping contrast in mind while painting. I need to get in the habit of looking at them from a bit away on a regular basis. That's a good technique for checking contrast and whatnot. 

I like the vibe of this painting as somewhat like a tarot card. I'm really glad that I started this series. It is much more to my taste than anything else I've done recently. It gets my imagination going and I feel like I am producing much more interesting images. I get to use my landscape skills, but honestly, it's nice too to be reminded that I can draw. I don't have to trace anything or use a grid or a projector or anything like that. I can just look at my reference photos and draw the image in pastel pencil with whatever modifications I want, thank the godz. I am totally grateful for this gift, because it saves me buckets of time and allows me to be freer in my image choice. 

It also makes me remember a youtube video I saw of a German hyperrealist painting a very large (over 5 ft) portrait of his son from photos about the size of a sheet of letterhead. I thought, how could he do this? He didn't draw it on the canvas first, just started painting and kept looking at the photos and then back to the canvas. And he wound up with this really fresh and good hyperreal painting. I wondered if he in-between takes maybe used a grid or a projector, but now I know that he did not. He was just really darn good at rendering. I've seen hyperrealists who trace or copy from a photo in little pieces in a way that just makes me feel awful to look at, but clearly there are others who use reference photos like this guy. I hope someday I can have such rendering and painting skills at my fingertips. Practice practice practice! 

I've got the original and larger prints available on this site and smaller prints on Etsy. I've been trying to post work-in-progress images on Pinterest, but it is just such a wiggy, buggy, and as far as I'm concerned, just plain creepy system that tonight I gave up. So from now on, I will post work in progress on my Facebook art page and here in my blog. 

Vials: Moon Vessel November 20, 2016 19:35

I'm starting another series I'm calling Vials. I want to continue to make use of my interest in painting landscapes, only as background. But I'm going to venture into using a lot more symbolism from the occult and from alchemy. I haven't done much with symbols since I left off doing abstracts based on the Golden Dawn color scales. But the symbols of alchemy and magic were the main things that drew me to those paths in the first place, and I want to make them a major part of my art, incorporating them with my interest in natural forms. 

background of Moon VesselI started with Moon, one of my favorite things to paint. I got the background pretty much just as I wanted--a fairly calm sea at night (because Water is a Moon Element). This landscape doesn't have enough interest, to my mind, to stand on its own, but its ace when I use it as a background for other things, I think. I've been realizing this more and more--my interest in landscape is not powerful enough to stand on its own. But as backgrounds for other things, they work well.

You can see the lines I drew to divide the painting. I've been using Faber Castell pastel pencils for drawing on my paintings, because they wipe off easily with a damp paper towel. I divided the painting into thirds because I wanted to feature three objects in it: a crab (which is a classic Moon critter, see the tarot trump of the Moon), a bottle with the moon inside it, and a luna moth.

I wasn't sure I could depict the bottle well enough, even though I had decided beforehand that I want all the paintings in this series to include a bottle of some kind (thus "Vials," even though a lot of them won't be actual vials). But I decided that I had examined enough Dutch still lifes to understand how to paint a bottle and that I should just jump in and try it. So that's what I did.

Moon Vessel work in progress 112016I found a number of reference images of antique bottles online but finally settled on an imaginary bottle because none of them were exactly the right shape. So once I got the moon painted, which was simple enough--a circle drawn around a hot plate and painted in with a number of layers of titanium--I drew the bottle and then painted it. I was surprised that it came out fine. Highlights are a combination of zinc and then titanium over that.

Next up was the luna moth, which was actually much easier than I thought, although I want to mess around a bit more with making the body look furry. I did find that, as I suspected, I could not mix a good pale green for it using the yellows in my palette--yellow ochre or azo yellow. So I used a new color I bought to use for sunlight, titanate yellow, with just a titch of anthraquinone blue and some titanium. Bingo!  I got this far over the weekend and hope to do the crab in the next couple of days. A chose the blue crab as my model crab.

Aquarius Moon is an Asshole + Finished But Not September 18, 2016 15:59

I spoke to a friend yesterday about my issues with images popping into my head in the middle of a planned painting and how I didn't know how to react to such things. I want to master traditional landscape painting but at the same time, I wonder if these images that pop into my head are the art I should be doing. I told her about my post-modern vanitas series now put aside. She knows about astrology and is familiar with my chart, and she immediately said that the images that popped into my head were due to my Aquarius-situated Moon. Aquarius like to be a contradictory asshole, and that's what was happening. It makes perfect sense! :)

She encouraged me to try my surrealist vanitas series and also had a good recommendation for dealing with weird images that pop up in the middle of a painting: that I make note of the image(s) and that I tell myself that those images are to be treated at a later time. Then I could go ahead and finish the painting I'd planned. I think this is a great idea, and I last night went and made notes of the images that had popped up and was able to continue working on my landscape painting.

Landscape painting Moss on Rocks work in progress, Harold Roth, 2016I finished the painting today--at least, I finished what I had intended to paint. But I don't like it much. The glazes I used to change the rocks from yellow to red to brown were too many and made the rocks really too dark to distinguish except under bright light. I then used an overglaze of perylene green + zinc + glazing fluid for the reflection of the sky on the water, but I should have thinned it a lot more than I did, because it obscured even more of the rocks. Then I didn't like how the wavelets looked. I know it will be different with an isolation coat on, which will intensify and deepen the colors, but that did not seem like enough. All that wavelet space needs something in it. If I don't put something in it or modify the painting in some significant way, I will just paint over it because I'm dissatisfied with it. So I figured modifying it was a better choice.

I like how the moss images look, very stylized, reminding me of 19th-century natural science illustrations, so I'm going to continue with that shape. What I'm envisioning is a bit fantastical, and that will be a first in terms of my landscapes. I said to my friend yesterday that I did not think my painting was good enough yet to do surrealist work, but I will give it a try here, since I consider I have nothing to lose with this image.

Addendum: I finished that painting, which became the somewhat odd "Nymph and Her Children." This was my first real step into surrealism, if I can call it that. Since then, I have set off boldly in the surrealist direction, because for one thing, it allows me to combine my enjoyment in painting landscapes with my weird side that enjoys symbols and emblems and mysteriousness.

Letting Images Arise: Automatism December 28, 2015 18:25 1 Comment

For years, I began a painting with a drawing. Often, these drawings were quite detailed, especially during the period when I was doing a lot of botanical art. The resulting work was Realist and quite tight. I thought this tightness was just part of my nature as an artist. I was wrong.

When I began experimenting with acrylics, two things happened: my underdrawings became simpler and my painting style looser. Because of the use of white pigment in acrylic painting, which is generally forbidden in watercolor, and because it's possible to paint over acrylic without concern about lifting what is beneath it, I became more relaxed about painting. I even tried different brushes. I'd always used expensive sable rounds, but I tried synthetics and other shapes and loved them.

Mandrakes in SpringOne day I was playing with a filbert brush. I enjoyed the root-like shapes it could make and decided to do a painting without any drawing at all first. I really liked the results and experimented more and more until finally I abandoned Realism for abstraction. Slippery slope. :)

As far as abstraction went, I did a lot of stuff that was simply pattern. I found I had a fascination with ripples, waves, striations, and cavities--all sorts of patterns found in the natural world.

Elemental Water I by Harold RothBecause I didn't have the right audience for this sort of work, I didn't get the responses I had expected. I lost confidence and went back to more typical (and perhaps bit boring) Realist stuff. I did my best to convince myself that it was okay for me to do this, even though I never felt any sort of gut challenge in doing a Realist still life or landscape like I did with an abstract. I do love real and painted landscapes, though, and so do lots of other people. So...

But I could not stop envisioning abstract shapes and forms. How to focus what was coming out on the support? How to make it more than a mere pattern? I thought about how I often work with tarot. I ask a question but simply let the cards tell me whatever it is I need to know..

Water WitchWith painting, this meant that I allowed the image to arise as I painted. I hoped that if I were open to a connection with the spirit world while I painted and at the same time tried to focus on a particular concept (like spirits of Mars or Water magic), that whatever came out on the paper would simply take the form most appropriate for that energy or work and for me. A meeting up or coming together of a magical current and my consciousness and my skill or lack of it as a painter.

This was a bit scary, since I feared that this method might be skating quite close to the bullshit area. Many of you out there are aware of the snobbishness often focused on abstraction ("people paint abstractly because they don't know how to draw/a monkey/toddler could do that"). I've run into quite a bit of this on art forums, which is the main reason why I don't participate in them anymore. Even though I reject such a perspective, I didn't want to be a bullshit artist either.

Despite my fears about possible bullshittery and worries about inadequacy, I kept on. The more practice I got painting in this way, the better I felt it working. It was like a groove being worn in ice or stone that could channel a greater and more focused flow the more it was delineated. And I felt that my painting improved. I had better use of color and saw my composition improving. I thought I had simply discovered this approach on account of my long association with magic.

Then I ran across a discussion of automatism in Surrealism, an art movement I know little about. I was familiar with automatism from spiritualism, where mediums might use it to channel communications from the dead (automatic writing, for instance). The Surrealists took up this technique, but instead of channeling the dead, they channeled their own subconscious. As Andre Breton wrote, "‘Pure psychic automatism is the dictation of thought in the absence of all control exercised by reason and outside all moral or aesthetic concerns." And artist whose work I'd had on my wishlist for a long time, Ithell Colquhuon, was a magician as well as an artist, and she used automatism a lot in her work.

I wouldn't consider myself a Surrealist, but I intend to make further use of automatism in my painting, drawing on the astral or spiritual (or woo) instead of the subconscious. It was wonderful to find out there was plenty of historical precedent for this.