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The Road to Mixed Media June 9, 2024 20:10 2 Comments

 Lanterns of Hekate abstract watercolor painting by Harold Roth copyright 2023About six months ago I decided to go ahead and experiment with using watercolors to make abstract paintings. I knew that they were not traditionally used for abstraction, but it was precisely that fact that attracted me. Watercolors didn't have the baggage that oil painting has (for me) with respect to abstraction. I did a couple of paintings back in December 2023 I was very pleased with (<--this "Lanterns of Hekate", and this --> "Roots"). 

"Roots" abstract watercolor by Harold Roth copyright 2023

I really liked how these came out. But it bothered me that they were both monochrome. I've always had problems with color use. I addressed this by using limited palettes. Some were even classical palettes, such as some listed by Tad Spurgeon's  fabulous book, "The Living Craft" (which I highly recommend for painters, especially oil painters). A limited palette really helped me, and I researched which pigments were recommended for blending with other pigments, leading to many happy years of paint nerdiness--and better color composition in my paintings. I got to really enjoy, for instance, using "vibrating" colors, even just relying on pairs like blue and yellow (my favorite) to add interest to my paintings without getting lost in a candy box of all colors everywhere. 

But the truth was I really liked monochrome, especially black and white. I just wondered if other people liked such paintings. Wouldn't they be considered drab or even deepressing?

Well, not everyone considered them drab or depressing. A customer bought both of these paintings less than a month after I completed them. That encouraged me to go a bit farther with monochrome paintings. 

"Restless House" watercolor landscape by Harold Roth copyright 2024

That same month I began a much larger painting than usual that I worked on for a couple of weeks. I had in the past flirted with using automatism in my painting, but this time I went whole hog, using it over the entire painting instead of in patches here and there. I started with some Daniel Smith's Lunar Black, a highly granulating paint, and just slapped it on the paper, not trying to paint anything in particular. 

When the paint dried, I began picking out a subject I had only very rarely painted--an interior. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed doing that. I also brought forward a large number of small weird shapes and figures in the paint and ended up with a mostly monochrome painting with a rather dark and spooky atmosphere. The only color I added was yellow, and that was in the form of colored pencil, since I couldn't glaze over the granulated black paint without destroying the granulation. This was the first time I combined colored pencil and watercolor, and although it worked well, I felt a bit weird about it. Would I be looked down upon for this combo? Did using it mean I wasn't a "serious" artist?

I was very happy with the result, but once again I wasn't sure what people would think of it. I got plenty of positive comments on it, but no one purchased it.  So I held back on the monochrome stuff.

Then something happened to me. A big part was attending an active shooter training session at my synagogue in February. My synagogue, another right over the border in MA, and the JCC in Providence all experienced bomb threats in which the caller (no, not an  immigrant) informed us that since WE were killing Palestinian children, he was going to kill OUR children. They caught this guy, but he wasn't the only one. And he was far from being the only big-mouth Jew-hater in the world, and right here, where I lived.

Something in me changed forever on October 7, and that combined with the various reactions around me, of people I'd considered friends for years, and then the bomb threats and the training session (of which we will have more), made me determine that I had to find a way to deal with the darkness that was pressing in all around me and that was pulling me into despair and fury. I thought maybe monochrome, especially black and white, would be a good way to handle this emotional darkness. Let the poison out, as Fernando Botero said about his 80 paintings of men being tortured at Abu Ghraib by American forces in Iraq.

"Garden Fairy" surreal watercolor portrait by Harold Roth copyright 2024

So I decided to try going with monochrome and see how it panned out. The next painting came a week after the active shooter training session. I called it "Garden Fairy," although it is the complete opposite of the usual New Age bland Tinkerbell. I have never put it up on my site, although maybe I will do it now that I feel much warmer towards it. It functioned as a kind of gate to freer painting. This began with a plan to paint an old woman in a huge sunbonnet, but rage took over as I slapped mars black paint on the paper. The image arose like a demon in a sorcerer's triangle. 

I knew right away that this painting was important for me as an artist. It was ugly, but in a powerful way. It represented my own rage at the circumstances me and my people were being subjected to, but it also stood for my protective spirit. I was glad it did not incorporate any political imagery whatsoever--because I have never wanted to be a "political" artist. That is not my gig, even though I enjoy much political art. This painting was definitely monochrome, but it was also an expression of my own raw feelings, which I had basically never incorporated into my art. 

I have never been an emotional painter. I have used my art to create places I would feel good about escaping into. When I got depressed, I could not paint. 

So this painting of rage was seismic to my art. It united my interest in monochrome and my exploration of Surrealist automatism into an instrument of my emotions. Since then, I have continued to work in this direction and to tap into my subconscious for imagery--to allow the darkness to pour out. IMO, the paintings I have made since this one are some of the best I have ever created. I look forward to creating many more scenes of a dark world--dark, but not without hope. 

NFTs and me December 25, 2021 21:46

Recently, I painted five oil paintings in nine days, which with the help of a tech bro who bought some art from me years ago were turned into nfts and sold in three days in an auction.  And I made more money from that sale than I made for the past couple years from selling my art the usual way. 

The blockchain I am using (Solana) is not wasteful of electricity; a transaction on Solana uses as much electricity as two Google searches.. The fees are miniscule, like about 1.5 CENTS.

Yes, people can right-click on my image--they've always been able to--but I have news for you: nfts are more about provenance. You can decide to allow your nft to be used in various ways as part of the contract, but most of the time, the artist keeps copyright. Yes, there is theft of images, but this has happened to me plenty without any of my art being an nft. Unlike with traditional tools, with an nft I can get a royalty every time it is sold.

I'm not going to argue with anyone about nfts. If you want to learn about them, you can. It is not my job to educate people about them, just like it's not my job to educate people about oil paints that contain metals, like cadmium or lead. Instead, I will talk about what making nfts is doing for my art, because so far, I haven't seen anyone address that particular issue.

My next nft project is a big one--48 watercolor landscape paintings which I will use to create 264 composite digital paintings. The image that I've attached to this post is a small slice of one of those composites.

I've never painted so fast in my life. Each of the 48 paintings are 10 x 30", and I am completing a painting about every two days. This is about the size I usually paint, so it's not that I am painting faster due to smaller size.  I photograph those paintings and turn them into digital files, which I neaten up and modify in various ways and then layer them together into unique paintings that will become the nfts. The digital cleaning up is what takes me the longest. I don't know Photoshop as well as I should.

I have discovered a bunch of things by working on this project, which I am 1/4 of the way through. 

The biggest is that it has broken the back of my perfectionism in painting, which has crippled it for as long as I have painted. When I set out to make nfts, I told myself that the purpose of these paintings was to bring joy to the people who bought them. They didn't have to be perfect--they needed to be competent and to express beauty as best as I could do. I didn't have to emulate O'Keefe, Lautrec, or Monet. I didn't have to be a Great Artist. I just had to do a good job.

And this opened the floodgates. 

I have become a much better painter just through the amount of practice I've been getting. But more, I feel I can fully use what I actually do know about painting instead of always holding back due to fear of fucking up. 

I can't tell you how many times I have stopped working on a painting because I was afraid I would fuck it up. Probably about 1/3 of my paintings end this way. Another 1/3 are not worth saving. And 1/3 are and I am able to overcome the fear of fucking up with them.

One of the reasons people mock nfts is that they say nft art is lousy and ugly. A lot of it is. But I don't see a higher proportion of crap in nfts than in regular painting. It seems equal. I thought, well, I've got better technique than tons of these people, so I have nothing to fear on that score. But when I realized there was such a strong parallel in terms of the percent of crap art in both nfts and traditional art, I felt like I've been messing myself up all these years by not believing my art is good enough when 95% of any kind of art is crap. Now I see that my art is good enough. It doesn't have to be great to be ahead of the mob. It has to be honest, competent, and original.

Before I had a studio, I felt satisfied if I produced a finished painting every 2-3 weeks. When I rented the studio, I resolved that I had to justify the $350/mo I was paying for it by going over there to paint ever single day. Before I knew it, I was painting faster than I'd ever painted before--2-3 paintings a week, and most of these in oil.

The faster I painted, the more I learned about painting. The more I learned, the more issues I could solve. And that gave me more confidence in myself as an artist. I experimented more, took more risks, solved more problems, and sold some art.

The speed with which I am making the paintings that will become nfts is even greater. I have learned a ton already--about technique, yes, but more, about my art and what I am capable of doing. And once again, my confidence has increased. Even just drawing for the underpainting has made me realize I am competent at rendering things. 

So painting fast and painting for nfts shattered my perfectionism in art and massively boosted my confidence, such that fear of fucking up is no longer stopping me from trying things in my paintings. I never expected this to happen.

I fully expect my skills to improve a great deal. And to make some money while doing it.