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Posts Tagged ‘Process’

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Art is interested in life at the moment when the ray of power is passing through it.

—Boris Pasternak

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I think Boris Pasternak (author of Doctor Zhivago) is really spot on with with this terse definition of art. Art at its core is, for me, an attempt to affirm our existence and the existence of that life force within us.

I really like that term that Pasternak uses here– ray of power. That description of the force that drives all living things jibes well with that animating force that I try to find in my own work, that indeterminate quality that makes a static thing seem to take on a life of its own.

How and if it comes through in the work is the interesting thing for me. Sometimes, despite my extreme efforts, I cannot find that life force. Maybe I should say I can’t find force this because of my extreme efforts instead of despite. Sometimes it seems as though trying to consciously find that thing prevents it from being found, as though the energy expended in searching creates a cloud that somehow obscures that which is sought.

It often finally appears when I finally let go of the search and don’t focus on finding anything. I just let my mind wander free and lose myself in the process of actually painting– the colors, lines and forms before me.

And suddenly there it is.

It’s as though you don’t find it. It finds you.

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The bit of writing above is from five years ago but I thought I’d share it along with a glimpse at a corner of my studio from this morning. The 18″ wide by 36″ high canvas on the easel was started yesterday and reminded me of this post. It is obviously a work in progress not nearly close to any sort of finish. But even as it was forming in its earliest stages, it was displaying a strong life force.

That is not always the case. Sometimes a piece takes days, going through several frustrating stages where it flattens and has all the life force of a dead fish before finally bursting to life.

Bit in this case, it came together quickly and without a lot of thought or wringing of hands. It just pushed itself onto the canvas. Maybe it is the slashing strokes that make up the sky. There’s a lot of energy in those slashes and the way their colors react to one another.

Maybe this piece will be called Rays of Power?

We’ll see.

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Watching the painter painting
And all the time, the light is changing
And he keeps painting
That bit there, it was an accident
But he’s so pleased
It’s the best mistake, he could make
And it’s my favourite piece
It’s just great…

Kate Bush, from the song “An Architect’s Dream” 

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I’ve been working on a group of cityscapes recently but I am not prepared to show them yet, wanting to see what direction they are sending me first. But I thought I would share a quick photo of the one I am currently at work on.

A work in progress.

It’s at the stage that is probably my favorite of all the stages that a painting inevitably passes through on its way to becoming a finished work. It is basically done from the standpoint of its composition. All the elements are blocked in and it is already beginning to impart whatever it has to share to me, its only viewer to this point. The bits of color set against the monochromatic red oxide skeleton of the piece provide bursts of contrast and add depth into the picture plane.

This stage is, except for that final moment when the piece comes to life near the end of the process, always exciting for me. It is like a human skeleton come to life as I build it, telling me aloud where I should be working on it next. It points out how much potential the painting contains, where I should focus my attention and where it can expand its feeling with multiple layers of color.

Most of the time I quietly listen to this talking skeleton and heed its directions to me.

But sometimes I want to tell the skeleton to just shut up stand still for a minute because maybe you’re done as is, Mr. Bones.

Yeah, sometimes I like the work so much at this point I want to stop and just let it be. I worry that by adding more layers of paint that I will cover its essence as I see it at this point. Make it something less than its potential.

But I never just let it be. I don’t know that I have the guts to work that way, to show it as it stands. Or have the ability to stop seeing more in it and needing to continue working at it.

This piece may be as close to just stopping as I get. I could see it being finished with just a few touches to the sky and the moon. Maybe a little more work in leveling out some of the rough spots.

Or not.

I don’t know.

I guess we’ll have to wait and see if this skeleton gets fleshed out.

Here’s the song, An Architect’s Dream, from Kate Bush that provided the lines at the beginning of this post.

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I have posted This description of one of the process for one of my paintings, followed by a short video showing its evolution from start to finish, a couple of times over the past nines years.  I thought it might be a good time to revisit it as there are many new readers who may not be familiar with how my work comes together. I paint in two distinctly different processes, one being a reductive process where I put paint on the surface then remove much of it and this process that is additive, with layer after layer of paint building up. Here’s what I wrote in January of 2011:

I worked on a new piece the last couple of days, a large canvas that is 24″ by 48″. I had already gessoed the canvas with a distinct texture and applied a layer of black paint. I had vague ideas of where I thought the painting might go from a composition standpoint but knew that this was only a starting point in my mind. Like most of my paintings, the finished product is often drastically different than what I imagined at the beginning. As I paint, each bit of paint dictates the next move and if I don’t try to force in something that goes against these subtle directions given to me by the paint the piece usually has an organic feel, a natural rhythm in the way the different elements go together. A cohesion of sorts.

Knowing I wanted to use a cityscape in this piece, I started in the bottom left, slowly building the city with geometric forms and rooflines in a red oxide paint that I use to block in my composition. I prefer using the red oxide because it gives a warmth under the layers paint to come that shows through in small bits that are almost undetectable at a quick glance. 

At this point I still am unsure where the painting is going. I have thoughts of filling the canvas completely with the cityscape with the smallest view of the sky through the buildings but am not married to this idea. The paint isn’t telling me enough yet to know. But it has told me that I want a path of some sort- a street or canal- through the composition. I make room for one near the center before starting on the right side with the buildings there. I go back and forth between the right and left sides as I build the city, constantly stepping back to give it a good look from a distance to assess its progress and direction. 

 At a point where the city is nearing the halfway point on filling the canvas, I decide I want this piece to be less about the cityscape and more about how it opens to the open sky beyond it. I extend the road that started at the bottom and twist it upward, terminating it at a bend in what will be now a field beyond the city edge. The sky, though still empty, is pushing me ahead, out of the city. The piece has become about a sense of escape, taking the street from the cityscape and heading upward on it towards the open fields and sky. Painting faster now, another field with a bit of the road appearing is finished beyond the first lower field. I have created a cradle in the landscape for the sky to which I now turn my brush.

There’s a certain symmetry at work here and I decide I want the central focus of a sun in this composition. I roughly block in a round form, letting it break beyond the upper edge of the canvas. I pay little attention to the size of this sun except in its relationship to the composition below it. My suns and moons are often out of proportion to reality but it doesn’t matter to me so long as it translates properly in the context of the painting. If  it works well,  it isn’t even noticed.

I finish blocking in the sky with the red oxide, radiating the strokes away from the sun,  and step back. [The video below basically begins at this point in the process] The piece has began to come alive for me and I can start to see where it is going. The color is starting to fill in in my mind and I can see a final version there. This is usually a very exciting time in the process for me, especially if a piece has a certain vitality. I sense it here and am propelled forward now, quickly attacking the sky with many, many brushstrokes of multiple colors. working from dark to light. 

There are layers of a violet color in different shades that are almost completely obscured by subsequent layers. I could probably leave out these violet layers but the tiny shards that do barely show add a great depth to the flavor of the painting for me and to leave them out would weaken the piece in a way. 

I have painted several hours on the sky now and still have a ways to go before it reaches where I see it in my mind. There are no shortcuts now. Just the process of getting to that final visualized point. But it’s dinnertime and my day is now done. I pick up and step back to give it one final look before I head out into the darkness. This is where the painting is at this point, where I will start soon after I post this:

GC Myers Process jan-2011-pt-2 In the blog post with the final version I then wrote:

Above is the tentatively finished version of the painting I started earlier this week, a 24″ by 48″ canvas that I am considering calling Escape Route. I showed the first few steps of the painting process on this blog two days ago, ending with the sky being near finished and the composition blocked in. I’m not going to go into all the steps and decisions that went into completing this piece. Instead, I put together a short film that shows the painting evolving to the finished product.

I will say that the final version is much different in many ways than I first envisioned with the first strokes of red oxide that went on the canvas. Each subsequent bit of color, each line that appeared, altered the vision in my head just a bit, evolving the piece constantly until the very end of the process. Even the last part, where I inserted the treeline that appears on the farthest ridge, was not seen in my mind until just before the decision to proceed with them was made. I decided to go with this treeline to create a final barrier for the road to break past on its way upward toward the sky. A final moment of escape.

This painting has given me a great sense of satisfaction after finishing it. I spent much of the late afternoon yesterday just looking at it and taking it in. I don’t know if it will translate as well on the computer screen but this piece has substantial size at 24″ by 48″ which gives great weight to the blocks of color from the buildings and the light from the sky. There is a sense of completeness here that I could  only struggle to explain, but as I said, brings me great satisfaction. I feel as though the evolved painting has exceeded what I imagined when I first started this piece. While I can’t fully explain that, it is all I can hope for from my work.

I will spend some more time over the next several weeks looking at this painting, determining if anything should be tweaked or altered.  A highlight added here, a line made crisper there. But as it stands, it feels as thought it has taken on its own life and I will probably leave it alone as it is.

 

991143 Escape Route 2011

And here’s the video, only about a minute long, that shows how the piece came about.

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“I have always said that you do not see a thing until you look away from it. In other words, an object or a fact in nature has not become itself until it has been projected in the realm of the imagination.

~ Marsden Hartley

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Marsden Hartley (1877-1943) is a favorite of mine both for his paintings and his words, which often express thoughts about painting that ring true for my own experience. For example, I love this quote above. Some of the strongest images for me are those that are taken at a glance, sometimes while driving down the highway at 70 miles per hour.

If the imagery strikes me in a powerful way, my mind immediately starts breaking down the image into a sort of shorthand, blocking in the forms and organizing them in a way that registers deeply. It is simplified but contains the elements and the effects that struck me. Sometimes I will move my arms while doing this, trying to create a muscle memory of the rhythm of that which I am seeing in my mind.

The image is thus entered into my imagination. Everything else around it that is not part of image that spoke out to me seems to not exist in that moment. It s a funny process and is deeply ingrained to the point that I don’t even think about it but for this reminder from Hartley.

Got to get to work. Have a great day.

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I have a new painting in a show that opens this Friday, November 16, at the the West End Gallery. The name of the show is “Masterpieces: A Collection of Kick*** Artwork” and it focuses on the process of the artist behind each piece. There are photos, studies and writings that document how each piece came to be.

From the work I have seen from the show thus far, it lives up to its name.

My contribution to the show is  48″ high by 24″ wide painting on canvas that I am calling And the Glimmer Comes... It is shown here on the right.

I decided for this show to do the painting for this show using studies and drawings, something I almost never use.

Normally, I start with a surface that is prepared with multiple layers of gesso and, more often than not recently, a top layer of black paint. Then I just begin with a block of color, usually the red oxide that I use for composing my underpainting and usually in the lower half of the composition.

Then I let the painting grow organically, the first block of color guiding me to the second and the second to the third and so on. After the piece is fully composed this way, I build out the colors from darker to lighter tones.

In the very simplest terms, that is my normal process.

Rough Sketch- GC Myers

But for this piece I decided to go with two studies. The first would be a rough sketch that would set out the basic composition of the painting. When I say rough, I mean rough, as you can see. I take only a minute or so to create it as I am only looking for a basic silhouette, a blocked out map to follow with little detail or nuance. It is not meant to be anything on its own, just a bit of shorthand to guide me in the next step.

The next step is the creation of a study, a smaller (24″ by 12″) version of the final larger painting. I followed the sketch with my underpainting and it was pretty much in line. But I have a small problem in making studies which are usually more loosely painted than the final version. My problem is that once I begin painting I treat that piece as a final version. I have spent many years treating every piece I paint as nothing less than a complete painting unto itself, something that is not less or subservient to any other painting in my body of work.

Lightbreak–24″ x 12″ – GC Myers

Once I started working on this “study” I couldn’t help but continue smoothing off the piece, making it whole. It was not a study at all as it quickly evolved into an autonomous painting with its own voice, its own life.  I am showing it as such with the title Lightbreak.

My next step was to transfer this image to the larger canvas. My first move was to block in the house much as it was in the sketch and the smaller version, although I did add an addition and another small roof to it. At this point I  could see new potentials in the open space of the larger canvas as well in the unique texture it possessed. It just begged for and explicitly pointed me to something different from the other pieces.

I immediately changed the composition to add a couple of rolling knolls leading a body of water that would extend to a horizon between two tongues of land that would jut in from either side. It began to speak in its own voice at once and was telling me how to proceed with the sky.

The larger surface created more open space so I opted for an additional underlying layer of clouds that would have a darker tone to contrast with those in the forefront. Doing so created an interestingly shaped negative space comprised of the blue-green color of the sky in its middle, That form became a structural element in this piece.

Building out the colors brought changes as well. The piece of land in the forefront were richer in color and more vibrant, mainly because I felt that the larger space it occupied required a bolder and more pronounced treatment. It acts as a strong foundation in this painting.

The final touches come in creating the glimmer at the horizon. That simple step made the whole of the painting gather together, creating a wonderful geometry between the various elements of the painting. It felt to me like the high note of climax in a dramatic aria.

That is a very condensed version of how the final painting came to be. Whether it lives up to the title of the show is not for me to say. The most I can say is that I feel this painting fits well among what I consider my better work. So maybe in that aspect it lives up to the show’s title.

Come out to the West End Gallery and see for yourself.

 

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I had a dream a week or so back.

It wasn’t particularly odd. I didn’t feel like I was somehow out of place and didn’t recognize my surroundings. I had no strange abilities. No, it all seemed very normal. In fact, I was still a painter in this dream.

The gist of the dream was that I feeling a bit down about my work. Then out of the blue I received a phone call from a person identifying themselves as the editor of a large national magazine who wanted to do a story on my work. I was excited in the dream, as would be expected.

The dream ended with me asking what this magazine was that so wanted to do a big story on my work.

The voice on the other end replied, “Finger Painting Magazine.”

I woke up at that point and I began chuckling in the darkness.

My big break!

Womp womp.

I thought about that dream again yesterday. It still made me chuckle but I thought maybe I should try painting without a brush, using only my fingers, at least once. Maybe there is something to this finger painting stuff.

So I grabbed a canvas and got at it. I decided that I should keep it simple while I work on my strokes so I went with my most basic of compositions. Sky. Ground. Path. Red Roof.

Using only my fingers definitely gave it an immediacy and excitement. The piece changed quickly with a smear here and a daub there. The quickness of the process seemed to require more boldness. I used a couple of higher toned colors in more prominent roles than I normally would when using a brush. And I think it worked in this piece.

I began to realize that my hand was a combination of many brushes. Each finger had its own size and quality so there five brushes right there. Putting two or three fingers together made a couple more. And my palm was a broad brush as well.

Actually, as I got toward the finish of the painting I began to realize it didn’t look much different than my normal work. A little more ragged on the straight edges but that is not necessarily a bad thing. And it was not as messy as you might think. I actually ended up with less paint on my hands than I normally do when using a brush.

Maybe I have been wasting my time with brushes.

I did a little research this morning. There is no Finger Painting Magazine but there are several painters who use only their fingers. Some are quite striking and one was written about in an article I remember seeing not too long ago. She paints icebergs and other frozen landscapes on a grand scale. Great work.

Maybe there should really be a Finger Painting Magazine.

 

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I am at work on a large commissioned piece. As a rule, I don’t like doing commissions because I sometimes fear the client’s aims and expectations will somehow cloud my creative process and ultimately make the painting less than it might otherwise be. And for me, trying to please someone else’s eye rather than my own is not usually conducive to good work.

And at the beginning of this particular painting, that definitely seemed the case.

I had several reference photos that were provided by the client to give me context and as general guidelines for the kind of landscape they hoped for in the painting. I don’t normally– actually, I never– work from reference photos. I don’t know why but in this case I tried to remain absolutely faithful to them.

It wasn’t good.

I spent a few frustrating days repeatedly laying out the piece then painting it over to restart again. It just didn’t move, didn’t feel alive. It made me tense and a little angry to where I finally came to a place where I determined that I was being too fixated on accuracy and was setting aside the things that I felt were important to me in my work– rhythm, line and pattern.

This was my painting so it had to excite and please me first. I made the decision to have it do just that and began making big changes that would imbue it with the things I needed to see and feel in it. I began to move things around, cutting away elements in the composition and changing the flow of the landscape.

It began to grow in a more organic and less thought out way. Each step got me more engaged and more excited, each subsequent layer of color bringing it a bit more vibrant and alive. I worked last night on it, leaving as it came to a point where it is has all its momentum steaming forward. All of it’s potential seems now evident to me and it feels like it is a balloon filled to the absolute limit, ready to burst at any instant into a mass of color and movement.

For me, this is the most exciting point of a painting. It’s there and I just have to tear away the shell that is keeping it restrained. I feel a palpable excitement looking at it this morning.

I feel good.

I can’t show you any in progress shots because I believe this is meant to be a surprise gift. So I will instead show a very old watercolor from around 1994 which acts as a segue to a little music from the venerable John Lee Hooker and a song whose title and feeling absolutely hit the mark this morning.  It’s his boogie classic I Feel Good.  I call the painting Leroi’s Yellow Guitar.

I could paint to this all day long…

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