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Posts Tagged ‘Process’

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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This new painting is titled With Sanction of the Moon. It’s a 10″ by 20″ canvas that is part of my solo show, Truth and Belief, that opens in a little over two weeks on June 2 at the Principle Gallery.  The show seems to be coming together really well with so many of the paintings pleasing me in surprising ways. This piece kind of symbolizes that aspect of the show.

It’s a painting that has been in process for a long time.  I think I started it in the autumn of last year but set it aside soon after so that it was one of those pieces that are propped against a studio wall where I glimpse at them a number of times on a daily basis, trying to ascertain where they might head later in the process.  Its early stages had given it some potential that I thought would emerge eventually but it just wasn’t talking to me.

There is a certain point in my process where the painting has what I would call a dull phase.  When it first goes down on the canvas it rides the initial energy that comes from the composition and the thought process behind that. But in the subsequent steps that energy lags a bit and there is a point where the paint seems to go dull and flat. I have at that point lost the vigor of the initial composition and am fixated on the surface so that when the paint goes flat I lose a lot of my inspiration.

Now, having done this for many years now, I anticipate this stage in the progress of many of my paintings.  It doesn’t worry me when the paint looks listless at that point because I know that each subsequent layer will bring back the life that seems lacking and will reawaken my energy source if it goes as I hope. That’s always a thrilling moment for me, when a piece is reinvigorated in this manner. The initial excitement that comes with the composition comes back in a big way and the painting feels new again.  That flatness is instantly forgotten, as though it never took place.

This piece seemed trapped in that flat stage for a long time for me and I began to wonder if it might make more sense to paint it over and restart on something new. But I could never do that to this piece. I was convinced that there was something there worth preserving, something that would emerge that would be far beyond what I was seeing in the moment.

So I bided my time until a week or so ago. I was in a nice groove with my painting which gave me confidence to dive into this piece with the hopes that I could find its hidden potential. The flatness faded quickly and it was soon in a state that pleased me greatly. It had a voice and life of its own. I had to shake my head that I had doubted it in the first place.

Paintings like this, where I lose then rediscover them much later, are often my favorites.  I’m not saying that they are better paintings. Maybe because they require more conscious thought and effort, unlike those pieces that sometimes just fall out almost on their own, paintings like this remain deeply etched in my memory.

I think I will take another look.

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I have been busy in the studio preparing for my upcoming shows and find myself working on a new piece on a canvas measuring 16″ high by 40″ wide.

After the canvas has been prepped with multiple layers of gesso and a layer of black paint, I compose the painting by laying in the elements of the picture in red oxide paint.

This is my favorite part of the process, the time when I can just let my mind fall into the picture and roll around all the possibilities that it offers. Every stroke is a decision and most are made instinctively, letting the surrounding elements and the underlying texture dictate the next move.

As the piece progresses, the painting takes on its personality in a warm glow of varying reddish tones. At this point I decide where I want to place the focus for the painting.  Here I want it to be all about the sky. Painting the sky at this point is not always the norm. Sometimes I go to work on the landscape first, letting it tell me how I will treat the sky. But on this piece the sky comes first, so I begin to lay in colors radiating from around the sun. Or moon. Nothing is really set in stone- or paint-at this point.

As the sky progresses , I veer off momentarily to lay in a little color on the houses and the flat fields that occupy the middle of the painting. I am now at a point where I still have work to do on the sky but the painting is beginning to speak plainly to me.  I know what it is and have a fairly good idea of where it can go. I say fairly good because there is still a lot of decisions that will affect the final version. The colors of the landscape, for example, and their intensity and tones.

I am almost always at my most deepest level of infatuation with the piece when I am at this point in the process.  The moodiness of the red tones have a shadowy effect that pleases me, that makes the sky contrast a bit more than it may after the colors of the landscape are added.  I find myself asking this morning if I should forgo the colors I normally add and focus on creating a tonal composition based on the red oxide. It would be a darker piece than my normal work but if it works as I hope it might, it would carry that feeling that always hooks me as I am working.

So this morning I am sitting here looking over at the easel and deciding if I will spend the day in bright color or in shades of russet.

I like a job where that might be the hardest decision that must be made today…

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GC Myers- Secret of All TriumphsPerseverance, secret of all triumphs.

–Victor Hugo

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Sometimes sticking with a piece that is in trouble pays off.  The painting shown at the top, a 20″ by 20″ canvas that is yet to be titled, was started several weeks ago.  All of the major forms, including the deep blue sky, were blocked in the transparent colors that I use in my wet or reductive work–that is where the paint is put on thickly then absorbed off of the surface until it reaches a tone that fits my eye.  But it just didn’t ring out, had an awful flatness that just made the whole thing dull.  The colors in the foreground were muddied and blah.

I looked at it for weeks.  Actually, I didn’t look at it that often because it just didn’t have anything to pull me to it.  I got to the point that I avoided looking at it at all.  Finally, I decided to scrap the whole thing.  Paint it over in black and start with an empty slate.

Tabula Rasa.

So I took it down into the basement of my studio where I do apply my gesso and do other sloppy work.  I pulled out a thick brush of black paint and slapped it across the sky and worked it back a few times.  The strokes didn’t go into the lower sections of the painting, remaining only in the sky.  I stopped and took in it for a second, the black brush poised to swat across the center now.  The contrast of the black against the colors made the fields pop a bit, gave them a little life.

Just a little.  Maybe there was something there, a flower that could blossom if I just stuck with it a little longer.

So finished the sky in black and in a few days brought it back to the easel.  Each stroke of color that went against the black surface of the sky brought it more and more to life.  When the sky was close to being finished, I went back into the lower fields, glazing them with new layers of color that took away some of the dullness that had plagued them.  The sky had a pop now and the lower fields were catching up to it.  But the central field between the curved horizon and the large mound on which the Red Tree would stand was still an awfully dull green that sucked the life from both the top and bottom.  A sucking vortex.

Maybe this wasn’t going to work after all.  One element so out of kilter could kill the entire thing, break its fragile life force.

After a while I thought that the black had worked so well in the sky, why not break it out in that central field.  Go completely in a different direction with it– make it a red field that would pop in the center of the piece and give contrast to both top and bottom.  Instead of sucking life from it, it would now give it life. And sure enough, it brought everything together.  Even before the trees made an appearance, it was ebbing with life. And when they did appear, it felt complete and alive.  All that I can ask of it.

Now I can’t stop looking at this piece that once made me grimace.  Perseverance pays off in the end, as it usually does.

PS:  Now that I look at this piece after writing this, I believe I will title this painting Secret of All Triumphs. Thanks for the inspiration, Mr. Hugo.

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2015 GC Myers WIPWhen I finished up in the studio yesterday, I was at this point in progress on a new painting.  It is a 20″ by 60″ canvas that was started with only the thought that it would be curtained in by two layers of tree trunks on each side.  The basic composition of the entire piece is laid in in an underpainting of red oxide and there are a numbers of layers of color in the sky, beginning to give shape to the tone of the painting.

It has definition and purpose now.  A forseeable destiny.

This is one of my favorite stages of my process.  The bones and form of the painting have been created, the decisions concerning composition made, and the painting begins to stir to life.  There is a keen sense of sharpness to it at this point, as though the essence of its being has been boiled down and captured in this layer of red oxide paint.

Like a revealing of its soul.

The layers that will follow will give detail and nuance to round out its wholeness.  It’s interesting  to watch it go from this sharply defined revelation of self through the series of transformations brought on by each subsequent layer of color.  There will be points when this sharpness will fade completely away, leaving the piece dull and flat–barely alive.

Sallow. Like a patient on a respirator.

At that point,  I sometimes finding myself questioning my prior decisions and asking if the piece will ever come back to life.  This comes near the end and, disheartening as it sometimes is,  would be my least favorite part of the process if not the fact that I have the knowledge of and confidence in what will soon take place on the canvas.

The layers of color come quicker and consist of fewer strokes but each small move now seems to bring more and more of a change to the piece.  The soul of the painting that once filled the canvas in the completed underpainting above now begins to reveal itself again in its fullest form.

Now, that being said, it what I hope happens.  Sometimes it just doesn’t.  But sometimes the soul of the piece is revealed so strongly at this point that it will not be denied.

And that’s what I believe will be the case with this piece.  At least, that is the hope.  We shall see…

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Process/Redux

GC Myers Process jan-2011-pt-11Four years ago I posted a description of one of the process for one of my paintings, followed by a short video showing its evolution from start to finish.  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 like the red oxide because ti gives a warmth under the layers paint to come that comes 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 piece has become 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:

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.

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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GC Myers- Harmonic OneI call this new painting  Harmonic One.  It’s 14″ by 34″ on paper and is part of my Islander show at the West End Gallery in Corning , opening this Friday and running through August.

This is another of those paintings that I start then set aside, waiting for a moment of clarity when the direction of the painting comes through to me.  Sometimes I set them aside because I simply lose momentum, lose the rhythm that is driving the creative force forward and find myself dulling the painting.  Other times, like this, I set them aside because I reach a point, in full rhythm, where I must choose a direction and cannot because I so like what I see before me that I am fearful that I will make a wrong decision which would destroy everything.

The thing that attracted me to this piece and caused me to hesitate when I came to that point on this piece was the color and texture of the sky.  It was chaotic  and rough with bits of differing tones of blues and pale greens.  It was just alive and seemed to dance on the surface.  There is a detail from the sky shown at the bottom of this post.  I knew that to just jump ahead too quickly would diminish the whole effect of that sky.  It required a focal point that would play off of the chaos running through the sky.

Of course, my focal point, my central character,  was going to be the Red Tree.  But it had to have a certain weightiness, a feeling of strength that would create a solidity that would contrast with the foreboding confusion of the sky and bring the whole into some sort of equilibrium.  In short, a tree that would create harmony.

I repeatedly would put this piece on my table and, time after time, I would take it away without touching it.  I just could envision such a harmonizer.  I was at a point where I was beginning to think that I had created a piece that would never go beyond mere potential.  The finished section began top lose vitality and I thought it would go in the heap with other work that never lived up to their possibilities.

But finally, it showed itself in the form that you see.  It transformed the whole thing, bringing a peaceful solidness and force that brings the chaos of the sky into balance.   The title came easily.  In the end, I was tremendously pleased with this painting.  It had everything that  I looked for in my work–depth, texture, color, contrasts, and a feeling of vitality all in a deceptively simple package.  All that I could ask of it…

GC Myers- Harmonic One detail

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