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Posts Tagged ‘Process’

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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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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