Monday, December 12, 2016

Painting Thought Process vs. Technical Skills

Confession: I thought I wanted to paint for decades but was afraid to dive in. As I write this I have completed my last painting in my for credit college class Painting I and we have a week left in class,we are now focusing on digital documentation of our work to prepare a digital portfolio so I feel a sigh of relief to not have to be creating artworks for 10-20 or more hours a week on projects being graded and evaluated.

In hearing some other students talk about their painting and in reading something by John F. Carlson (landscape artist) I was reminded yet again that not everyone thinks that way I do, although Carlson and I are very much in alignment. Before I say anything else about Carlson's ideas I want to go back to the thought process.

In showing my landscape painting, a 30x40" (assigned size), the professor said a few things that I thought was stating the obvious but then I realized not everyone is in alignment with the thought process behind painting. My painting was based on a photo I took and spent a few minutes on site analyzing for its beauty and doing several shots with different composition just for the enjoyment of it and because I was captivated by the view. I then played with a filter in Instagram back when I took it. This was a site that is 1800 miles away so I did not have access to go there now and take more shots or views for my painting.

Anyhow the point is I had definite reasons to want to photograph that scene, I loved the light, it was the golden hour, the clouds were subtle. The multiple types of wind blown dead grasses and the open seed pods on the wild flowers indicated winter. The wind was blowing hard and it was nine degrees but the bare sycamore stood strong. They gray of Long Island Sound and the light chop on the surface showed the wind blowing. The snow on the beach showed the season. The lack of people showed solitude and peace.  There was a color harmony in the cool grays and blues against the warm yellows and browns of the grasses.

I had explained that for my bare branched tree in the painting I edited out some of the small branches and all the twigs because I did not desire to do a photo realistic scene plus the idea of trying to paint that in my first landscape paintig that would be a nightmare of a huge undertaking. There had been comments on  my thick use of paint which is just how I paint, I said I cannot paint thin. I received praise as the painting looked windy and cold. I use my brush strokes to indicate movement in the sky and in the clouds, to indicate motion and shape. So my clouds swirl or pop forward with dimension, my tree bark is painted in chunks, the grasses are wispy and blowing in the wind. I expressed the challenge I had with trying to show the ripples in the water without being photorealistic or ruining the look so in the end my technique seemed to fail so I kept it simple by not painting in ripples. I also had to redo the entire sky as I used bad order of operations because I had drawn and blocked in the tree before developing the sky fully, to do the sky I had to paint over a good looking tree and restart the whole tree. The professor said my thought process and the constant evaluation and reassessing of the painting's state and then redoing some was exactly the right way to approach painting.

This apparently is not understood by all, which shocked me.

But this is how I live my own life, how I raised my kids regarding my parenting of them, and it was also about how we proceeded through homeschooling. Make a plan, try to execute, assess the situation, tweak it, edit it, start back at the strong part and revisit and redo the weak areas. This is how my mind works and how I live life. So how could I paint any other way?

Perhaps this is part of why I am being called a natural at painting?

I certainly am no expert artist but I do think that taking thoughtful photos for over 30 years and already looking at the world for decades with the eye and mind arranging what I see into good compositions has honed my eye. I also (unlike most Americans) have been carrying a camera with me daily for the last 19 years. Back when the digital camera with zoom lens was delicate I bought a $35 point and shoot and took photos every day (back before mobile phones had decent cameras which essentially put a camera in everyone's pocket and increased casual snapshot taking). I later carried my DSLR in a large purse and used that often. I also took "from the hip" photos with the point and shoot and later read that phrase in marketing materials by Lomography, a plastic film taking camera company who tried getting people to take casual photos whereever they were (again before the time of high quality mobile phone cameras). But after I got an iPhone I begrudgingly put my DSLR away and switched to taking many photos every single day with the iPhone. I snap nearly every single thing that inspires me. I try to catch the light just right. I have taken over 10K photos in 2016 just with my iPhone. Plus I have taken more with my DSLR cameras.


I think it makes sense to paint when you have a reason and an inspiration. And guess what? I have plenty of inspiration in the many photos I have taken over these years. I see things around me every day that make me want to paint. I am surrounded by inspiration, so now the question is when will I give myself time to paint and where to start?

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