The following passage by E.H. Gombrich was a revelation to me, maybe an epiphany. I had been looking for a way to break out of my old habits when I found this. It became the central idea of a “Self-forgiveness Theory.” It says to keep trying, modifying, and correcting -- that the eraser is the tool of more expressive realism. In almost mystical terms: trying to create perfection is impossible, but forgiving yourself and your drawings for being imperfect and constantly refining your vision is possible.

“Seen in this light, that dry psychological formula of schema and correction can tell us a good deal, not only about the essential unity between medieval and post-medieval art, but also of their vital difference. To the Middle Ages, the schema is the image, to the post-medieval artist, it is the starting point for corrections, adjustments, adaptations, the means to probe reality and to wrestle with the particular. The hallmark of the medieval artist is the firm line that testifies to the mastery of his craft. That of the post-medieval artist is not facility, which he avoids, but constant alertness. Its symptom is the sketch, or rather the many sketches which precede the finished work and, for all the skill of hand and eye of the master, a constant readiness to learn, to make and match and remake till the portrayal ceases to be a second hand formula and reflects the unique and unrepeatable experience the artist wishes to seize and hold.”

Art & Illusion: A study in Psychology of Pictorial Representation, Page 173

-- E. H. Gombrich

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Variations as Doorway to Creative Self

It's been a hard couple of months, between winter colds and family problems, I seem to have lost some creative traction. I hope that it is not just an aging thing, but these little paintings are examples of ideas that in the past have got my juices going again. The first is the idea of tonal variations. Taking a image, maybe doing a few compositional changes, and primarily forcing myself to examine the value/tonal structure. It's an old exercise but a good one: put two of the three major values (light, medium and dark)in the subject and use the remaining value in the background. You could use them as the basis for a more ambitious color painting, but normally I just do several (maybe twenty or so)with the goal of making my right-brain more aware of the possibilities. The last two are color variations. Pick a composition and try changing the colors. I go through the seasons, the times of the day, and some favorite color combinations.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Gouache as a Quick Search Tool

Gouache and transparent watercolor on colored paper is a quick and easy way to explore textures, colors, and composition. I've been doing these quick gouache paintings for a couple of months. I use photographs as reference material and can do a painting in a single session (most of the time). Using gouache means that I can do a lot of corrections -- normally in terms of values; when using transparent watercolors I have a limited number of correction techniques and with oil paints my search is almost limitless, but that becomes the problem.