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

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Working with the "Make It Work" Pile of Watercolors:

For a variety of reasons, paintings don't get finished and when that happens, I put them in a pile and move on to next painting or project. At some point I get back to working and re-working them. Many of these paintings loose their freshness during this process, but I am a firm believer that you can work through the grim periods and come back with a spontaneous and rich painting.

This is the new and improved (above) and an earlier phase (below). During an earlier revision, I had already added the upper right side trees to fill that area of sky, which as a shape was boring even though it was brightly colored. I had also recently added the moon to give the sky more interest. The slope of the hill has not changed that was just bad photography. The upper photo is more true. The big difference between the two is the ground color, lightened to create more contrast and to really establish a horizontal plane (catching more light than a vertical plane). The ditch was dominating the foreground, so I tried to minimize it -- I felt that it was an important element, just not that important. I also added more high lights and shadows to the trees. The house had a little work, but mainly it is the very light blue, instead of white, gray and brown, that helped to marry it to the rest of the painting.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Swamps and Other Wetlands

Green Mansions, oil on canvas 6' x 4'

Green Mansions, Study, Watercolor, 10" x 14"

Yellow Phoenix, Oil on canvas, 6' x 4'

For more than two years, I have been working on a series of paintings based on swamps. These paintings are from photographs that, most often, were taken from the side of the road, but they are not photo-realistic. I rely on my years of painting experience -- from life, memory, imagination and photographs -- to enliven the paint with gestures and space. There are 58 of these paintings, oils and watercolors, displayed at the Portlock Gallery in Chesapeake, VA -- thru August 23, 2010. Yellow Phoenix is an oil painting and is 6' x 4'. This painting took me almost 6 months (working at night and weekends) to finish. The process was pretty simple. It is painted in layers in a fairly standard way, from back to front. I doubt that I will ever paint another with this much detail. Except for some of the broad background, most of this painting was painted with small and smaller brushes.

Green Mansions was much easier to paint. First there was the watercolor study -- it is always easier if you have a map, but sometimes you have to fly by the seat of your pants. Second, I was able to use a little larger brush.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Oil Painting Process for Cows and Shade

Photo's loaded in reverse order. The underpainting is done with Terra Rosa, a soft earthy red tone that has a nice dynamic range and doesn't overpower layers that go over it. Often times the completed underpainting is satisfying as a drawing and it is hard to continue with the color layers. One easy idea about painting, in order to help control edges and spacial relationships, is to paint from back to front.