I used to just dive into a painting. I’m talking about bigger paintings. I’d have a few sketches and ideas but I’d just start laying on the paint and hope for the best. I’d always reconsider things too late in the game and think that I should have had a more solid plan. As time passed, I started making more and more complex drawings before hand and preceding the painting with loads of conceptual work. Then I gave more and more thought to how the colors would interact and what the best way to approach it would be – do I put a background on first or start with pure white canvas and just lay the colors down or do I do a monotone painting on the white canvas and then proceed to glazing?
There’s so many different techniques and approaches to creating a painting but, ultimately, what is important is the final outcome and the feeling you want to evoke. The texture and grain of the canvas are as important as the colors. The background is going to set the whole mood. And if you decide to go with gradual glazings then you have a whole other set of variables to consider.
But before any of that – there is simply the creative process itself. All the technique in the world isn’t going to make a GREAT painting. It will make a very good and technically proficient painting but GREAT paintings are born out of something more. There are museums full of very good paintings. But GREAT paintings… they are born from inspiration and dedication and openness to the process. The trick to making a great painting is using the tools of awareness to follow the subtler aspects of our perception and our movements and momentum as artists towards their sublimely inspiring peaks.
So head to your sketchbook and be furious about it. Be passionate. And be patient.
When you have reached that place – when you have that drawing – whether sketched with intentional intensity or simply as an offhand remark that turns out to carry the weight of the ages – when you have it and are happy with it – then turn to the canvas and consider… what is the best process to turn this drawing into a painting? What does it need? What does it want?
Look at other paintings by other artists. Don’t be cloistered about your approach. Look at ALL artists. Consider ALL approaches. EVERYTHING is valid but don’t get lost in possibilities. Eventually – you need to get started.
So do it. Make it. Make beautiful art.
This is something I was thinking about while painting tonight. Often I leave things in my paintings rather ambiguous or suggestive. There are shapes are suggestive of things – animals or plants or clouds or structures… And they are all inspired by countless things I see through the course of my days. O, nature and it’s multitudes of fractal qualities – the curve of the leaf of the succulent in my garden or the window of a cathedral I might happen upon (for the cathedral, like the anthill, is an echo of nature). All of these things become part of the visual language and an artist can draw upon these shapes – even just the step of an edge or the clip of a curve – and use them to inform the work.
Now, the more you know – the more shapes and curves and lines and movements that you store in that visual memory – the more you can take your sense of ‘I don’t know what this is going to be’ and simply shape it and allow it to take form and be informed by your visual memory and the feelings evoked by the different shapes you run across. Granted, it takes some practice to allow for the space to allow that through but with effort and practice (a sketchbook helps) you might find that this comes more easily than you realized.
I think we get so caught up in things ‘being things’ that we forget to allow them to simply be what they are. Early on we get taught that if we’re going to draw a cow, it should look like a cow and so on for everything else. But it doesn’t have to be that way. All of life – it’s a huge sea of energy, moving and coalescing and taking form and we perceive it and name things and assign them a thousand responsibilities – to make us happy or sad or turned on or repulsed. Likewise, we look at our paintings and say ‘It must be SOMETHING!’ But there is a grace in following a train of thought to it’s natural finish without forcing upon it a responsibility to be a certain thing. In that, there is generosity, acceptance, and, ultimately, I think, joy.
Granted, if the thing is supposed to be a horse and the horse is simply not coming out right but it really should (because of the vision) be a horse, then perhaps you should spend some time sketching and drawing horses. However, the ambiguity which I speak of is really more along the lines of the places where there isn’t a horse and there isn’t a landscape and there’s simply paint we’re simply working with it…
At that point – it’s even more effort sometimes to cut out what isn’t working and to work what is. We get so attached to our lines sometimes! That’s fine. But still… ALLOW…. Breathe space into your work… don’t force anything… be patient…
BUT more importantly – if you’re not sure what it is, don’t just let the mud take over – don’t just be content with a muddy composition – MAKE THE CHOICE. In choosing it, sculpting it, shaping it, in all of it’s ambiguous beauty, you will quite possibly find sublime beauty and echoes of your life in ways you hadn’t imagined possible.
I assembled the stretcher bars to the desired size (18 x 14) and cut an appropriately sized rectangle of canvas. With pliers and staple gun I stretched it around the bars and then proceeded to gesso it. Once it appeared to be dry, I brushed on a background wash of yellow orange azo, burnt sienna, and a dash of dioxanine purple. But there was a several square inch spot in the middle of the bottom right corner that wasn’t completely dry and so the wash picked up the gesso. This wasn’t terrible in and of itself but it left a slight ridge between the original primed canvas and the freshly gessoed areas. I let it all dry and then went back and added more gesso to that area – creating a rather white sort of starburst on the yellow sienna background. After the gesso was dry I went back and washed over it with the original wash colors. Unfortunately this left sort of a lighter area under the final wash.
So turned the canvas upside down and suddenly it had the appearance of the sun setting behind a cloud bank. Magic. Perfect. And in just the right place….
Sometimes though, it’s best to just fix it. If I put my hand in my paint and then proceed to stamp it across the canvas then I wipe that off. That never works.
There aren’t really ‘mistakes’ when painting. Sometimes you might find you did something wrong or the materials start behaving in a way you didn’t plan on but it’s best to just go with it… Afterall, as the hand of nature – as life expressing itself – it’s best to just roll with things – like a river, like the wind, like life – moving towards the final result which, as we always hope, will the the vast summation – the grand explanation – the ever effulgent one – light.
A website featuring all sorts of arts and creative types has an interview with me up – solpurpose.com. Ehren, the interviewer, asks some insightful questions and I try to give my best insightful answers. So if you’d like to learn a bit more about my work and what I do, head on over there and check it out.
The thing is, at 3am you’re up and you’re getting something to eat and maybe a drop to drink and you notice: the plane of the wall meets the plane of the ceiling and the busy-ness of the spice rack to the planar composition of the stove top sort of off sets the shifting perspectives and it’s so sublimely perfect that you really just want to go wake everyone up but you know that you and you alone might be the only one to ever have appreciated this corner of reality. Blue to burgundy to beige to gold and you can’t help but want to run to the type writer – the keyboard – the pen and the pencil – and get it down – that inspiration. Maybe you just study the lines and do your best to remember it.
To the casual observer that sounded like a lot of hokey artspeak. But you and I: we are not casual observers.
That’s the thing though. As you go about your life growing into the mindset, the framework, the vision, of being an artist and really living it, you find that you live in this constant aesthetic appreciation of everything around you and you see it everywhere. You live gradations. You feel lines. You breathe curves. When you see a fine version of some archetypal shape, you can’t help but mention it. When you see a fine composition of not so obvious forms you can’t help but admire it. The lines of the situation are juxtapositioning with the lines of the symmetrical metric and it’s all masterfully done…. it’s lovely and you love it.
That’s what it is to be an artist. You can’t help but every so often want to shout from the roof tops about just how beautiful the hue is right now or the color of the sky or the arch of a tree or the crack in the pavement. It’s a hundred million colors and angles all conjoining at once to create this composition so breath-takingly sublime that you wonder just how no one else stops to notice it.
After a while, you realize that everything is aesthetics. When we are talking about the good of the environment, or the health of another, or whatever the vision of the future is: it is that which looks most beautiful to us and satisfies our aesthetic sense in the way that a mathematician might speak of an equation as ‘elegant’. The best solutions often have a clean and elegant quality to them, no matter how complex. The things we find beautiful in nature have a similar quality, regardless of their complexity. Likewise, in our own lives, we seek out things which are beautiful or satisfy our vision thereof.
Cultures have different value systems around beauty and the styles of one group can completely contradict that of another. It’s as true to nations and societies as it is to cliques in high school. Yet. Yet, I feel that there are certain qualities that become truly and transcendentally beautiful. Things which lead to health. Watching someone move with a graceful awareness. Sweet smiles. Happiness. Peace.
As we tune ourselves to this appreciation we might find that, while the big things seem so obvious, the small things become more and more obvious too.
There: in the way that the angle of the wall meets the corner of the room where the buddha sits as a statue of bronze and is all the more pronounced due to the fact of the crown molding and nobody notices – no one pays it much mind – but you.
There: in the way that, while sitting at a stop light, you notice the dogwood tree blooming and it’s branches frame the hillside behind it like some kind of Japanese Zen painting. The blue of the sky to the pink of the flowers to the crisp lines of the branches make you sigh and your heart feels a sweetness.
There: in the rows of houses. There: in the lines of mountains. There: in the cavalcade of color which is the crashing ocean reflecting the sunset.
Love it. Love it. Love it.
I’ve sat in thousands of locations. I’ve been in cars and clubs and cafes and restaurants and dreams and bedrooms and offices and lobbies and alongside street side vendors. I’ve stood in front of urinals and wandered alleyways and knelt beside mossy mountain brooks and circumambulated stupas all white and gold and marveled at archways built to the glory of the heavens and through them all there have been these moments of appreciation of aesthetic quality, this beauty. In the things which have come about without the hand of man it can feel so natural, so sweet, so grand. In the things that we have created: it is one more marker on the road of humans reaching towards the highest expression of their most highest aim. Ground touching sky. Heaven meeting earth. Self and other recognizing the same and in that – in that space – where beauty is as natural as the breeze – It’s such a lovely thing. A most sacred thing.
We have such a strong desire to greet that which is unknowable and to touch that which is untouchable. In our art we can experience a bit of that. In the art of others, we hope to taste a little of what they have tasted. In the styles and forms that are given to us as popular and cool: we might even see it there as well.
Pay attention to the corners as much as the spotlights. Appreciate the alleyways, marvel at the pattern in the tree bark, marvel at the highway overpass.
Marvel at the beauty of your own dark demons.
Love it all.
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