In painting, as in life, holding it together is not always easy. Things–compositions–are always threatening to fall apart and a painter’s task is to figure out how it all fits, keep a movement going through the painting, find pathways for the eye, and then keep the viewer’s interest for more than 5 seconds. I do not lie. Think about how long you look at a painting when you are at a museum or gallery. One one thousand, two one thousand…five seconds is along time! Anything longer is like hitting a home run. The bright bowl of light in the foreground is balanced with bright spots in the birch trees and in the far field, and I found a subtle, but weighty visual anchor point at the end of the path where it subtly hangs a right.
Shelter took me on a wild ride, as I struggled to figure out how to put it all together without making the viewer dizzy. So many layers of landscape, and only one layer of paint. It is an image of a place, but it is also craft, an object made of cloth and paint, each brushstroke necessary and painted with the purpose of fitting together and describing the exact color of that tree, that limb-full of leaves, that particular part of the sky peeking through the leaves. Maintaining the integrity of the picture plane, while simultaneously expressing the mosaic of the color of living things in the blue air…that’s my holy grail. It is a difficult, but that is what painters do. There were some swirling motions that became too insistent and overtook the composition, so I had to add small stops, small brushstrokes to break the lines. Note: the color shifts are are result of changing light in my studio…it tells you how much light has to do with the color of paint!
Here is a progression of my most recent painting Headwaters, 36" x 36". After doing a full charcoal drawing, fixed with retouch varnish, I began painting in the top left corner, working in a clockwise fashion from there. My biggest mistake was painting the rock face on the mid left too dark. It threw off the feeling of illuminated dark and I had to scrape out a days work and repaint it. Some swearing was involved, and faith that good things come with time. This idea of being your own harshest critic, and a willingness to undo work that has been done, is one of the least enjoyable parts of being an artist, but it is absolutely essential to producing your best work. I am happy with the results. This painting will be part of a solo exhibit called "Lit" at the Newburyport Art Association, opening April 17th at 6 PM.
The title of this painting, Soul of Time, here in three stages from start to finish, came to me in a dream. It sounds pretentious I'm afraid, and I think a simpler title might be better...then I googled it and found this poem. The last two lines describe a feeling I think all artists have.
Soul of Time
by Trumbull Stickney (1874–1904)
TIME’S a circumference
Whereof the segment of our station seems
A long straight line from nothing into naught.
Therefore we say “ progress, “ “ infinity “ —
Dull words whose object
Hangs in the air of error and delights
Our boyish minds ahunt for butterflies.
For aspiration studies not the sky
But looks for stars; the victories of faith
Are soldiered none the less with certainties,
And all the multitudinous armies decked
With banners blown ahead and flute before
March not to the desert or th’ Elysian fields,
But in the track of some discovery,
The grip and cognizance of something true,
Which won resolves a better distribution
Between the dreaming mind and real truth
I cannot understand you.
‘T is because
You lean over my meaning’s edge and feel
A dizziness of the things I have not said.
Here is a few images of a recent painting in progress that are pretty self explanatory. The drawing shows the thinking. One curve in the water answers another, and there is an overall circular composition. One change I made to the photo composition was to move the forward-most sail back, so that the shoulder of the crew in front connected to the far shore. This serves to simplify the composition and connect foreground to background, flattening the space.
Not much, and quite a lot. Painting is like life—the more you learn the less you know—because conflicting ideas and a broad mind make one less certain. Still, there are ideas about painting worth sharing. In this monthly blog I will attempt to put into words what I am working on both in my studio and in the class I teach- the thought process and the craft processes involved. There is so many moving parts in being a professional artist, and no easy way to learn it all at once, but with passion, perseverance and an optimistic outlook, you can do it.