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Painting is like dieting

The best way to learn to paint is to pick up a brush and begin.  While classes and books can be helpful, nothing takes the place of practice.

The best way to learn to paint is to pick up a brush and begin. While classes and books can be helpful, nothing takes the place of practice.

Painting is like dieting.  There are as many ways to paint as there are diets.  What works for one person may not work for another.  A person’s personality, likes and dislikes, background, schedule, family, and opportunities make a difference to the success of the diet.  And so it is with painting, there is no one way to paint.

New painters are often confused with techniques and rules that may be conflicting or cumbersome, such as ‘never use black, black is a dead color’, ‘real artists don’t use black’,  ‘mix your greens’, ‘always begin with an underpainting’, etc.  Whether you use black or green depends on the type of painting you do.  Ad Reinhardt made a career from his black paintings, as did Franz Kline.   JMW Turner, Vermeer, Zorn, Renoir, Winslow Homer, all used black in their palette.  Real artists learn to use black.

Filoli : Fight for what you believe, Love your fellow man, Live a good life.

Filoli : Fight for what you believe, Love your fellow man, Live a good life.

I recently read a list of painting ideals; one of them really struck a chord with me, ‘Your style is what you’re doing academically wrong.’  Make mistakes and learn from them; what you may learn from your mistakes, may be what the naysayers have not yet learned from their mistakes.

Watercolor blooms, watermarks, used to be considered mistakes.  Recent watercolor artists have learned to use the bloom to great effect, such as Antonio Masi; a gentle spritz from your water bottle applied to a fresh background wash creates a nice underlying texture.

Rules have their place in learning to paint, but don’t overlook the possibilities of breaking the rules.  We have much to be grateful for in making mistakes, after all Champagne was a mistake.

A lunch time sketch while eating a Mayan Burrito from Taqueria la Cabaña.

A lunch time sketch while eating a Mayan Burrito from Taqueria la Cabaña.

Getting back to painting, a brief interlude

Approaches to Painting the Figure, class 1: Planes & Volume, Limited Palette

Acrylic on Canvas 18x24" 2014

Acrylic on Canvas

It’s been almost a year since I last painted and this was a great class to take to get back into it, limited focus, limited palette.  This was a single day, four hour workshop.

“Unity”, our instructor said, “this is what I’m looking for in these paintings”.  We began with three poses, 15 minutes each: fill the canvas with paint, paying attention to only the light and dark, no details.  Then, after a break, we go back to each pose, spending an additional 40 minutes to finish them.  An hour is not a long time to finish a painting.  And beginning this way was not how I’m used to painting.  I was being pushed out of my comfort zone.

She circled us as we painted, occasionally calling out “value”, and “don’t forget about figure ground” or “if your colors are getting muddy go back to painting the simple planes”.  At these suggestions, it was a good time to step back, evaluate, and make adjustments.  Using large paint brushes helps me to keep the painting loose.  For me, painting is working back and forth, between values, coaxing the paint; being patient with the brush, making a considered stroke, remembering not to overwork the piece, to stop while the strokes are still fresh.

Breaking up the poses and sessions was such an unusual way to paint, but judging from the class’ results, it worked.  And the limited palette helped to unify the piece.  At the end of the day I was tired; it was a lot of work, but it felt really great to get back to the paint.

Cabrillo College extension is offering  SpringArts 2014, weekend workshops.

Found Art Project Proposal

Often it is a single object that launches a project. It may not turn out to be the focal point. It may not even end up in the finished project, but the shape, material, mood, or memory that it stirs, will set the tone of the piece. It is such with the piece this proposal covers.

Figure 1

Figure 1

The basic simplicity of the shape and the rust patina is what initially caught my eye, figure 1. These two elements will be the base of the piece, creating a simple aesthetic.

Adding like objects will reinforce the shape and patina, and help to creates unity, figure 2.

In Buddhism, the circle symbolizes enlightenment and wholeness. Looking at the objects, a mandala comes to mind. The mandala represents the universe or the self. The rust patina of the objects suggests aging. My proposal is to create a mandala representing my life as I head into old age, the natural cycle of life.

Figure 2

Figure 2

The Buddhist concept of the void fits in with the negative space in the metal frame. The gears are representative of the infinite time spectrum, time marches on. The circular shapes echo the cycle of life.

One style of mandalas consists of rings, the ‘charnel grounds’, representing dying; a reminder of the impermanence and transient nature of life. Within the rings lies the mandala palace, populated by deities and Buddhas. While not adhering to the classic mandala, I will endeavor towards these ideals.

The difficulty I foresee will be the weight of the objects. The metal frame and the gears are very heavy. I would like to make a hanging piece but the weight of the objects may be too great. Alternatively a standing piece may be a possibility.

Figure 3

Figure 3

Another challenge will be assembling the pieces. As we are dealing with metal, welding comes to mind. But the wonderful rust patina may be damaged.

There is the possibility of wire or chain to place the objects. These avenues of attachment will need to be explored.