Saturday, May 20, 2017

Getting Outside

11 x 14 oil on board

Now that Oregonians can safely venture out of their winter shelters, hope for occasional sun, and look through the drawers for the misplaced sunscreen, I find myself hankering to get outdoors more often and to paint outside, too.  The above is from a trip to Hood River, a family hike, and while I didn't have time to paint while I was there, I hurried home and went to work on a pseudo plein air, working with reference and memory to try to paint like I would have had I had my pack with me.  I have found that there is a big gap between the sort of work I do in the studio and what I do in plein air, and though all the reasons for the difference aren't clear, it may boil down to just needing more practice, getting past the clumsy stage of hesitation and lack of focus. 

Hood River From the East Hills
20 x 20 oil on canvas

It's hard not to envy those who live in Hood River for their close proximity to stunning beauty; the Columbia River Gorge lifts up my soul every time I drive through it, my eyes busy soaking it in, my mind trying to imagine ways to stop and find a motif.  This is definitely the year for me to get out there more often.  Our newly-forming plein air group (LOPAS?  Lake Oswego Plein Air Society?  We are working on a name, but belonging to a "Society" has a nice ring to it) may want to plan some day trips to the Gorge.

Below is a snapshot of Randall Tipton and Burt Jarvis painting along the banks of the Oswego canal in Bryant Woods yesterday.  This is a spot I'd like to have another go at.  And it's always fun to have such excellent company on these outdoors endeavors.

12 x 12 oil on board

The above was an experiment on my part to break free just a bit from my constraints and try something that is bold for me.  But it left me feeling underwhelmed.

I still can't let a week go by without returning to work on portraiture, and I still have thousands of heads to go before reaching the goal I set for myself.  Not being a full time artist, it seems harder to fit in all the studies and sketches and drawing practice and work on large pieces, all the valuable work that coagulates into progress over time.  Drawing, especially with charcoal, remains an interest.  As does working from life.  But without available models to sketch on the spur of the moment when I happen to find time, I turn to the mirror for my most willing subject.  This time, tiring of the poor lighting in my studio where I have tried setting up a mirror on my table, I instead moved up to a bathroom with good light, and set up my field tripod with the Joshua Been panel holder.  

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Batting Practice

Pool in Oswego Creek 16x20

Sometimes when things just aren't flowing, you have to keep showing up for batting practice, keep the arms swinging, even through the misses.  I can feel discouraged when I can't achieve the same results I have recently painted, but I have to have faith that I haven't taken a hit to the head and forgotten everything I have learned; it's all in there somewhere, I just need to tap back into it.  Like the baseball player in my analogy, I have to step back into that batting cage and face the humiliation of the swing and the miss.  Not every step will be a step forward.  It should be, but it isn't.  In the above painting, I was drawn to the way the light brought out a different quality in the color of the water as the pool deepened, and as the sun reflected off that spot, but the painting reveals a disconnect between the colors that makes it feel disjointed.  Or maybe it's the composition that is too jumbled.  There is something to be explored in the dark warm greys of the stones, purplish against the greens.

I want to explore the nuance in the temperature of colors of the face, even while continuing to work on finding resemblance.  It is exasperating to get so close to laying in the various elements and still miss the essence of the individual, the soul that great portrait painters can capture, making their paintings even more alive and truthful that the living model themselves.  

On a side note, I am giving away a few of the bumper stickers I have ordered, below:

Saturday, May 6, 2017

What To Do When The Muse Won't Come?

For some reason it has been impossible for me to paint for the past few weeks.  Other demands on my time and on my mind have impeded, leaving little energy for art.  And when I do try to squeeze in an hour here and there, I find a lack of focus leads me down dead ends, failed starts, wiped canvases.  Painting without a clear vision or emotional intent seems to lead to nothing.  Occassionally I can do a quick portrait sketch, like the one above of William Faulkner, and it seems to help remind me that getting to a fair resemblance is still possible.  But these are dashed-off paintings, often done in spurts of five minutes at a time, between sets of lifting weights in my adjoining workout room, trying to multitask and fit in all the things at which I want to spend more time.  These quick sketches are a kind of workout, too, trying to keep the muscles flexible, the mind and hand connected.

Another sketch, done at around the same time, probably from the same paint on the palette, of Virginia Wolf.  I know one of the biggest pitfalls of writing is the dreadful writer's block, but that seems much more overwhelming than when the muse deserts the painter.  At least a painter can make studies and sketches or even prepare boards and canvases for later work, having something to show for the hours of effort; the writer, on the other hand, has nothing if it can't be put in print.  

Below is a painting I began with some hope, but I only got halfway into it before stalling, and now I'm not sure I believe in it any longer.  I'm willing to accept these aborted efforts if I can at least occassionally come through with something that carries my original intent.  But a long string of these things can be discouraging.

On a side note, one thing that is encouraging is that I have seen my 18 year old son take up an interest in drawing.  He hasn't expressed much interest before now, but he has obviously been harboring a bit of talent inside and I only hope he can carry on through his life holding on to the impulse to create from time to time.  Below is a drawing he recently gave me.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Why Do I Find Water So Fascinating?

12x24 oil on canvas

I don't know why it is that I find water so compelling to paint.  In real life, I am not a water person, don't care much for swimming or water sports, though I do canoe and used to raft white water.  I prefer having my feet on sold ground.  But water plays so wonderfully with light, and it is one of those elements that is constantly changing.  There is much to be learned from water, as an artist, as a human being - water seeks its own level, it is capable of change from liquid to solid or gas, all within a normal range of temperature, unlike rock, which takes a huge amount of heat to melt.  And we can't live more than a few days without water.  Our bodies are composed of 95% water, or something like that.  Buddhist philosophy is filled with references to water.  I guess it makes no sense to wonder why I am compelled to paint water.  I'll just do it.

I was satisfied in the above painting to finally paint those rocks under water in a way that seems realistic.  I have always admired those painters who do it, and I've shied away from it because it seemed so impossible.  Somehow I found that it isn't.

8x10 oil on board

This smaller one is something I have played with for a day or two, wondering if there is anything there.  It is from a recent walk along a creek, and the contrast of the flowering tree and the green of the water struck me.  I regret my muddling of the paint, but I was really trying to see if there was something in the combination that would warrant another attempt with care.  In the end, I really keep returning to the thought that this is an image that would be better served by my friend, Randall Tipton, who I can imagine doing wonders with it.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Working Through

Up Oswego Creek

I've had trouble finding time to paint the past few weeks, and yet when I do find an hour here or there, I don't work through to a completed painting, leaving it instead at a sketchy finish.  I realize now that this may be my next big challenge.  I've worked under the assumption that I just need to keep pushing along, learning to get things down quickly, and it has indeed become easier to achieve likeness and a semblance of what I am after with less effort and less frequent failure.  But I am also coming to recognize that what I end up with is really just a block-in still in need of hours of work.  The above is an example of this: the overall tone and feeling is what I was aiming at, but the finish - especially on the boulders, which seem fuzzy and unconvincing - needs a lot more work.  There is something in my nature that resists returning again and again to the same painting to push past this stage, and I feel the need now to find a way to overcome that resistance, whether it is merely laziness on my part, or fear of failure, or something else.

A part of me, the lazy part no doubt, wants to believe that the "slam, bam, thank you ma'am" approach will simply lead to my own personal style, that there is no need to knuckle down and do the harder work of sharper focus.  It is tempting to believe that, because it means I can keep doing what I want without having to disapprove of my own efforts.  But the other, more responsible part of me insists that if I want to create something that is truly in line with the vision I have originally, if I really want to share the emotion that provokes me to want to paint something in the first place, then I have to learn to be more deliberate.  I guess we will see what side of my mind wins out in the end.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Late Winter Light

Oswego Creek Falls
I was struck by the milky, almost glacial green of the pool compared to the warm greens of the mossy rocks.  And while these aren't really a falls, I'm not sure what it is called; the water is released from the lake and flows down to form the beginning of the creek, but at most times during the year there is very little flow.  This was following some heavy rains that produced a nice stream.

The temperature of the light is beginning to change slightly, and the promise of spring is in the air.  Though snowflakes still occasionally fall, the daffodils are poking their heads up from the ground and winter is slowly releasing its grip on our spirits.

One more portrait sketch.  Sometimes using oil paint on the thirsty paper of my sketchbook produces a result that is acceptable, though if I had the patience and foresight, I still think it is easier to paint on the paper if I give it a coat of gesso first.  The above is on the raw paper.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Three Faces

Sometimes when I am feeling a lack of inspiration, I find I have to drag myself down to the studio and get out my toolbox, hammer out a few portrait sketches to keep working on the basic skills.  Resemblance is coming easier, even if the paintings themselves feel a little rough around the edges, and I keep moving forward, hoping one day a style will emerge from the motions of the brush while my mind is focused on the drawing or on the color.  Despite imperfections in placement of the eyes or relative size or fineness of line, when I see the personality emerge, the mood of the subject, I call it a success and move on.  These three sketches are my way of moving forward, like going to the gym even when the joints are aching for a break.

Working on old 1/4" plywood scraps left over from woodworking projects (notice the line of the dent in the wood across the nose).  I kind of liked the haunted quality of this guy, hooked on his bad habit, troubled by a lot more in his life.

And this, also looking a little gaunt and troubled, is from an old photo of Herman Hesse.  I recall reading all his work when I was young, eating it up as fast as I could find the next book, and maybe I should go back and try one of his classics to see how I feel about them at this late stage in my life.  

If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself. What isn't part of ourselves doesn't disturb us.

Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom. One can find it, live it, be fortified by it, do wonders through it, but one cannot communicate and teach it.

Some of us think holding on makes us strong; but sometimes it is letting go.

The above quotes from Hesse seem the slightest bit provocative, but maybe not as deep as they might seem to a 20-year-old.  I recall that age of discovery, where everything was new and exciting and it was all brought in and accepted at face value.  Age has a way of tempering that excitement, which can be good or bad, I guess (who wants to be so jaded that nothing is interesting anymore?)