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?)

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Warm Sunshine Combats Studio Inspiration

Escaping the punishing rains, I was able to pass a warm and sunny week on the big island, but upon return, I find little interest in time at the easel.  The above is a go at a view on the north side of the island, near Hawi, but I find it really doesn't capture the truth of the colors or the clarity of the view.  The real beauty there is so rich and colorful and tropical, unlike my normal surroundings.  I guess it should be normal to hit these low spots, where inspiration is hard to come by, where there are so many excuses for not painting, but I hope it doesn't last long.  I enjoy the challenge, and the effort to learn and improve; no matter how slowly it comes, it still provides a reason to keep plugging away.

I recently noticed a home back on the market, something I designed and built a dozen years ago, and it is nice to see that it is holding up well, still looks good.  I was tempted briefly to consider going back to building, but then I remembered how much work it is, and I thought better of it.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

River and Ice

Morning on the Willamette 12"x24"

Though surrounded as I am by Oregon's natural beauty in the form of lakes and mountains, trees and leaves and skies, I find that I return again and again to the same spot to study the different effects of light on different days, different weather conditions, different times of the day.  Light on water especially intrigues me, and one could spend a lifetime trying without ever capturing it completely.  The water is moving, the light dancing, and how can one imitate that?  And yet I am finding it easier to quickly capture a bit of the feeling of it, crudely; my focus is not on the delicacy of brushstrokes, but on the importance of value and temperature and overall effect, and at the end of an hour or so I step back and a part of me wishes I had been more careful and deliberate and another part of me (the framer, perhaps, wanting to pound some boards together and get this house built!) is satisfied that something got done.  Maybe after another few years of this there will emerge something out of this sloppy rush that will be a personal style, though I confess I haven't given a lot of thought about that so far.  Maybe I should?  It's hard for me to worry much about reputation when I don't yet have the oh-so-many necessary skills I'm trying to pull together.

Iron Mountain Trail 11"x14"

After seeing the wonderful work Randall Tipton is able to do working on Yupo, I decided to give it another try.  I thought it might work well with the bright light of our recent snowfall, and it does seem to allow for a glow to come through areas that are scraped clean of paint or thinly washed.  For the most part I just left the Yupo uncovered to represent the sunlit snow, like a watercolorist would leave the white paper.  I still struggle with getting an even coverage, as it seems to give up its hold on the paint where I go back over it to layer something.  I find that I need to let it dry if I want to build up anything, and then of course it is too late to take advantage of its slick workability and luminosity.  

Monday, January 16, 2017

Practicing the Figurative

After being snow-bound for several days, I decided to try a quick run on a number of studies of faces and people in the landscape, using old photos as reference.  This old Salt above had a haunted look in his eyes, and an odd disconnect between hair color and beard color.  Once the oil dries I need to go back in and work on the beard some more, but the blue was getting into the white in a way I didn't like, so I will wait.  I hope that readers of this blog understand that I post photos of work that is not yet quite finished; that may not be the proper etiquette, but I tend to paint in a flurry, take a snapshot, and then think about correcting small things in the paintings over the next few days.  But when I push myself to post something, I just grab whichever photos are at hand.  My purpose in posting is to share my efforts as I push myself to produce and practice.  Maybe one day I'll post only things I think are worthy of sales, but I haven't arrived there yet.

There is something about the people in the mid 19th century, something more honest and direct in their actions at work that makes them more interesting to me for painting.  Maybe it's that in our time people pose more than then (though the rigid poses for formal portraits gives the lie to that argument.)  Maybe it's that they remind me of people in impressionist paintings I like.  Whatever the reason, I find it more fun to paint them, even though the colors have to be invented.

All these were done in a few hours at the easel whipping them out, not going for paintings to hang, but for practice at working with the face and form in the field, as it were.  The next one was a small color study because I thought it might make for a larger painting, but I am unconvinced at this point.

There is something definitely romantic about that era of hay-gathering.  I grew up around haying every summer of my youth, but it was done with machines spitting out bales.  My grandparents had not long before then left behind the horse-drawn wagon with the hay forked onto it by hand, and there are old photos of them standing proudly by their loaded wagons, but it was nothing I ever saw first hand.  

And then at last, here is what it really looks like outside right now.  I've been working on a couple of snow scenes, but I'm not pleased with the results.