tropcity-sourcefoto.jpg

Looking through my photographs of Jeff from our 2009 photo shoot in my apartment in Waikiki, I came across the above image. At first glance it doesn’t seem like much. I mean, as a photograph it’s not great. But as I was looking at it I started to see it as a painting. This happens sometimes. Some element or combination of elements will strike me in a way they haven’t before. In this case I started to see the image as a stylized painting, with a much simpler central figure, and I loved the way the bird of paradise fronds fanned out behind it. I also liked the tropical urban setting. I thought, this could be fun. So I began sketching.

tropicalcity-rufsketch.jpg

The sketching went surprisingly quickly. It only took 4 or 5 sketches to get to the final working sketch shown here. I scanned this sketch and used my digital projector to project it onto a medium-sized canvas (about 20″x27″) so I could trace the major shapes in pencil. Then I did finishing work on the pencil sketch before putting a purplish wash over the entire canvas. Once that wash dried, I used a fairly small brush to paint in all the outlines with black paint.

tropcity-inprog1.jpg

Now here’s where I diverged from my usual practice. I always spend about 45 minutes mixing colors for a painting before i actually start painting. I like to get it all over with before I start painting. But that’s not necessarily the smartest way to do it. Usually it means that once I actually start applying the paint to the canvas, some colors that looked good on the palette just don’t work in the painting. Then I have to mix new colors that do work, and lots of already-mixed paint doesn’t get used.


This is just a longtime habit, and I don’t even think about it, because I am such a creature of habit. Nevertheless, this time I decided to try something different. I began by mixing the greens (some yellow-green, some blue-green, because I’ve found the cool and warm greens vibrate nicely next to each other). Then, instead of continuing by mixing flesh tones, background colors, sky, floor, etc., I stopped myself and actually began painting. I was surprised how hard it was to actually do that. I had to kind of wrench myself out of my habit-rut and just start painting even though it felt “wrong.” I painted in some of the upper bird of paradise fronds near the top of the painting. Once I’d done that, I started mixing up some fleshtones. Not your typical fleshtones, perhaps; I chose burnt sienna and burnt umber for the darks, without even mixing anything with them (I’m going for pure colors as much as possible these days; the less mixing I have to do the better), and an orange mix for the medium lights on the body. (I mixed the orange from cadmium red light and cadmium yellow, although you can use a cadmium orange for that, if you have it—then I greyed the orange a bit with a tiny bit of ultramarine blue.)


This continued to be a divergence from my usual tactics. Rather than trying to mix all the fleshtones before applying them to the canvas, I went ahead and started applying the browns and orange I had to see how they worked. They seemed to be working pretty well but I found I had to create a brighter orange and a duller orange to really make the body pop. As I worked I found I needed an even lighter orange (actually just cadmium-red medium and white) for the lightest areas of the reflected light on the body. For the hottest light from the sun hitting the right side of the face and upper body I used both a yellowish-white (cadmium yellow and yellow oxide) and an orangeish-white.

tropcity-inprog2.jpg

By now I had enough color on the canvas that I could mix a color for the low wall behind the figure. I kept the basic pink from the photograph but tweaked it a bit so it went well with the colors around it. It’s basically alizarin crimson with yellow oxide and ultramarine blue. (This is a good basic trio for any dull, cool red—also great for lips, nipples and penises, by the way!) By this time I was eyeing the towel thinking, what shall I do with that? Almost immediately I thought, BLUE! This came from a part of my mind that had already been calculating the possibilities below the level of consciousness. I’ve been painting for long enough that sometimes my subconscious mind works things out for me and all I have to do is just try it and see if it works. So I mixed up an ultramarine blue with a bit of phthalo blue and some white and tried it out and it worked beautifully.


I really want to stress again what a departure this was for me. To not mix all the colors ahead of time in the (usually futile) hope that that would get it all out of the way and then I could just paint, was a big thing for me to let go of. But once I was actually doing it and I saw how much better it worked, it was a no-brainer! This is a lot like that other principle I often harp on in these blog entries (but don’t always do myself), the principle of working all over the painting. You can’t get a sense of what’s working and what’s not working until you actually try stuff. Yes, some of it may be wrong, but when you have lots of pieces in place you can get a much better sense of whether or not they’re all going to work together.


This also reminds me of the illustrative factoid I’ve often heard in motivational seminars: the fact that an airliner flying from LA to Honolulu (or anywhere) is off course 95% of the time. The captain (or the autopilot) is constantly correcting. The plane drifts a bit off course, the pilot corrects. This happens over and over again. The point is, you have to do it wrong to get it right. Just as in painting, some of it will fall into place beautifully, and some of it won’t work at all and you’ll need to correct. But the irrational hope that everything will be perfect—and the fear that it won’t—is unfortunately what keeps many people from trying to paint (or do anything requiring courage) in the first place.

tropcityfinal-temp.jpg

The final painting, 'Tropical City.' (Click on image to see it on my website.)

Here’s the final painting: “Tropical City.” Notice some of the final touches—I used the same basic purple for the pots and the city skyline. Also made the sky a brighter, more intense yellow. Why is it that yellow skies almost always work so well?? I’m very pleased with this painting and even more pleased that I was able to disrupt my habitual approach to painting and get a lot more effective. Never stop learning!

Comments
  1. cyril georget says:

    What a great technique mixed with philosophy! thank you. Cyril

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s