Posts Tagged ‘abstract painting’

Paintingblind header

June 9, 2014

CONTENTS


• BACK IN THE STUDIO
• INSPIRED BY FITZ HERRERA
• THE PERFECT STUDIO SETUP
• PAINTING BLIND
• LETTING THE PAINTINGS SPEAK
• FLYING STARTS WITH JUMPING OFF THE EDGE

(Note: the above titles are clickable)


BACK IN THE STUDIO


I got back to Nebraska from Puerto Vallarta in late March, and after having been gone for almost the whole winter, I was really happy to get back into my studio for some extended painting time. With painting, it takes a couple of weeks to get back into the groove when you’ve been away. And if I want to really grow and develop and make some breakthroughs, I need a period of not just weeks, but months where I’m painting almost every day. That’s when the magic really starts to happen.

I got back from Mexico on March 19th, and by the beginning of April I was getting back into full swing. With, of all things, ABSTRACTS!


INSPIRED BY FITZ HERRERA


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Green Green by Fitz Herrera.

In the past I often painted abstracts as a way to get warmed up before I dive into “the real stuff”—the male figure. But over the past few years abstracts and landscapes have begun to assume greater importance for me. Now abstracts and landscapes are “the real stuff” for me, too. When I got back from Mexico, I found myself getting captivated all over again by the abstract paintings of a guy from the Philippines named Fitz Herrera. I discovered his art online a couple of years ago and went crazy for it. For some reason the shapes he uses, the colors he chooses, his compositions, and especially the way he uses paint, all really speak to me. He’s one of those painters whose work I look at and go, “I want to be able to do that!” That’s what I call inspiration. And that’s the kind of excitement that has always pushed me to new breakthroughs in my abilities as an artist.


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Brown Nation by Fitz Herrera.

So I printed out some Fitz Herrera paintings I’d found online and tacked them up next to my easel and started painting.


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Brown Nation by Fitz Herrera.

I didn’t quite know what I was doing at first, but of course that was perfect…I was going to have to explore and find new ways of doing things, which is always the challenge with painting, or anything where you want to stay excited and exciting.

So I spent several days in the studio, painting abstracts that didn’t work out. I kept trying to find my way into his style. I noticed I really liked the shapes he used, and I sat down and drew a bunch of them with pencil to familiarize myself with them. These were ovals, U shapes, and long skinny triangles, among other things.

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Hidden Treasures, the first successful abstract I did after getting back from Mexico. I was starting to use some of Fitz Herrera's shapes, and I like the painting a lot, but it was still kind of contained and 'safe'----I wanted more sloppy, drippy, explosive things happening.

I also worked at using sloppier, wetter paint mixtures so I could get more spatters and drips, because that’s one of the things I love about his paintings, too. It’s like he’s showing us the process of the painting as part of the painting. Plus it’s wet and luscious and sensual, and I find it sexy and exciting.

I noticed, too, that there are layers and layers going on in his work. I realized I would have to change my approach somewhat. I usually like to work fast and finish a painting as quickly as I can, before I lose momentum. I saw that in order to get these layered effects, I would have to allow time for one layer to dry completely before I could go in and paint another layer on top of that.


THE PERFECT STUDIO SETUP


But I had a perfect solution for that issue: I would keep several paintings going simultaneously, so that there would always be a painting that was dry enough to move on to when the others were still wet.

And my studio setup (which you can read about here) was perfect for that. Some part of me sensed, as much as a year previously, that I would be working more and more in this way, and would be needing a space with several easels so that I could move from painting to painting as I worked.

So I had the perfect setup, and I continued working to see if I could find the magic I saw in Fitz Herrera’s paintings.

Then, after a few days of this, I started to break through. One of the hardest things for me was to get in the habit of using really wet, sloppy paint, and just letting it drip and run. I’ve done this occasionally in previous work but never stuck with it. This time I did. I started to get used to it—and I loved it. I loved the freedom of it, and the fact that I was letting go of control and still getting what I wanted.

The other thing, and the really big breakthrough here, also had to do with letting go of control: I started PAINTING BLIND.


PAINTING BLIND


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My first 'Painting Blind' abstract, and the first time I really started to feel I was getting the magic I saw in Fitz Herrera's paintings. It's called 80-Foot Drop because making it happen really was like jumping off a cliff.

I was painting in the way I always paint, which is: I stand back from the painting, look for an area that doesn’t work yet, and ask myself, what does this area need? Lighter, darker, warmer, cooler—a big broad stroke, a long narrow stroke, a little spot of color—what? When I think I know, I load the brush with paint, move in and lay down a stroke, or two or three or more, where I think it’s needed. This is pretty much my approach whether I’m painting an abstract or a realistic figure. It’s always about asking myself what the painting needs next.

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My second successful experience 'painting blind': Martial Art.

Except this time it wasn’t working so well. I would look the painting over, see a problem area, decide what it needed, and add a stroke or two or three. And it kind of worked, but there was too much calculation going on. The strokes looked planned and boring. I thought, what can I do to introduce a bit less predictability here? And I thought, I’ll close my eyes.

Believe me when I tell you that was not easy to do. I’m a control freak, and I was going to paint with my eyes closed?? But I did it anyway…

I looked at the painting, decided it needed a bit of white in a certain area, then I loaded up my brush with white, and looked at the painting again, poised for action. When I had everything in mind and knew my intention, I CLOSED MY EYES AND ATTACKED.

After the first time I did that, I opened my eyes and went, WOW. It totally worked. I had just put down a series of brushstrokes that were exactly what the painting needed…and they had not come from conscious control, but from setting an intention, then letting go.

I didn’t do this all the time, just when the painting seemed to need it. But it worked almost every time.

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Four paintings that happened as I was starting to get into the swing of this new approach: Clockwise from upper left, Rolling the big Wheel, Lazy Susan, Surprise Garden, Little Lulu at the Circus.

I was not getting Fitz Herrera abstracts, but I didn’t really want to replicate his work anyway—I just wanted to see if I could get a bit of his magic. And I was finding my way into it.


LETTING THE PAINTINGS SPEAK


This continued for a couple of weeks and I experienced a whole new way of painting. Having several paintings going at once and letting some of them “rest” while I moved on to others is very different for me. But I found I’m able to see what each painting needs more easily that way than the usual way for me, which is where I focus totally on a single painting for the whole time I’m working on it. This new approach lets the paintings breathe a bit, and I end up allowing each painting to speak to me, rather than forcing it to tell me what it wants—if you know what I mean.

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A couple of horizontal abstracts from this period: top, Where the Flowers Were; bottom, Summer in My Mind.

The abstract paintings that resulted have gotten an enthusiastic response from my local audience here in Lincoln. The First Friday Art Walk which happens on the first Friday of each month, sends throngs of art appreciators into the hallways of Parrish Studios where my studio is located. This is a new experience for me, since I’ve been selling my art online for all these years and seldom interacting with collectors in person. The May 2, 2014 First Friday was the first time I’d ever done a showing of just abstract works, and it was a big success. People loved the new work and especially enjoyed finding out more about how it was painted.

The abstract paintings themselves have been a great reward, but an even bigger one is seeing how what I’ve learned with them has translated into my other work.


FLYING STARTS WITH JUMPING OFF THE EDGE

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Three monochrome nudes greatly influenced by what I learned doing abstracts: left, Asian Male Nude in Greyscale (model: Khanh); middle, Hiking with Manuel; right, Joyful Black Male Nude (model: Victor).

After about 10 days of painting abstracts in this new way, I decided to try some male nudes. I chose to paint monochrome (single-color) works so I could focus on the form and the way the paint is applied without having to concern myself with color. I produced 3 striking pieces, all of which benefited greatly from what I’d been learning with abstracts.

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Landscapes influenced by my latest breakthroughs: top, Windward Stormclouds; bottom, Ho'omaluhia Path.

Then I went back to abstracts for another three weeks before trying something else: landscapes. I did two landscapes in mid-May where I used the Painting Blind approach much of the time, and I was more than pleased with the results. With everything I’m painting these days, the abstracts, the male figures, the landscapes, I’m finding the same thing always applies: to grow and change and keep the work exciting, you’ve got to push the boundaries and take chances. You can’t fly without jumping off the edge.

I think it’s fitting to end this blog entry entitled PAINTING BLIND with a quote from Helen Keller:

“Life is a daring adventure or it is nothing at all.”

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January 31, 2013



When I got back from my Dominican Republic trip on December 12, it took me about a week to catch up on stuff—“stuff” meaning work that wasn’t drawing or painting. Then I was finally free to begin creating art again.

I’d been thinking about painting most of the time I was in the D.R., wishing I could do some. I was very impatient to get back into my studio and start splashing paint onto canvas.

I was so excited to start a painting…

…right up until the moment when it was time to actually GO INTO THE STUDIO AND START A PAINTING!

Then I found all these things I absolutely had to do first. Like making sure my art database was up to date. Rotating the art on my website. Looking at pix of naked guys online. Checking Facebook.

Anything but actually painting!

I always forget about this when I’m away and can’t paint. When I can’t, then I really want to do it. But when I CAN, I find all kinds of things to do instead.

I guess this is human nature, and painters are no exception. It’s always easier to do the less risky stuff.

Finally, though, you just get to the point where you know you have no choice. You have to paint. Doesn’t even matter what you paint. But you have to get started.

So that’s what I did. I began with some landscapes. Safe stuff. And I actually didn’t do too badly. Here’s one of the acrylic sketches I did of the beach in Las Terrenas.

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I followed that with a nice little painting of the road to Las Terrenas.

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Then I did a larger painting that was more of a commitment. “Sunset in Las Terrenas” was kind of a safe, conservative painting both in terms of style and subject matter, but it turned out well, and I felt like I was starting to get somewhere.

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This one's called Sunset in Las Terrenas.

So I decided to do a figure, and I chose a photograph of Manuel with a towel to work from. I had high hopes for this one—I drew it right on the canvas and the drawing had lots of good energy. Then I started painting and—it all went to hell. On the face of it it’s not that bad…I could have finished it and it would have been perfectly okay. But I was not aiming for “okay.” There was no energy, no excitement. For me, working on a painting under those conditions is a kind of torture. So I painted it out.

Failed manuel w towel 3up

This one didn't work out…

I was having trouble because I wasn’t clear what I was aiming for, I just knew it needed to be something exciting and daring. Hard to get somewhere when you don’t know where it is. I just knew where it WASN’T.

The problem—if you want to call it that—is that I spend a lot of time looking at art by other artists. (If you’re interested, you can see some of the art I find inspiring by checking out my boards on Pinterest, especially Art I Like, Abstracts and Bold Brushwork.) I see things that excite me and move me deeply, and I want that kind of energy, emotion and excitement in my work. And that’s great, because it gives me creative energy. But it’s not so great in that it doesn’t give me any direction. Or I should say it gives me TOO MANY directions. There are so many things I want to try, but when you get into the studio, you kind of have to just CHOOSE SOMETHING and begin. You do need to have some idea of what you want to do.

Except sometimes you don’t.

I was so full of energy and so unsure of what I wanted to do with it, I decided to just put up a blank canvas and start throwing paint at it. My goal was not to create a painting, but just to PAINT. I figured this was a good way to tackle the paralysis that was threatening to keep me from painting at all.

And it worked!

Here are some of the results (I didn’t save any of these, but I did take pictures to keep track of my progress).

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The first exercise. It sucked, but it didn't matter. In fact that was kind of the point.


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Exercise piece 2. I'm starting to have more fun here as I really realize it doesn't matter what I do.


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Exercise piece 3. I actually kind of liked this one. But not well enough to keep it. I didn't want to start getting attached to these while I was still using them to loosen up.


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Exercise piece 4. Each one got a little more energetic and interesting…I was startingto get more confident.

I thought the first one pretty much sucked, but reminded myself it didn’t matter. The point was not to make a great painting, but just to paint. So I did another one. And interesting things started to happen.

Just the act of mixing paint and then using my sponges to make big, bold strokes on the canvas was liberating and energizing. What was happening was, I was starting to get my confidence back. I did this sort of thing for a couple of days and I started to feel limbered up, so I decided to try another figure painting. Again, I chose a photograph of my newest model, Manuel.

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Here's a photograph of Manuel at Playa Escondida near Las Terrenas in the Dominican Republic. I decided to try doing a painting of this one.



This one went pretty well. The loosening-up process had really done what I needed it to do. It also helped that I painted this one pretty much entirely with sponges, which is a good way to keep myself from getting too careful. It also forces me to work large, which is good for me.

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Manuel at the Beach, in progress.


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Manuel at the Beach, the completed painting.

This one was kind of fun, although I felt I was still playing it a bit too safe. Doesn’t matter; it turned out well and I like it. At this point I just needed some successes to get my confidence back.

I followed this with some more abstract exercises. Again, I didn’t save these; they were exercises to get me in shape for the next painting.

IMG 5543 exercise

Another exercise piece. Looking at this one, several days after doing it, I almost wish I'd kept it. It's better than I realized at the time. Oh well, it served its purpose.



IMG 5544 exercise

I don't feel anything was lost by my having destroyed this one. But it did do what it was meant to do, which was to get me expressing myself with paint, without self-judgment.


And the next painting was another one of Manuel. This was a smaller work, nothing too earth-shattering, but a nice piece, solid, fairly loose, and I felt good about it. More confidence building, more of the day-to-day studio work you have to do to get good enough that you’re prepared when lightning does strike.

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The source photo and the painting, which I entitled Rainy Morning Study.

When I finished Rainy Morning Study, I went right back to my ‘exercises.’ And something happened that surprised me. One of my exercises turned into a real, solid abstract painting that I liked a lot. So I kept it! It’s called “Good Company.”

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This abstract painting is called Good Company.

Excited about the abstract I’d just done, I decided to try another one. This one, too, worked out. Although it wasn’t as spontaneous as Good Company, I like the energy of it. It’s called “Inside Job.” (Both those titles just popped into my head when I finished the paintings, thank goodness. Sometimes it’s a real challenge to come up with painting titles.)

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I titled this one Inside Job.

So after 3 weeks of warming up I feel like the creative juices are starting to flow again. I like the fact that I never know what will happen next, and while I’m not sure where this abstract stream in my work will go, I’m enjoying it, and I do know that it doesn’t matter that much WHAT I’m painting, as long as I AM painting.

While online recently, I discovered a gallery in New York which specializes in contemporary African art. A lot of it really spoke to me, in particular the work of a transplanted Ethiopian named Wosene Worke Kosrof. I saw in his work some of the visions I’ve had in my own head but never quite had a way to get out and onto canvas. Looking at his work has given me a lot of new ideas for expressing things I was previously unable to.

One of the major things that struck me about his work is its calligraphic nature. Yet it’s much more than just letter forms on canvas; it’s calligraphy that has a life of its own. If you google his name and check out his work I think you’ll see what I mean. Anyway, that aspect of his work gave me a key, a way into my own visions I hadn’t had before.


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The beginnning of the painting.


I did a lot of sketching and experimenting before beginning a painting using the new ideas I’d gotten from this African artist. I knew the painting itself would also still be very much an experiment, but then every really interesting painting is. I started by laying down a burnt-sienna-and-burnt-umber wash over the entire canvas. Then, with no real plan in mind, I began painting in some dark blocky shapes.

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Adding some interesting shapes and colors--still kind of at random.

I had in mind, more or less, the colors I wanted to use, and had already mixed them up, so I wasn’t operating totally by the seat of my pants. Still, as I added shapes I was operating pretty much on gut instinct. Of course every time I add a new element, it defines the painting more and narrows the options for what follows.

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The painting starts to define itself.

At this point, I began to add some calligraphy of my own design. I guess you could say I began inventing an alphabet. But it’s not really an alphabet, because the characters don’t correspond to any language or sound, they’re just shapes I like. Rather than putting characters together to signify some specific meaning, I’m putting characters next to each other without regard to meaning but with the intention of creating a visual pattern that’s interesting and provocative. It’s a design which happens to look like writing. And of course, that’s what I like about it!

At the same time as I was creating this pseudo-calligraphy, I was also adding interesting shapes. The most interesting was a horizontal bar filled with multicolored diamond shapes. It reminded me a bit of Australian aboriginal art, as well as African so-called ‘primitive’ art. It immediately became the most interesting thing about the painting so far, and so began to define the look and flavor of the work.

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As the painting progressed, I got more comfortable with the calligraphy, while at the same time still being willing to experiment quite a lot with both the calligraphy and the shapes. The horizontal lines made up of short bars which emerge from the right side of the central diamond bar remind me of ritual scarring (not planned, just something I tried, then realized it reminded me of something I hadn’t expected), and I liked that. I also created a rectangle shape (below and to the right of the diamond bar) with some sort of chevron shapes in it, in orange and red outlined by white, and that kind of reminded me a bit of the new South African flag. So lots of tribal, African associations were coming up as I continued letting the painting create itself.

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I continued adding shapes and calligraphy because I was having so much fun! This was the closest I have come in a long, long time—maybe ever—to putting on canvas the things I’ve seen in my imagination. So rather than forcing the painting to have a central focus, I decided to let it continue to grow organically. In my mind it was becoming something like an illuminated manuscript, where the purpose is not to create a single compelling image, but rather to offer a beautifully decorated written story meant to be read and savored.

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The final result! (Click on image to see this item on my website)

And in the final analysis, that’s kind of what this painting is: a manuscript, or cave painting, where there’s a story being told. I don’t pretend to know what the story is, but when I look at it, I feel it. I couldn’t tell you in words what the manuscript is saying, but I definitely get the meaning deep inside. I call the painting Entry because for me it’s a passageway, my first entry into a whole new language of self-expression.