“The visible brushstrokes had a dual purpose. In one sense, they suggest the movement of the landscape, giving extra body to clouds and land, and indicating rain or the texture of thick grass. Secondly, they make the viewer think of the artist. … Each stroke represents a decision, a judgement, indicating something the artist has seen … The brush marks are analogues for a thought process”
My decision to make a brushmark is sometimes careful and considered, sometimes instinctive and impulsive. The one may lead to the other: pent-up energy overrides precision and my brush goes wild, or the desire for some order from chaos makes me slow down to find and refine aspects.
Using a paint marker pen or splattering, adds another set of marks sitting alongside, on top of, and underneath brushed paint. For me it’s trying to capture in paint how a bit of landscape changes with the light, tide and seasons, never static and more than what you see at a glance.
“Working on paper is an energising process. Sometimes with canvases, when they’re not going where you want them to go, it can weigh you down. Making a change to a canvas can feel like an extreme or bold move.
… by first experimenting on the works on paper, you are practising your boldness for when you move to canvas. You take more chances because you feel like it isn’t the end of the world if they go wrong.”
Another thing about a painting on canvas is that you can’t crop off a bit unless you take it off the stretchers. You’re stuck with the proportions and size of the canvas you picked. If it’s a painting card or paper all you need is a pair of scissors or a blade and ruler.
A year or so ago the in-house art critic bought me the safety ruler shown in the photo below so I can crop paintings and not my finger tips.
“A painting with a clear dominance among design elements keeps equals from competing. … the ones most important for creative an effective sense of mood, and therefore a successful plein air painting, include value, temperature, and chroma.
” … you might choose one value [tone] to dominate. If your scene depicts a sunny day, the light values should occupy more real estate in the painting than the others. You might choose to group both your lights and mid-lights … and let them occupy much more than 50% of the painting.”
If not tone, then maybe dominance in colour temperature? But living in a part of the world where the sun if often behind cloud, and thus everything is in ‘soft light’ rather than in sunshine and casting strong shadows, muting the contrasts, colour temperature isn’t something I think about much.
If not tone or colour temperature, what about dominance in chroma, the intensity of colour? Juicy, bright, intense blues and oranges and yellows and purples as flowered in my garden this year. But also the opposite, the muted but varied browns and greys that come from mixing blue and orange to give me seashore colours. As Michael CJ says a few pages on from the above quote: “For impact, either rich or dull color must dominate. Equal amounts of rich and dull colour will confuse the painting’s mood.”
There’s a lot to be explored in the tertiary part of colour space, once you get past neutral greys into “interesting greys“.
‘…being a maker, I often have projects that don’t work out. I used to feel guilty about those projects, like somehow I was a quitter or I lacked grit or I was taking the easy way out. However, as I began to interview painters and engineers and filmmakers and architects and entrepreneurs, I found that this was a universal part of the creative experience. To be productive, you have to be good at quitting. You need to know when a project isn’t working and cut it loose. I’ve come to realize that every maker has a cutting room floor with a ton of work that didn’t make the “final cut.” We iterate and revise and put things on hold. And that’s okay. It’s part of the creative journey.’
If a painting isn’t working, and refuses to go anywhere satisfactory no matter how hard or long you try, then give up on it. For today, for tomorrow, for next month, year, and maybe forever. One unsuccessful painting doesn’t make you a failure. Nor do ten, nor a hundred. There are many reasons a painting doesn’t work out, but your being a failed creative isn’t one of them. Maybe you’re simply irritated and distracted because you can’t find a favourite brush?
One of my favourite techniques — drawing with ink — has a greater chance of failure than success because it’s impossible to undo. I can overpaint it, I can crop the offending part off, I can add more ink to hide it in darkness, but I can’t rub it out like I could pencil. Yet it’s this very property that makes it exciting. I know not to try it on location unless I have several sheets of paper with me, so I can try again and again. Back in my studio I sort them into what’s worked (if any), what might become something, and the that’s-probably-never-going-to-go-anywhere-but-I-won’t-tear-it-up-just-yet heap. Most will be in the latter, but without these I wouldn’t have done the others.
“An esthetic warning: always think twice before using white. It can give your pictures a chalky look. If you want to lighten a color, sometimes try using another color instead of white. If you want your pictures to have brilliance, think in terms of more color, not lighter color.
I think the default setting ought to be “as often as possible” try something other than white, not “sometimes”.
Also a combination of something else and a little white rather than only white.
Not forgetting that if you’re painting on a white ground with acrylics or oils this can be used with a thin application of a transparent colour to ‘lighten’ the colour as you’d do with watercolour and paper. Or if the whole canvas is covered, you can paint an area white and then glaze over the top with a transparent colour.
And remembering that when a subject is white, it’s rarely “tube white” all over. Not even daisies.
“It is only the amateur who expects success. It is not possible to succeed. The mastery of one’s means is technique, and this can be attained, but the exhaustive expression of the inexhaustible suggestion of nature can never be attained.
“Yet we may form a sort of grammar of standards by which we may judge the coherency with which the language of art is spoken. I know no other way of judging a picture than by three rules or qualities–the originality of the conception based on the possibilities of that subject, the sense of beauty, the technical achievement.”
“Thinking you have no talent can be a self-fufilling prophecy. …
A positive attitude accelerates your development as a creative artist. … Emphasize the joy of creating, rather than the achievement of results. … Skills build confidence, so work to improve your drawing and refine your painting techniques …
While you’re working, notice the good things you’ve done — don’t dwell on mistakes. Set achievable goals: a confident line, effective use of values, interesting shapes.”
I know not to do it, yet I still do it on occasion. That back-and-forth motion with a pencil when drawing a line in the (mistaken) belief it’ll magically become a better line if I have numerous goes at it rather than putting it down in one swipe across the paper. I call it a “hedge-your-bets line”, where making a decision about what will be the “right” line feels impossible, so you create a variety of possibilities.
Saying you ought to draw a confident or decisive line when you lack confidence in your drawing doesn’t help. What if instead we go with “pick a line, any line, and draw in in one go from a starting point to an end point and then see what it turns out like”. Any line progresses a drawing. It may not end up as you’d envisaged but it may equally end up beyond what you’d thought you could do.
Drawing with pencil invites indecisiveness because you can reach for an eraser after any and every line. Drawing with pen has the advantage that you have to keep going, responding to what you’ve put down on the paper whether you like it or not. Drawing with watersoluble ink or watercolour pencils might be the comfort zone you’re looking for because you can ‘dissolve’ lines with a brush afterwards.
“I paint from remembered landscapes that I carry with me—and remembered feelings of them, which of course become transformed. I could certainly never mirror nature. I would like more to paint what it leaves me with.”
Joan Mitchell, letter written in 1958 (in John I.H. Baur, Nature in Abstraction: The Relation of Abstract Painting and Sculpture to Nature in Twentieth-Century American Art, via David Zimmer)
Remembered from a single occasion. Remembered from multiple occasions. Remembered from visits years apart and remembered from frequent visits. Remembered by telling someone else. Remembered through listening to someone else’s remembering.
The layers of memory as layers in a painting. Each memory in a different medium? A different type of mark?
“…there are three qualities you need to develop as a painter: patience, persistence, and passion.
“Since painting is a complex process, you need to be patient with yourself as you learn to master the craft. Your persistence is important, in order to move past your failures and frustrations. And finally, it is your passion…that propels you forward.”
The Three P’s of Painting: Patience, Persistence, Passion
Passion, enthuasiasm, desire … perhaps the easiest to have in abundance.
Persistence, endurance, determination … it’s a long-distance event not a sprint. Pace yourself.
Patience … the hardest as we expect to learn in less time than is reaistic. Think about how many years it took you to learn to read and write, how we start one letter at a time not with five-syllable words such as phthalocyanine (aka phthalo, as in the blue).
“… if in the process of doing [creative exercises] you don’t make at least one thing that you’re too embarrassed to show anyone, then you’re probably doing it wrong. As hard as it can be, the goal is to let go and let things flow. You’re likely to make some genuinely bad stuff along the way, but I’d wager that the benefits will end up outweighing all that.”