Did I Choose Art or Did It Choose Me?

Big Little Drawing

First let me apologize for my complete lack of posting over the last few weeks. I became buried with unsolicited work (always a good thing) and there just weren’t enough hours in the day to slice out time for writing (or painting, for that matter). I’m not kidding about the project volume. I’m currently working on 2 mural painting for 2 separate children’s hospitals, 4 branding projects for 2 new clients, I’ve taken on a new private student, have begun my second term as a teaching artist for the Mariposa County Arts Council and School System, designed an elaborate tattoo for a local businessman and I’m putting the finishing touches on a new website for Sierra Art Trails. Whew! Anyway, enough with the apology and on with the post.

I recently came across a filing folder of my childhood artwork.  Unknown to me, my mother was saving much of what I created, as I was growing up and decided last year to pass the collection on to me. My mom and dad both turned 90 this year and my mom’s beginning to distribute these mementos among her five children. I never bothered to look through it, at the time, instead, just shoving it onto a shelf in the closet of my studio.

Looking for something else the other day, I noticed the folder and took a look inside. To my great surprise it contained a drawing pivotal in my life. A very early creation I had no idea my mother had procured and preserved. Right on top, quarter folded, was the drawing shown at the top of this post.

This was an early art assignment (maybe my first art assignment), given to a 5 year old me by my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Macnamara. The class was to draw something big and something small (as our teacher had written across the top of our blank sheets of manila paper, with a thick black crayon). I apparently decided to make animals my focus.

I’m sure I’d been to, what was then known as, the Griffith Park Zoo many times by then and experienced the elephants there, first hand: sizable beasts, when compared to a 5 year old looking up at them. So, when I thought of really big animals, elephants were an obvious choice.

I spent a lot of my 5 year old life playing outdoors with other kids in the neighborhood. In fact, I began kindergarten with my left arm in a cast to hold the broken bones still while they re-knit, an injury sustained through a bad fall, rough-housing with some of the older kids on the block. Anyway, I saw a lot of birds outside. So, under small I drew a bird. Seemed right to me!

When my teacher collected our drawings and reviewed them, she asked me if she could mat my drawing and put it up on the wall for the upcoming Open House. A little light went on in my head. Hmm, why me?

I got an answer to my question a few days later, when during the Open House, Mrs. Macnamara encouraged my parents and I over to the wall where my drawing was being displayed. She explained to my mom and dad why she selected my drawing to display. In addition to her liking the quality of this early effort (all smiles) I was the only student in the class to use comparative analysis in arriving at my solution. While everyone else in the class had drawn big and small version of the same object: a big sun and a small sun, a big house and a small house, etc., I chose to draw an item that was actually big in the real world with one that was truly small.

I felt myself swell with pride at the attention brought to this effort, early in my academic career and at that moment, then and there, decided what I wanted to do with the rest of my life!

 

 

 

 

The Dilemma Behind the Demonstration

Demo Abstract Image
Left: Painting at demo end, Right: Same painting after an hour alone with it the studio.

I demonstrated my approach to abstract painting for a local art group, Alliance of California Artists yesterday. I enjoy providing art demonstrations of any kind and find verbalizing the steps I take, teaches me a lot about myself and my dance with the canvas. It was a good, attentive group, they asked questions, when they had them and I did my best to answer, throughout the length of the session.

I believe in demos. It’s fascinating to see how other artists work and how they solve the same challenges we all face in every painting session, but are we truly witnessing how the demonstrating artist works. In the 2-3 hrs. usually available for a demo, it’s unlikely we’re getting anything but an abbreviated/abridged version of the artist’s approach. I know that’s true with my demos, anyway.

On average, it takes me 30-40 hrs. to complete a painting. So when I’m demonstrating my process over 2 or 3 hrs. I have to strip a tremendous amount out my normal process, if I’m to give the audience even a hint of what my creation of a painting looks like. It’s a race, from start to finish, to accomplish all you can, before the ending buzzer sounds.

On top of that, anyone who’s read, Betty Edward’s, “Drawing On the Right Side of Your Brain,” knows you can’t communicate with an audience (a left brain function) and paint in the zone (a right brain function) at the same time. So, during a demo the individual demonstrating is jumping in and out of both left and right brain hemispheres. He or she never remains deep in the creative zone for any length of time during a demonstration, so normal problem solving is handicapped. They’re making quick, snap choices, rather than the slow introspective decisions arrived at alone in the studio.

I’ve tried a few thing to get around these time challenges, but I’m not sure they’re effective. I’ve shown up with my preliminary drawing already down on the canvas, but this takes away the opportunity for viewers to watch how I proceed through a drawing. I’ve even pre-finished multiple canvas at different stages of development, like your typical cooking show does. I’d begin a drawing before the eyes of the audience, then pull a canvas with the drawing already completed from under the table. I’d then start execution of my turp wash underpainting on this drawing, before revealing a canvas with a finished underpainting on it, leaving the lions share of the demonstration to be my blocking in color and detailing approaches. I’m not sure this is what the viewers had come to see.

I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s best to start with a blank canvas and perform the whole process, albeit a truncated version, before the eyes of the audience. I’m often disappointed in the product of the session, but I’ve given the viewers at least a glimpse into my overall approach to problem solving. And isn’t that why they invited me there in the first place?

Painting in the “Pink”

Pretty in Pink Image
“Pretty in Pink,” 30″ x 40,” oil on canvas, © 2017 Trowzers Akimbo

At Risk Image
“At Risk,” 36″ x 18,” oil on canvas, © 2017 Trowzers Akimbo.

After completing two abstract bird paintings (“At Risk” and “Modern Building Materials”) for the “Avian: Birds in a Changing World” exhibit (a show to benefit our local Audubon Society chapter and Sierra Art Trails), I began thinking about what I wanted to enter in the Yosemite Renaissance show this year.

Modern Building Materials Image
“Modern Building Materials,” 30″ x 40,” oil and collage on canvas, © 2017 Trowzers Akimbo.

For those unaware of this exhibit and competition, Yosemite Renaissance is an annual show held in the Yosemite Museum Gallery, in Yosemite Village, in Yosemite National Park. It takes place in February, encourages non-traditional approaches to artworks focused on Yosemite and the surrounding Sierra Nevadas and offers a stiff competition, with only a 7% — 8% acceptance rate. After leaving Yosemite the show travels to various venues around California for a year. I love it, when I get into this show!

Yosemite Falls from Sentinel Swinging Bridge Image
“Yosemite Falls from the Sentinel Swinging Bridge,” 30″ x 40,” © 2017 Trowzers Trowzers Akimbo.

I had one piece, an abstract view of “Yosemite Falls from the Sentinel Swinging Bridge,” which was an appropriate piece to enter, but I wanted to submit something brand new, fresh off the easel and into the competition for the show. Around this time, a mountain lion had been spotted in our neighborhood, encouraging me to take a baseball bat with me each night, as I traveled out to the far corners of our property to turn on security lights. I believe this got into my head, as I decided to take on a mountain lion in my next painting. I’m going to walk you through my steps in painting “Pretty in Pink” here.

Mt. Lion Sketch Image
My preliminary rough sketch.

I started this one with a rough sketch, done with a Wacom Tablet and stylus connected to my computer. The computer is a great preliminary visualization tool, allowing me to easily grab a section of my sketch, move it, resize it, rotate it, etc and try what ifs, by turning layers off and on. Doing the same thing on paper, would be difficult and much more time consuming. Living in the Sierras, I’m told mountain lions are often near by, when I hike or mountain bike into wooded areas. They’re just out of site. I recall this being portrayed well in Michael Mann’s film version of “The Last of the Mohicans,” as Hawkeye and his Native American adopted father and brother are guiding the British colonel’s two daughters to a fortress to join their father. The older daughter silently perceives a mountain lion under the foliage, just off the trail, watching them pass. I decided to portray this silent laying in wait, graphically.

Sketch on Canvas Image
My charcoal pencil/oil paint drawing on the canvas.

Often my sketch is just a rough concept, a starting point to be further developed on the canvas, but this sketch was spot on, so I started recreating it on my canvas, just as portrayed in the original sketch. Due to the complexity, it proved difficult to recreate accurately and I told myself next time I had a sketch this complex, I’d use a grid system to create the drawing on canvas. After a lot of adjustments, in charcoal pencil and oil paint, I finally had a drawing I was happy with on the canvas.

A few painting sessions and I had all the base

Mt. Lion 02 Image
Most of the base color blocked in.

color blocked in. If I think of a way I might want to vary the color, as I’m blocking in, I execute it right then. If it doesn’t work out, as I begin to refine the painting, I can always paint things over, but I rarely just lay in solid flat colors at this stage. Note how I’ve moved the cat’s muzzle down, as I blocked in the color. I continue to refine my drawing, as necessary, as the painting develops. With the base color in, my cat, background and foreground leaves are all pretty equal in importance. While my goal was to hide the puma, to a great degree, in its environment, I’m going to need to separate the lion a bit more from its environment.

Mt. Lion 03 Image
Adding patterns.

I added a hair pattern all over the mountain lion and different granite patterns to the rock surfaces. This adds a bit more complexity to the scene and, because patterns recede, is the first step in separating the mountain lion from the rest of the environment. Once the patterns dry, I’ll be able to use transparent glazing, as well as opaque painting to move planes forward or back and bring more importance to the cougar.

Mt. Lion 04 Image
Glazing, grass tufts detailing and leaf patterns.

With a lot of the glazing completed I’m happy with the level of separation between cat and environ and the way certain planes advance, while others recede. I’ve also done some detailing on the stylized tufts of grass here. With so much of the painting completed, I determine how I want to finalize the foreground leaves, deciding on a here and there line pattern, inspired by the veins present on oak leaves.

At this stage, all that’s left is to apply the pattern to the remaining leaves, add a few last bits of detailing here and there and somehow take the uniformity away from the violet glazing around the leaf on the right, above the lion’s rump. I decide that some loosely applied ochre paint is the answer here. All these final additions can be viewed in the finished painting at the top of this post.

I completed “Pink” just in time to make the Renaissance entry deadline and recently learned it has been accepted into this years show!

Painting from Photographs

Wawona Covered Bridge Image
Begun on location, I utilized both of these photos to finish my “Wawona Covered Bridge” painting in the studio.

I just ended my fall 10 week “Painting Tune-Up” workshops with a discussion about painting from photographs. It would be great to always paint from life, that remains my goal and should be yours, but there are always situations when working from a photograph is the best or even the only solution. With that in mind, I thought I’d discuss the pitfalls to watch out for and some techniques for getting the most out of working from photos.

Painting from photographs gets a bad rap. It’s always better to work from life (I’ll discuss why later in this post), but in certain situations a photograph is the only way to access a subject. Here are some situations when photography offers a solution:

• Painting postumous portraits
• Insufficient time to finish a painting on location
• Freezing quickly moving subjects in motion
• Locations offering no place to set up an easel
• Limited physical mobility
• Capturing a record of your subject, as insurance, for future emergency use
• Documentation of subjects you want to return to, when time allows
• Capturing intricate subject details for later reference
• Getting your painting on a computer for non-destructive experiments

Photographs can be a wonderful aid for artists, but they do present some inherent problems for which we need to compensate. A photograph is a technical recording of a live subject. It can’t capture the physical or emotional feeling presented by a subject or location that being there can.

A painting from life is a direct personal interpretation of all the 3 dimensional information presented by the subject. A photograph is a pre-flattened 2 dimensional recording of a 3 dimensional subject. It’s missing all the 3 dimensional information.

Even today’s latest cameras can only capture a subset of the full color and value spectrums present in a subject. The lighter areas in photos tend to be blown out (over-exposed) and the darker areas darker than the original subject (masking detail in the shadows).

Because a camera evenly records all attributes of the subject before it, painting exclusively from photographs can lead to over detailing, no distinction of detail in the focal area from the rest of the painting.

Cameras also inject their lens distortions into photographs, exaggerating foreshortening and distorting perspective towards the edges of the image. You need to be aware and compensate for these inaccuracies, when painting from photographs.

Bracketing Photo
Example of “Brackeing” your photographs with multiple exposures, © 2017 Blaize.

Here are a few good practices to overcome the problems and limitations in photography, discussed above.

  1. Begin your paintings from life, whenever possible, even when you know the majority of  work will be done in the studio from reference photographs.
  2. Shoot your reference photos a bit wider than the composition on your canvas. You’ll often find, during the painting process, that you want to bring elements along the edges further into frame.
  3. Bracket your reference shots. Bracketing is a term to describe the practice of taking multiple shots of your subject at different exposure settings, from slightly over-exposed, through correct exposure, to slightly under-exposed. Most cameras and smart phones today have a bracketing setting to automate this process.
  4. Examine your subject, through the camera’s viewfinder, for the following: details that require dedicated shots, light areas that will likely over-expose or wash out, dark areas that will under-expose, losing color and details. Compensate for these losses by making mental and physical color notes.
  5. Paint a color key thumbnail or add patches of the correct colors in unfinished areas of your painting, while on location.
  6. Avoid working from photographs shot by others. You have no relationship to the live subject in these.
  7. Paint from the photos you’ve taken A.S.A.P. while the actual location is still fresh in your memory.
  8. Simplify areas of unnecessary detail present in the photo
  9. Correct lens distortions present in the photos

We all must work from photos at one time or another. Remaining aware of photo limitations and compensating for their flaws assures a successful outcome in the painting from photographs process!

Rejection

Left to the Village Image
“Left to the Village,” by Trowzers Akimbo, rejected by the 2016 Yosemite Renaissance exhibit/competition

First, let me apologize for my lack of new posts over the last two weeks. I’d received two new commissions for mural paintings from two different children’s hospitals a few day apart from each other and they required me to create 4 designs in 16 days. This, along with the 3 workshops I’ve been teaching each week, made it impossible for me to put together new posts.

Anyway, now that I’m writing again I wanted to talk about rejection. It seems to be going around lately! I recently ran into an artist friend, at an opening, who told me her submission had been rejected from a recent exhibit/competition. This from one of the most sought after, financially successful artists I know.

Two days later, at a local art organization holiday party, two more artist friends presented their work, prefacing with the fact the pieces had been rejected by recent shows. This prompted me to ask all present (about 50 artists) to raise their hands if they’d ever been rejected from an exhibit or competition. Every hand in the place shot up!

These bold admissions illustrate an important point for all artists, beginning or well established, to remember. Rejection is just a part of being an artist and rarely has anything to do with the piece of art being rejected. Instead, it has everything to do with the judges making the selection: their personal tastes or bias, their education, life experience, relationships, mood, even what they had for breakfast and their drive to work that morning. Different judges or a different day, completely different result.

Vincent Van Gogh only sold a single painting, during his lifetime.They hated his stuff! The Impressionist proudly chose their art movement’s name from a “catty” art critic, rejecting their work in whole as simply impressions of paintings, in a newspaper review he’d written.

All artists, big and small, are faced with rejection of their work. It goes with the territory. It signifies nothing. Don’t let it discourage you!

How to Properly Hinge Artwork

 

Complete Hinges Photo

When I was a kid and I finished a piece of artwork I felt warranted a mat and frame, I cut the mat, grabbed my roll of masking tape and tapped the piece into the mat. When a dark stain began to appear, years later, where tape touched art, I suspected I was doing something wrong.

Since those early days, I’ve learned about pH acid levels in papers, mat and mounting boards and the proper way to mount an artwork. Hinging is used to properly attach original art to acid free mounting boards in a manner that does no harm to the artwork and provides a weak link, should the work ever be mishandled. The concept is that the hinge, not the artwork will tear from the mounting, if the artwork is abused.

Wheat Starch PhotoThe hinges should be made of Japanese paper (rice paper or mulberry paper). If you take your original art to a framer to be hinged, matted and framed and they want to use something other than Japanese paper for the hinges, find another framer. It’s that important! The hinges need to be attached to the artwork and mounting board using neutral pH Wheat Starch paste. Both the paper and wheat starch can be purchased at your art supply store. The wheat starch is turned into a paste, by adding distilled water and heating it in a double boiler or microwave oven (my preferred method). Instructions on accomplishing this are on the package. Wait until all your other materials are prepared and ready, before making the wheat starch paste or it can harden before you’re ready to apply it.

Wheat Starch Paste Photo
Wheat starch paste

You want to tear, not cut out, your hinges from the sheets of Japanese paper. Sharp, straight, uniform edges are more likely to telegraph through the artwork you’re hinging, than the organic, feathered torn edges will. The tearing and feathering is easily achieved. Wet a small, thin paint brush with water. Draw you tear line on the Japanese paper with the wet brush and pull the paper apart along the wet tear line.

Hinge Tear Photo

You’re going to create a “T” or cross, made up of two, overlapping strips of the Japanese paper for each hinge. A minimum of two hinges, across the top of your artwork, are necessary, but I like to add a third along one side of my art, for more stability, in case someone carries it sideways.

Hinges on Artwork Photo
Glue half of each hinge to the back of the artwork.

Apply 1/4″ of the wheat starch paste to one end of half of your paper strips. Allow the paste to dry a bit, so it’s not sloppy wet and glue these hinges to the back of your artwork, leaving the long dry portion of the hinge protruding. Set the artwork, with attached paper strips, aside to dry. Because the paste is moist when you attach the strips to your artwork, I don’t like to use hinges on artwork created on thin paper, like normal weight pastel paper or drawing paper. I don’t want to take a chance on the artwork buckling where the hinge attaches, due to the moisture and, with thin paper, I’m also concerned about the paper hinge strip telegraphing through. In these cases, I avoid paper hinges and use archival corners instead (see my post Special Framing for Soft Pastels for an image of an archival corner).

Mat Mounting Board Photo
Hinge the mounting board to the mat with archival tape.

Proper archival mounting of your artwork requires you to hinge the art to an acid free mounting board, not the mat. You want to set up mounting board and mat as a hinged sandwich for your artwork. Butt top edges of mounting board and mat and attach them together with a hinge made with a piece of archival, acid free tape.

 

 

Weighting the Art Photo
Align art in the window & add a weight.

Slip your artwork, with the paper hinge strips attached, into the mat-mounting board sandwich and properly align the image in the mat window. You’ll need to place a weight on the artwork, to hold it in place, while you flip up the mat out of the way and paste down the final strips of paper, to complete your hinges. I’ve found a heavy old-fashioned glass to be a great weight. Be sure to place a piece of paper (I’ve used tracing paper here) beneath your weight to prevent it from marring your artwork.

Using your wheat starch paste once again, paste down the final paper strips to make the “T’s” and complete your hinges. Allow this paste to dry and you’re ready to close the mat-mounting board sandwich and install the assembly in your frame.

T-Hinges Photo

Rest easy in knowing you’ve done all you could to provide a professional, museum quality, safe, acid free, archival home for you valuable piece of art!

Framed Artwork Photo

Brush with the Infamous

Hope Town Photo

A recent announcement in the news reminded me of an incident I hadn’t pondered in a very long time. I apologize for straying from my discussions of art in this post, but couldn’t resist sharing this experience, once it came to mind.

Back when I was in art school, my father, brothers and I were into off-road motorcycle riding and motocross racing. My father was seriously involved in a motorcycle club which shared these interests, the Dirt Diggers. In fact he eventually became president of this organization.

Hope Town Race ImageThe Dirt Diggers biggest event of the year was to hold a pretty famous motocross race at Hope Town, a collection of old movie sets, then owned by Bob Hope, located in the Santa Susana Mountains of California. The course took participants along a serpentine route which included travel down many old western town streets. We’d all travel out to Santa Susana, the weekend before the race, to grade the course with tractors, set up hay bales in corners, string flags, generally, build the track. A bonus was that after all the work was complete, we could start our bikes up and give it a few test runs.

While we were running the course, one of my younger brothers thought he’d improve the track by adding a side trip down a short unpaved road to the dirt front yard of an old run-down ranch house. There we could plant one foot on the ground, cross our handlebars, crank the throttle, perform a tight doughnut turn (throwing a rooster tail of soft dirt into the air with our back tires) and head back onto the rest of the course.

Biker PhotoA few trips down this addition and we’d apparently interrupted a couple of guys working on dune buggies in a nearby open garage on the property. A few more trips and they walked over to where we were making our turnarounds, yelling, screaming and shaking big wrenches at us.

Typical teenagers, right or wrong, we didn’t respond well to threats, so on our next and last trip down the side road, we directed the dirt streams thrown from our back tires, as we made the hairpin turnaround in this makeshift cul de sac, all over individuals shaking tools at us.

A year later, when along with the rest of America, we were familiarized with every detail of their sinister, horrifying actions, we learned who we’d offended. Whether Charlie Manson was present at the Spahn Ranch that day, with those members of his dune buggy army, we’ll never know, but the experience made clear to me that you NEVER know who you’re dealing with.

Always More to Learn

Museum Logos

No matter who you are, how much education, experience or opportunity you’ve had, there’s always more to learn. A closed mind is an atrophied mind. This is especially true in art. Art dies when you close the door to learning, experimentation and new experiences.

It’s never been easier to gain knowledge. We live in a time when worldwide learning opportunities and experiences (secondhand anyway) are at our fingertips. The Internet is your door to all this information. Let me get you started on this mind-expanding journey.

Corey as Pollock PhotoOne of my favorite online sources for learning is the Museum of Modern Art’s (MoMA) YouTube channel. There is so much information presented here, by category, I don’t know where to begin. Don’t miss the on-going In The Studio series. This constantly growing collection of videos, hosted by, painter, restoration artist and art historian, Corey D’Augustine, allows you a fly on the wall view of famous artist processes. Corey shares details of how various modern artists worked, as he actually creates new works of art, before your eyes, utilizing their procedures. Fascinating!

While not all of them are as complete or organized as the MoMA channel, every major art museum has a channel on YouTube and all are worth mining for new knowledge: the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), the Getty Museum, the de Young and Legion of Honor (Fine Art Museums of San Francisco), the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) and the Van Gogh Museum are just a few notables. I’d like to recommend the Musée d’Orsay (the Impressionism Museum), but the narration is all in French and I haven’t been able to find any way to add English subtitles (oh, those French!).

“In the Conservancy” by Édouard Manet.

Want to study paintings up close, brush stroke by brush stroke? Travel! Just kidding…a few years ago Google took on a project to archive as many of the art treasure of the world for posterity, as the artwork’s owners would allow. The result was the Google Art Project, now part of the total Google Arts & Culture site. For this Art Project, Google has been traveling around the world making high

Manet Detail Image
Zoom In on “In the Conservancy”

resolution scans of great works of visual arts (paintings). Many of the paintings are scanned at such high resolution you can zoom in to see the threads that make up the canvas, between the strokes of paint. What a learning device! Even if you have super-human eyesight, security would never let you close enough to a painting in a museum to see this kind of detail. For the first time, see what the individual brush strokes look like that make up that Manet masterpiece! You can travel through the front doors of the Google Arts & Culture or Google Art Project (click the View Project Site button in the upper right corner to get to the paintings) sections, but here’s a shortcut directly to the paintings.

There’s likely a whole lot more out there waiting for you that I haven’t discovered yet, but these will whet your appetite. As the saying goes, “The world is your oyster!” Now get out there and begin collecting those pearls!

 

Brush Up

Applying Paint Photo

Too often we overlook the full capabilities of the tools in our paint boxes and forget that they were designed to ease our workload and extend the impact of our work. Let’s talk a bit about brushes.

Ancient Egyptian Brush Photo
Ancient Egyptian Brush formed from sticks flayed at one end.

The artist paint brushes in our hands today are the product of centuries of evolution. They are modern marvels, the result of extensive, in the field, use and contemporary engineering. That’s all wasted, however, if we ignore all they can do.

It’s important to use the proper brush for the job at hand. My favorite workhorse brush, when painting with oils or acrylics, is the bristle brush. This baby’s stiffness can move the thickest of paints across a canvas and is great for scumbling, dry brush and impasto techniques. It’s my go to brush for most of my painting needs.

When you’re painting wet into wet, especially in a single session, alla prima, you’ll find the bristle brush less effective in paint over paint application. It’s rigidity tends to pick up the wet paint from lower layers, mixing them with the new paint you’re attempting to apply, preventing you from applying clean new strokes. This is when you want to utilize your sable brushes. A light touch with one of these, will float the new color on top of the previous applied wet layers.

Glazing (transparent layers of color utilizing large amounts of painting mediums) can be accomplished by either bristle or sable brushes. It all depends on the viscosity of your mixture.

I covered the proper brush for the job in more detail in a previous post, “Be Good to Your Brushes & They’ll Be Good to You!

Grasses Image
Thin, overlapping vertical & diagonal strokes for grass.

What I actually wanted to talk about in this post was allowing your brushes to do some of the work for you. All the subjects you paint possess visible characteristics quite different from each other. These characteristic are the result of things like growth patterns, chemical make-up, environment wear, etc. The leaves on a tree present a much different surface characteristic than, say, the granite face of Half Dome, in Yosemite, for example. Yet, it’s easy to ignore this fact and apply paint to canvas in the same uniform manner, when executing all elements in our compositions. Boring!

Clouds Image
Rolling a bristle brush around, with occasional edge flicks to communicate clouds.

Instead, pay attention to how the elements you’re painting grow, what they’re made of, how they move, how their surface reflects light and color and then allow your brushwork to communicate this. The British painter, Alwyn Crawshaw, famous for tv shows, books and videos on painting, suggests you try to become the element you’re painting, “I’m a fluffy little cloud!” Then paint the element accordingly. A bit over the top form me, but I get what he’s saying.

El Cap Detail Image
Crisp vertical strokes for granite.

What does this actually mean: allow your brush to reflect the characteristics of various elements in your paintings? Well, when studying the granite face of a monument like Half Dome or El Capitan, in Yosemite, you’ll notice it has very chiseled characteristics with strong vertical concave and convex up and down forms. A great approach in painting these, might be to use the edge of a flat brush to create vertical strokes, occasionally rolling the brush a bit, from side to side, to vary width in the process.

Leaves Image
Globbed paint then flicked at the edges for leaves.

Foliage on trees often starts with a glob of paint and ends with a flick of the brush towards the edges. With clouds, rolling the brush around, then flicking an edge here and there might be the best solution. Ground is often a series of short horizontal strokes, reflecting the years of overlapping footprints of man and animals. The directions of strokes over a face in a portrait reflect the anatomical structure beneath. Strokes representing a flowing river tell of the repeating pattern it creates as it travels around rocks and over an uneven river bottom.

How you portray the various characteristics of the elements that make up your paintings is a personal choice, there’s no ONE good solution. I’m suggesting that your paintings will be more dynamic, more interesting, if you consider the actual structure, make up, of the elements in your compositions, then reflect this to your audience with how you use your brush in your paint application.

Say What You Think!

Painting Boop Photo
Photograph © 2016 Vicki Thomas

I’ve been teaching a lot lately, both to adults and, as a Teaching Artist, to kids in school. Having been creating art, in one form or another, since I was a tiny lad, I perform a lot of procedures, make a lot of decisions on auto-pilot, almost unconsciously, when at the easel. Many of these decisions involve critical creative fundamentals. Fundamentals I should be sharing with those in my classes. I’ve found these automatically performed functions to be the most difficult to relay to students. Not because they’re difficult to explain, but because, when I’m in the zone painting, I’m unaware that I’m even performing many of them.

So, I’ve made a conscious effort to make myself aware of every step that occurs, while I’m painting. To write them down, as they occur, for later communication to those in my workshops or classes. I’ve also found that talking through the process with other creative friends, verbalizing procedures, brings these buried faceted automatics out into the light. These conversations also reveal differences in how others works, providing me with even more information to share. If out of the blue, I begin a conversation with you about paint application or simplification of forms, let me apologize in advance, know the annoyance is serving a good cause!

Lifting procedures up onto the surface has been like a trip down memory lane. “When did I pick that up, who taught me that?” It’s a realization of how very many great teachers I’ve had, how many truly accomplished artists I’ve worked beside, how much information has been passed along. I’ve been extremely fortunate! It’s important to reveal and write all this stuff down, then pay it forward!