Monday, November 22, 2010

Painting the Painters

16 x 12"

Winter arrived last week, and it blew in hard and fast.  One day I was in sandals, the next: snow boots. 
As it does every year, the first snow brought traffic to a halt, and that meant that the model did not make it to my class at the Calgary School of Art.  The poor woman spent her evening stuck in traffic.

Luckily, I have an intrepid group, and they opted to paint each other in the act of painting.  This is an extremely tricky thing to do: your subject is always in motion and expressions constantly flicker across his or her face.  It requires a certain "whatever happens, happens" approach to painting, or you're likely to get pretty tense. 

The amazing and wonderful thing was that no one got tense, and everyone got a very good likeness of their subject.  More than that, they all produced very emotional, touching works of the people that they knew.  It was a stimulating and invigorating experiment that I probably wouldn't have tried under ideal circumstances. 

It just goes to show that nothing is predictable in painting, and you should always just give an idea a try, even if it seems outrageous; perhaps especially if it seems outrageous.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Figures in Landscapes

Alpine Meadow 
18 x 20
This painting is unusual for me in that it has a figure, but he's not centrally important.
Normally I do either figure or landscape, but not both at once. There's something relaxing about putting a little person in there for scale and narrative, but not having to render him with any degree of detail or finish.

Though I love landscapes, I have found that they look empty to me without some people or their traces.
I guess that makes me truly urban, or maybe my aesthetic has been shaped entirely by European impressionism and post-impressionism. You'd be hard pressed to find a wild scene even in 19th Century western Europe; the land had been densely populated and cultivated since Roman times. Planted forests have lived and died on that continent. It makes North America seem rugged and untouched.

It's that raw wildness that I'm unable to render in paint. Maybe it's just too huge and impersonal for me to contemplate. It makes my attempts at depicting it seem irrelevant.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Lure of Instructional DVDs

Autumn Bouquet II
26 x 30
I was browsing the trailers on the APV Films site the other day and ooh-ing and ahh-ing like a kid at a fireworks display. APV distributes art instruction DVDs and has some very good, international artists.

I love watching even the short promo trailers because they show the working methods of the painters. David Curtis paints as if he's assembling a jigsaw puzzle: he knows where each piece goes and places it unerringly in the correct value, shape and colour. Herman Pekel paints with abandon and glee, using credit cards for tools, sloshy, drippy paint, and layers that you can't believe he's able to apply given the amount of wet, mushy paint on the canvas. Maxwell Wilks starts his paintings in a random, sketchy, and muddy fashion and then pulls a light, pleasing, and harmonious work out at the end. And there are others: all unique.

The thing that stays with me, after watching all of these different approaches, is that it's their confidence that makes these painters and their work so inspiring. They work in a playful, but not sloppy method, using their old tricks, but also giving the impression that they are trying new ones out for size too. Pekel said it best when he advised:"at least once a week, discover something that no-one's told you. That means it's really, truly part of you." I think it's the constant search for something new and exciting about painting that keeps these artists fresh, and watchable.

I'm not sure if I'll order a disc; I think the most important teaching that I can get from these DVDs is to paint boldly and have a great time doing it.  All the rest is just detail.