Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Change one thing: change everything

Pewter and Reds
20 x 16
Progress in painting, there's no such thing! ...One day I went and changed the yellow on my palette. Well, the result was, I floundered for ten years! (Pierre-Auguste Renoir)

The title of my blog is "A Painter's Progress" and, while I've progressed since I began writing it years ago, it's never been a linear progression.  There are nearly as many backward steps as forward ones, and each requires me to stop and reevaluate my process and aesthetic before I can resolve it.  That sounds so optimistic and simplistic.  What actually happens is that good paintings just stop flowing out of my brush, sometimes for weeks on end, and I can't figure out why.  As the paintings keep failing, I keep bashing away at them from different angles: Different subject? Bigger paintings?  Or smaller?  Brighter?  More muted?  Much paint is applied and scraped off.  

It's taken a while to figure out this latest impasse and to discover what's changed in my approach to painting, but I finally nailed it: I'm using a lot more paint and richer colours,  That has changed everything.  The paint consistencies that I had nailed down no longer feel right at this point in my development, which means that I've had to learn a new technique.  It's based firmly in the old one, but it relies less on thin layers and more on big, luscious paint.  And white has been relegated to a less prominent role.  

New work is flowing again, and I find that the intensive, frustrating period of thinking and experimenting has taught me a lot and made me excited to explore new avenues.  It's hard won, and it is progress!

Happy painting!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Honest looking and painting

14 x 11 -ish
Weekly figure painting is becoming a fantastic tool for exploring and learning.  It's out of the comfort and control of my studio; the cool, chiaroscuro lighting is different than anything I'd set up; my palette is shrouded in darkness; and I'm in a room with other artists.  There are so many new variables and I can't rely on my usual working methods and tricks to paint the figure.  I really have to look and I really have to think.  That sounds obvious, but, like any other learned skill, there are a lot of processes that can easily become automatic, and thoughtless over time.  A painter may always use certain colours for skin, or always make shadows a certain value or temperature, regardless of the reality of the model in front of her.

As a consequence of being off balance, I find I'm painting slowly, carefully, and analytically.  The pleasure of "the zone" is absent (hopefully only temporarily), but it feels like an education.

This week's model was one of my favourites because of her delicate, fair skin.  It reflects whatever light there is and shows the most subtle warm and cool tints.  I've been experimenting with different palettes having found that my usual chromatic palette is too powerful in this space.  This week I worked with yellow ochre, cad red light, cobalt blue, raw umber and white - both flake white hue and titanium.  (In a misguided moment, I began to put some of the chair arm on the left into the picture with what looks like ultramarine and cad red light, but I stopped myself after a couple of marks.  It was throwing off the whole colour space.)  With the exception of the red, these are mild, weak colours, and they seem to be just the ticket for the lighting conditions.  At least they work for this model.

The only problem with the palette is the lack of a dark pigment other than raw umber.  While it's excellent for darkening other colours, it is quite neutral and rather uninteresting.  I'm still mulling over potential darkening pigments that have a bit more character to them.  Perhaps I'll try a darker value red next time, Venetian maybe.  Black is also an option, but it has a tendency to kill colours that it's added to and I know it could easily overwhelm the delicacy of the other pigments.  The dark transparency of a low chroma green (sap?) might be useful... I think it's time to make some colour charts.   I'll try something new next week and hope to learn something new as well.

Happy painting!