Monday, April 28, 2008

My Learning Process Part II

As I was explaining in a previous blog, when I decided to engage in art full-time after 25 years of doing it "on the side," I confronted many challenges. Some were about my own insecurities, and other were more technical. As I have not yet resolved my own fears about "coming out" with my art, I will focus on the technical challenges in the hope that my experience may be useful to a reader.

One of the first strategies I used was to search for a "friendly medium." I was aware of my difficulties with charcoal, pastels, conte crayons, and anything else involving rubbing or erasing. I sought a medium with whom I was more familiar in an effort to even the playing field, as drawing the figure or a landscape with a time limit was overwhelming enough. I gravitated towards water media because it enabled me to cover large surfaces quickly. I knew how to mix paint and water to achieve the desired values. This is not to say I discarded dry media. I used charcoal for 1 minute gestures.

I also limited myself to value studies for a while, in watercolor and acrylic. In an effort to keep things simple, I did not use any color, just black and white paint, or ink and water. As I felt I was starting to achieve enough contrast and good midtones, I gradually I introduced ochre, red, and eventually blue. I still paint the figure with a primary palette. It is true you end up having to mix all the colors that you want, but it is a good way to quickly reach the values you want without a lot of fuss, and there can be quite a range of expression with just those three colors and white.

Larger paper sizes gave me enough room to work on the nuances in value of the bone and muscle structures I was translating onto two dimensions. This is specially true of the value studies, which required more space. Smaller sizes limited the amount of detail I could render, and thus made it easier to work in color. For example, I use smaller canvases when painting landscapes in oil and acrylic. I have come to believe that the more difficult or the less time you have to complete a piece, the smaller your paper or canvas has to be.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Rites of Spring

We have continued going out to paint on Mondays. This is despite the poison oak, class-cutting teenagers, and exceedingly friendly dogs (one, named Coltrane, gave me a bear hug). Our group now has three steady people and might continue growing. We tend to meet at trailheads or parking lots, and not stray too far into the park. We actually climb up sometimes steep hills looking for views or just some cool air. It's fun, even if we sometimes have to pass our equipment to each other while we negotiate narrow, slippery cow paths.

These have all been completed on location, with minor corrections done later in the studio. There are two oils and two watercolors. Can you tell which is which? I find that my oil painting influences my watercolor painting, and that my watercolors influence my oils. Watercolor definitely helps me do very defined, quick but finished work when I feel like it, (see the purple field of vetch behind my standing colleague). Oil is fantastic for its luminosity, and you certainly don't feel like anything is "set in stone."

With these paintings, I feel like I am taking advantage of all the green I can get before the summer heat turns everything gold. Green in our Bay Area just doesn't seem to last as long. As Emily Carr so eloquently put it, "As the woods are the same, the trees standing in their places, the rocks and the earth... they are always different too, as lights and shadows and seasons and moods pass through them."

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

My Website Has Been Updated

I've added paintings and watercolors I've done in the last couple of years, since I've been making the rounds trying to find a venue for a solo show and curators need to see my recent work. This oil was done last summer, but I had a hard time photographing it because of its unusual size (24 x 48"). It is our driveway in San Pablo, with my beloved Toyota Tacoma.

My Learning Process

These past two years I have been participating in more events with other painters and visual artists than ever. I regularly meet with other people to draw or paint. I have also observed people in a class context. At my age and later, many folks who've held a lifelong fascination with art decide to take the plunge. It is because of my interest in how different the process is for every person that I've decided to write about my own learning process.

My background in education keeps me eternally interested in how people learn. I keep several visual and written journals because I like to see if there is an evolution in my painting, because I want to keep track of ideas, and because I like to record what I think about other people's art. I see my own learning process as "strategic, " that is, as the search for approaches compatible with my values and ideas as a painter. Notice I didn't say that I see my art as strategic. It works for me to notice the approaches I use and why. Here's an example:

When I started to engage in figure drawing weekly about two years ago, I was very unsatisfied with my drawings. I had a clear idea of what they should look and I was not even getting close to what I wanted. I was so carried away with the excitement of having a live model that I would end up with distortions and missing body parts (the time limit is short). I could say that at this time, drawing the figure was exciting to the point of being overwhelming. After all, it had been exactly 25 years since I had drawn the figure with any kind of limit. Those who study standardized test performance will tell you that time limits will bring on anxiety and a decrease in the accuracy and quality of the response.

During those first weeks, my challenges were many. I had to draw a complete gesture in one or two minutes. I was expected to draw a credible figure with muscles in 5 to 20 minutes. The drawings had to resemble the model and convey the space and weight taken by the model's body and pose. During the next few days I will write about the strategies I used to assist my learning. Again, by strategies I mean the approach used to surmount a problem, more than a specific technique or material.