Pandemic Art #2

I have been continuing to make pandemic art. I am finding that most of these paintings require a lot more preparation than my usual paintings do. I’ll give a couple of examples as I post them here.

“Pandemic 6”   Much of this one was developed while I was painting it. I knew the general concept and feeling that I wanted, but chose colors as I went along, changing and refining them until The result was what I wanted to convey.

 

“Pandemic 7” This continues the theme of the prior two paintings. For this painting, I looked at many, many images of rocks online, then chose three or four to print out. The rock I painted is a combination of the images as well as my own invention. I learned quite a lot about painting rocks doing this!

 

“Pandemic 8: Choose”  Perhaps really fantastic artists can paint anything from their mind, but I am not among those! I looked and lots of images of birds as well as plenty of photos of rope knots. I had an image in my mind, and of course nothing I found online was a match. But I printed out enough close ones to give myself something to look at for the particulars. I tried a couple of ways of conveying the balancing of the two images, before settling in the narrow pointed shape with the line across the top.

 

“Pandemic 9” This was relatively straightforward. I gave some thought to the colors I wanted and sketched out the design. I did look at photos of people expressing horror: all were similar, so I had a good idea of how to proceed. I wanted it fast and rough, so focus on detail was not necessary.

 

“Pandemic 10” I did not need reference photos for this one, but it took quite a long time to sketch. Precision mattered here. I also reworked the color a number of times until I felt that it suggested depth, circularity, and perhaps a spinning. I used acrylic paint for the tiny white spatters.

Every time I finish one of these I think, well, perhaps that’s all. And then I imagine another image, or part of one, and apparently that is not all. I wonder how this series will develop. After all, we are only a couple of months into the pandemic. I got my hair cut in early March, and I remember thinking, “I hope this is safe,” but avoiding that kind of contact was not quite on anyone’s radar at that point. Within a week, everything was feeling potentially dangerous. Within a week, we had an official national emergency. By the end of the month, there had been hundreds of deaths in the United States. Now, only six weeks after that, life seems irrevocably changed.

Be well, stay safe, and take care of one another.

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Pandemic Art

In less than two months, our world has changed dramatically: We now live in the time of a plague. Many have said that the world will never be the same, and it is my fervent hope that humanity in general, and the United States in particular, can use this as a portal to transformation.

I was working on a painting of a winter tree as things started to unfold, and without any particular intent on my part, I found the painting taking a somewhat unusual turn. It was stylized, with shimmering color. It was clear to me that the painting was no longer a portrait of a winter tree, but now represented something about the onset of the pandemic. Here is “Pandemic 1.”

Almost as soon as I finished this painting, another image occurred to me. This has not been the way I have usually painted. Almost always, I start with an image, generally a photo. I may change some of the particulars, and in fact I often do. Sometimes I turn the image over in my mind for hours or days, looking for ways to help the painting reflect what I want to express. But in this case, the image shaped itself in my mind, and I explored it mentally as a way to imagine the final version. I have heard it said that you cannot create what you cannot imagine, and I find that true in life as well as art.

Here is “Pandemic 2.”

I had no sooner finished this than I knew what the next painting was. Thus, “Pandemic 3.”

It took a while, but only a matter of a few days, to know what the next image would be. In this case, I started more directly with a feeling I wanted to portray, and then got a sense of the basic shapes, and finally worked out the colors. Some of the final decisions were made at the easel. “Pandemic 4: Some Will Live and Some Will Die.”

Finally, the most recent, completed two days ago: “Pandemic 5.”

Each of these images has significance to me and each expresses something about the experience of living in these times. But I will refrain from saying my interpretation. (Except, of course, for “Pandemic 4,” which is the only one that I knew had an explanatory subtitle. Interestingly, it’s the only abstract as well.) Art belongs to the viewer as much as to the artist, and you will have your own meanings for these paintings.

I already know the gist of the next image, and am in the process of working out some of the particulars in my mind. This whole process has been so interesting. Although all of my art is expressive, I have never created in this way. The art seems to have its own agenda.

Be well. Stay safe. Create something.

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Pour Painting

And now for something completely different!

I have been trying Pour Painting, which – as the name suggests – involves pouring paint. But it’s a bit more complicated than that, as you might expect. You mix each color of paint with pouring medium, which was in turn mixed from three other ingredients. One of those ingredients is silicone oil, which helps the paint to make “cells,” or small bubbles of a different color. Here is an example of a pour painting with lots of cells:

“Rainbow Fire,” 24″ x 18.” See the red “cells” in the blue area?

The next step is to layer the colors in a larger cup. This is where you start making artistic decisions. What is your color palette? I found that I particularly liked the bold combination of black and metallic paints. You have to consider that adjacent colors may blend. With some color combinations, that could be a bonus; with others a disaster. Next you consider how you want to apply the paint to the canvas. With the painting below, I poured the paint across the canvas in a sort of S shape. The blending of colors here added a softness to the painting.

“Jupiter,” 18″ x 24″  You can still see that basic movement in the finished image.

In other instances, I turned the whole cup over onto the canvas and allowed the paint to flow over it. Here’s an example:

“By the Time I Got to Woodstock,” 12″ x 12″

Next comes the fun part. It’s a kind of collaboration between the artist and the medium. You tilt the canvas to move the paint. The paint, of course, has its own ideas about how to move. You make artistic decisions on the fly. Is there an area that doesn’t please you? Let it drip right off the edge. Is there a particular kind of movement you want? Tilt the canvas to encourage that.

Pour painting is not a small undertaking! I did it with my artist friend Cindy Griffith. We set up in her garage. First, we covered the floor with tarps and plastic. Then we brought in tables and covered those with plastic too. We set up a drying area using a ladder propped horizontally. We put newspaper (and usually cardboard as well) over the tables. On a central table, we laid out our paint and mixed many cups of colors with pouring medium. We wore old clothes and surgical gloves. We had a hose nearby to clean cups, other materials, and ourselves.

What a mess! You can see why we will only do it if we can set up with access to the outdoors and with plans to paint a few days in a row. It’s tiring, too. We were on our feet for hours every day. But what fun! Each painting is a surprise. Look at the “Pour Paintings” page to see all of them. But I will leave you with a final image here:

“Dragon Flight,” 18″ x 24″ Do you see that dragon? I did not plan that!

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Green!

Summer paintings can be a challenge because they are so, well, green. First, although there may be a hundred shades of green, it’s still all green, and a single color lacks interest. Green is the bane of artists. Somehow, the green in that spot in the grass, in the tips of that tree’s branches, the green right in front of your eyes, is never in your selection of pastels.  Pablo Picasso famously said, “They’ll sell you thousands of greens. Veronese green and emerald green and cadmium green and any sort of green you like, but that particular green, never.” At this point, every artist reading this is nodding in agreement.

One solution is to mix greens, and often you can get just what you need that way. Why the manufacturers of pigments cannot also mix greens to get what I need is a mystery.

In “Midsummer Maple,” I was faced with a delightful abundance of greens. Sigh. I love them, but they are a challenge. Here’s the painting:

 

“Midsummer Maple,” 16 ” x 20″

This is a larger than usual image so that you can see some of the difficulties and my solutions. I cannot tell you how many efforts I made to get the color of the grass just right! Finally, I tried a fairly bright yellow-green (close to the patch of grass just to the right of the flowers), painted a very pale yellow – almost white – over it (Pastellists call it “scumbling”) and blended the two. Voila! Whew.

The tree is the star of this painting. I love all trees, and here in Vermont a maple is certainly nothing special, but I think they are my favorite. Look at this one, in its prime. It’s a rich explosion of a tree, a lush exuberance of a tree, the very definition of maple health. Oh, I wanted to paint that tree!

Most representational painting is a matter of using a two-dimensional format and making the subject look three-dimensional. For a tree, that means “sculpting” it with light so that you can see the shape not only of the tree itself but also of the branches. Every kind of tree has its own characteristic arrangement of branches, with those of the maple being fairly horizontal. See how the shadows in the left part of the tree, away from the light, gradually become less frequent as you look at the tree’s right side. Yet even in the side facing the light, there are shadows, and these define the branches.

Looking at the tree, it’s easy to think that it’s just green, with a lighter and darker green. But there are at least half a dozen greens in that tree’s leaves, and another three or four in the shadowed areas.

As to the overall green of the image, this has the visual relief of those magenta flowers as well as the half-hidden house and the distant mountains. The magenta of the flowers (again, there are four or five shades of it in there) is a direct opposite on the color wheel of yellow-green, so the viewer gets the excitement of that contrast.

I don’t know that you can see it in this image, but I also added magenta throughout the painting. A dark magenta is in the far trees. Both dark and pale magenta are in the maple, its leaves as well as the trunk. The fence and house are both touched with the color. It’s the kind of thing that most people won’t “see” (in the sense of being aware that it is there) when looking at the painting, but they will respond to it. And that’s what art is all about: the response of the viewer.

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The Seasonality of Painting

One of the pleasures of painting is that I can immerse myself in any season at any time. Longing for green in winter? No problem! Feeling a need for the hot colors of autumn? Easy!

But in general, I find that I tend to paint the season that I am experiencing. Sometimes there’s a lag, especially with winter, as I slowly let go of fall’s fiery display, but eventually I come to rest in the reality that is outside my window. Here are my two most recent paintings:

“Yellow House,” 11″ x 14″. This scene is deep into winter, but it has a certain warmth to it nonetheless, because of the color of the house and even the snowy near hillside. I used an olive green paper, which has a bit of warmth to it. You can see the paper showing through in those background trees, since I used small choppy strokes of pastel and allowed the paper to show through to give it texture. I like the effect. The subtle golds in the far trees and the road contrast with that cool blue-gray sky. The sky speaks of coming cold. The home and its setting speak of coziness.

And just finished:

“Winter in Parentheses,” 12″ x 18″. On today’s weather report, the forecaster mentioned that this is the last day of winter’s historically coldest average temperatures, which start January 9th and slowly change as of January 30th. I must have felt that in my bones when I chose this image to paint. This is the depth of winter: the sweep of snow, the lowering clouds, the pale sun. But there is light here as well. The small structure is now in the distance, looking not cozy so much as protective. This is a portrait of winter’s power, and the force of the season is prominent. The paper underneath is black. It does not show anywhere, but I think it adds a depth and solidity to the scene.

I find it interesting that I usually paint the current season. Of course, I have much lived memory to bring to painting the images of any time of year. But there must be something about living it right now that helps to shape what I want to paint. Perhaps it is that every season, even the slushy mud of early spring’s “mud season” and the stark colors of late fall’s “stick season,” has its own visual message.

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Abstracting the Landscape

This was my starting point. What a dramatic sky! I especially loved the dark curve in the lowest part of the big cloud just over the horizon and toward the right. I painted a fairly accurate version, although I amped up the colors, making the clouds more violet and that hint of peach-pink over the hills more pronounced. It was lovely, but it just did not do it for me. I wondered why.

Look at the photo. The sky is full of movement! I wanted a painting with that kind of energy, that kind of spirit: a roiling, glorious cloud explosion. I started cautiously, accentuating and defining that lower part of the cloud even further. I found myself giving it a little curl on the left. I liked that! Why not, I thought? Why not just go for it, make the sky full of swirls?

Worst case, it would fail and I would throw it away. It wouldn’t be the first time. When I was first starting to paint, Jayne Shoup (check out her amazing art: http://www.jayneshoupstudio.com) invited me to her studio, showed me lots of particulars about materials, and answered my many questions. I remember her saying that when she finished a painting, she judged whether it was successful. If not, it went into the fire. That was certainly a freeing thought!

I started looking at the parts of the clouds as just shapes, then made those shapes more evident, adding curls to show the movement. I pressed on, until the painting was no longer an exaggerated realism, but something quite different: a sky full of activity. Finally, I thought, looking at what I had done: Here is the spirit of that sky! This is the result:

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Awards!

As someone fairly new to art, it can be hard for me to get a real sense of where my work stands relative to others’. Visual art, like all the arts, is very subjective, although there is perhaps some general agreement about levels of quality. You know the difference between a Broadway play and a high school production, even an excellent high school production. But within those general categories, it comes down – at least largely – to the viewer.

I once submitted a painting to a juried show. It was declined. Soon after, I submitted it to another juried show, more prestigious than the first, where it was accepted and sold before the opening reception. I had a similar experience with writing some years ago. I submitted a manuscript to a professional journal, and they rejected it. The rejection letter was so vague that I had no guidance about how to revise it. So I submitted it untouched to another journal (and again, a more prestigious one), where it was accepted and used as the lead article in that issue of the journal. Go figure.

For the last few years, I have been been bringing paintings to the Champlain Valley Fair here in Vermont. The art show attracts a large number of artists, from beginners to professionals. I fall somewhere in the vast in-between. And I have won awards there! It’s only the Fair, but it is so gratifying to know that someone (they do use judges who are well-known artists or gallery owners) finds my work worth a ribbon. And this year, for the first time, I won first place in pastels! I am so psyched about this! Here is the winning painting (“Why I Live Here,” 18″ x 24″):

And here, for your perusal, are paintings that have won awards in prior years:

“Afternoon Enchantment,” 16″ x 20,” second place:

 

“Gateway,” 14″ x 11,” second place:

 

“Cool River Depths,” 9″ x 12,” third place:

 

“My Neighbor’s Barn,” 16″ x 20,” honorable mention:

 

“River of Corn,” 9″ x 12,” honorable mention:

And there they are:  The prize winners! Don’t you wish adults got prizes more regularly?

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