Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Where do you live, exactly?

Just After Dinner. oil on canvas, 22 x 32
People often look at me a little sideways when I say that I think that I live in a beautiful place. They roll their eyes and say I must be not be talking about the Central Valley. I must be referring to places that are close Yosemite National Park or the Coastal region around Carmel. These are all beautiful places mind you, but I don't live there. I don't know those places like I know the San Joaquin Valley. People often look at the valley as just a place to drive through. Something get across as quickly as possible, since there's nothing to see there anyway... How far is it to Tahoe from here? You should watch the weather on the San Francisco news stations (just 2 hours away, and according to their maps, the world ends somewhere just past Livermore and then picks up in the Sierra Mountains again...the Central Valley is just one long black hole of about 40 miles wide. There are no towns here according to their maps, maybe just five or six farmers. Where I live is real backwater, according to some.
I live in the middle of the largest continuous valley in the world. It is a geologic wonder. It's six hundred miles long and forty miles wide and almost as flat as a pancake and surrounded by mountains on every side. It's like nowhere else in the world and thus it offers unique painting possibilities, unexplored possibilities. Its modern history is no more than a hundred and twenty years old, so there has not been much time to paint what is here. Its beauties may not be obvious at first glance, but if when you let yourself see what is here, and set aside preconceived ideas about what should be painted, paintings are everywhere, here in this valley.
I am not the only artist to paint this grand valley, to be sure, but so many other artists who live in the area seem to think that there is nothing to paint here, and they must travel to find worthy subject matter to paint. That way of thinking is just strange to me. Do their styles of painting not suit this landscape? This valley is a modern landscape that has been transformed by man in the last century. I revel in the geometry of the fields and orchards, the patterns that these fields make when put together in paintings and drawings make a very interesting subject to work from and I believe that it relates to modern painting in a profound way. The contrast of nature and man intertwined together is endless fascinating to me.
Just After Dinner was painted in response to spending an evening with our friends who live amidst the open fields just east of the town where I live. As we walked out to our car, I saw this was breathe-taking...I stared at it for some was beautiful. The painting was not hard to never is when you love what you paint.

Monday, March 26, 2007

The Commission, part III

Shortly Before (detail)

The canvas is on the easel and I have carved out enough time to lay in the composition and color of the painting. I first have to establish where the horizon line will be, that will dictate how everything else will relate in the many fields there will be and how big the sky will be in the painting are all determined by where the horizon is placed in the composition. At the same time I'm thinking about what time of day it is in the painting, this will help me decide what color I'm going to try in the painting.

Once the composition is worked out, I then start to lay in the color that I think will work in the painting, making slight adjustments as I work. I make the color choices in my paintings based on my memories when I am outside looking at the landscape. I don't work from photographs when I am in the studio. The colors I choose are based on my visual vocabulary that I have built up over the years of looking at and painting the my color decisions are based in my personal experience, not second-hand information from another source.

This process may, on larger pieces, like this commission, take the better part of the day to get the first layer of color on the canvas. On even larger canvases it may take several days to lay in the color on the canvas. I try to work as quickly as I can so I can have something to work against when I work on the painting in the coming weeks.

When I have the color laid in, the whole process tends to slow down. I refine the relationships of the color in the painting making them work more effectively together. This process may take some time...when I first lay in the color on that first day, I usually think that the painting is almost done when I leave the studio that day, but when I come back to the painting the next day I see things that I did not see before, problems that need to be addressed and colors that do not work well as well together as I thought they did. The fine tuning of a painting can take weeks and even months. As I work on the painting the relationships in the color of the painting grow stronger, more cohesive, working together to make the piece a more effective painting. It is only when I feel that the painting is working in concert and nothing is detracting from the overall feeling of the piece that I can call the piece complete.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

the commission, part II

Shortly Before (detail)
The canvas is done and now I am waiting for the right time to start the painting. I'm not waiting for inspiration, just enough time to devote to getting a good start on the painting. And on a painting this size it can take all day to lay in the colors. It also takes emotion energy to start a painting, when I am facing a blank canvas that is almost four feet wide, it can be a bit daunting. Just who the heck do I think I am to be able to paint on that? I have to have the confidence that I can make a effective painting, because believe me there are days that when I get home from work that I think my painting career is over...I'll never be able to make another effective painting again, but alas my wonderful wife tells me that it was just a bad day and tomorrow will be better...and she's always right. Painting is about making decisions...sometimes I make good decisions and some days I make awful ones. So every time I start a painting I have to believe that I will make the right decisions for this painting...

Friday, March 23, 2007

The MO Commission, part one

Shortly Before, 2007. oil on canvas, 28 x 46

This is a painting that's just fresh off my easel. It is for a commission I did for a couple in Missouri. I am quite pleased with how it turned out. The painting process for this piece and how it was finished was fairly typical for me. So I thought this would be a good opportunity to talk about how I make a painting from start to finish.

This painting was started, since it was a commission, by deciding with the collectors how large the piece was going to be and then I stretched the canvas. I would normally just stretch a variety of sizes, which are sometimes based on thumbnails than I've been doing recently. Most other artists I know do not stretch their own canvas, but I simply can not find any canvases that are prepped the way I want them, so I do it myself, the old fashioned way...two coats of hide glue and oil ground primer. It's simply the best canvas surface I have ever painted on.

So once the canvas was ready to go it sits in my studio until I have the nerve to start on it...

Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Challenge

The Challenge oil on panel, 8 x 10
Sometimes when I am working in my studio I have odd thoughts. Now that may not seem strange to many of you because well, I am an artist... and people's perspectives of artists tend to be that we are just a little bit different than other people, and maybe we are. But usually my days in my studio are just like anyone else who goes to work on a daily basis. I go to work, and I get work done. Some days I feel more productive, and others days feel like I can only mange to get the busy work done around the studio. It has nothing to do with inspiration; it's just that sometimes the studio needs to be cleaned or panels and canvases need to be prepped, all the things they don't tell you about in art school.
What do you mean!? I don't get to just paint all time?
When I am painting or drawing, I'm thinking mostly, surprising I know. I think about the piece I am working on, the drawing I did last week, or sometimes a new idea will pop into my head, while working on the painting on the easel. These ideas are sometimes unexpected and unpredictable, and I try not to put my mind on automatic edit. All my ideas need to be at least tried out to see if there are any possibility to the idea.
That's how The Challenge was made...I was working on another piece and I was thinking about landscape painting in general. If you simplify the basics of landscape painting down to it's core you will have a horizon line with a blue sky and green land. Most people think that's what makes a landscape, right? Well, I must have been working on blue sky-green land painting and getting quite bored because I thought to myself, what happens if I don't use any blue in the sky or green in the land? How would that change the dynamics of the painting? I didn't know the answer to the question...and that was exciting to me. I didn't know if it would even work, but it was something that was well worth trying. I had seen other artists do this sort of thing, but I had never tried it myself. The key was I had to try it to see if I could make it work for myself. It's when I ask myself what seems to me the obvious question that I get the most surprising answer. When I know how things are going to turn out that I think paintings is at its most boring. I like to try and mix things up, and it keeps everything fresh because I never know what I will think of and try next.
Is The Challenge a great masterpiece? Well, no probably not...but it is an effective painting that opened a lot of new doors for me and my painting. There are times when an artist just has to throw caution to the wind and see what will happen.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Working with Color?

Afterglow oil on canvas, 12 x 20

A painter in his most basic function put blobs of color on a flat surface in a certain order on that surface to make a painting. It is the COLOR that makes the painting, all other things are subservient to the color. Sure other things are important, but means little if the color sucks.

Artists often go on and on about loving the light when they are painting, but I have found that light has little to do with painting and has everything to do with photography and the fact that many artists think that photographs are how our eyes see the world. You see, without light photos could not exists. Light has to enter the lens to make the image. That's the only way a mechanical eye ( the camera) can reproduce what it sees. I'm still looking for that light color on my palette...hmm, I don't think it's there. That means that I am only left with color, so I am going to base my paintings on the paint on my palette and not some color and value structure that has nothing to do with painting.

Someone recently made a comment about Afterglow and asked how such a dark painting could have such a sense of wonderful light and color and if I could teach her husband how to paint like that. "Well" I answered, "I could but he would have to look at the world in a completely different way than he does now."

I don't see light, I only see Color.

My days are spent in my studio working with color.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Its Late

Warm Evening, oil on panel, 8 x 10

What a day... I really hate spring forward. The kids get all screwed up and they never know when they are supposed to take naps or go to sleep. You wouldn't think that one hour would cause that much havoc...but it does. But what a beautiful day. Nothing could spoil this, even if the kids that are not sure when they are suppose to sleep.

This is a painting I did a couple of weeks ago...and I saw the sky tonight our first warm evening of the early spring after church. Some days, I see things so clearly and everything is a painting. I thank God for days like today.

When is Monday going to get here? I want to get back to my Studio and get to work.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

It's a Start

the Land Between oil on canvas 27 x 54

A journal about painting and the life of a working artist.