technical difficulties

at this point i was doing a mix of technical studies, small paintings, and larger pieces.

i started to identify a number of specific technical difficulties in the way paintings turned out: controlling the edge, creating expressive brushstrokes, contrasting values effectively, painting ideas or symbols rather than things, reducing color variety, strengthening the value structure, the list went on and on.

i didn't understand how drawing related to painting, or what the purpose of drawing was separate from the painting; my method was to create a tracery of outlines and then fill them in. later i started to use drawing to very generally block in the big shapes, with specific rendering of the details and edges that had to be painted correctly because they would be almost impossible to fix if done wrong (a light edge against a dark shadow).

fortunately i have never been in the fussy school of painting that uses a lot of towels and sponges, blots the brush, and scrapes away mistakes. i shake the brush out as i go, and if there's a mistake, too bad, that's how these things are.

i even think that not fixing mistakes, because it made them more aggravating, forced me to learn more quickly how to pay attention when it mattered and paint it right the first time. this is a good skill to have.

attention is something that you need to turn on and off as you paint; leave in on full power all the time, and it burns out (usually around the middle of the painting). i found myself stopping to take a breath and really focus before doing something difficult or intricate.

washes were a wonderful interlude just to watch the brush and the pigment flow however it wanted.

and the painting, too, likes to stop. all paintings have those moments when they have to sit and dry before the next step can be taken, and those are great moments to relax and enjoy the view ... the painting, the setting, the mood, the light, all worthy of relaxed attention.

some painters recommend you blast these moments, and the wet painting, with a hair dryer ... that's also not my style. if a painting is too wet to work, then i'm proabably working too sloppy, or trying to work too fast.

some wet in wet effects take several minutes to unfold, and cannot be hurried along.

watercolors have their own pace. this depends on the heat and air, the amount of water used, the types of pigments in the paints. the pace affects how heavily my attention is taxed, which affects my handling of the work.

by these connections the climate of the moment enters the painting in a visible way. my energy, my mood, my skill, the air, the heat, the subject — only watercolors can fuse these as a single image. this is the special watercolor painting process, which i tried to recognize and enter at will.

in that process i find that i need to stop and look at the painting because i am so busy doing that i'm not actually seeing what i've done. my awareness of what's actually on the page is clouded by my plans to do something different.

i was surprised to discover that i tended to do things by expectation, rather than by close attention to the moment. passages turned out muddy because i kept working them without really looking at what was already there, unfolding in its slow watercolor way.

most of my waking consciousness is a small laser light of assurance and purpose in a vast cavern of ignorance and numbness.

i began doing monochromatic studies (in ivory black or sepia and white), borrowing photographs from man ray, edward weston or paul strand as models, to work on my sense of value structure.

the study #1 is another example of the technical studies at this time. i started it to investigate the effects of background tints on glazed colors (each quarter of the painting has been tinted with a different earth wash) ... but it turned out to be a great exercise in long brushstrokes, and a lovely color composition as well.

this is what i love about watercolors: they never turn out as planned.

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