loving the subject

one weekend spring day, between rains in the middle of a long stretch of storms (the kind of spring california has had the past few years), my wife went through the back yard and groomed the winter disarray out of the plants. she aggressively pruned a big tree rose in the back corner, leaving about a third of the foliage.

the next day the rain was coming down in a light shower but i could see the rose tree clearly from the kitchen breakfast nook where i paint. so i painted it. i started without worrying about plateaus or design principles or any of that; i wanted to get that lovely tree set down before the light or weather changed.

but that rose tree painting was a breakthrough image for me, both in the use of color and the sense of loosened realism. i felt i had jumped off the plateau, finally.

to work quickly without rinsing the brush, i had changing my technique to work with one pure color at a time and apply it directly to the paper without any mixing with other colors. all color mixing is done by setting down colors as adjacent daubs or as glazes one on top of the other.

i made the brush strokes more literal in the leaves, trying to vary the pattern and density across different areas of the tree. some color areas, such as the two wooden poles, are literal, while others — the rose stems, the violet sky — are fantastically heightened.

i'm not describing all this as a work of genius, just trying to suggest the kinds of changes in method that seemed to get me off the plateau.

although these choices were mostly conscious rather than unintended, i can't say i decided to go in this direction. i seemed to start out painting in broken color, and just let that happen. boredom with my previous technique played a part, i think.

but there was a harmony in the tree itself — the fragmentation of the leaves, the heightening of the colors because they were wet, the strong play of shadow and light — that helped create the new combination of techniques.

the gist really was that i loved that subject. i loved to look at it glistening in the rain, i loved painting it while it was glistening in the rain.

the painting was an augmentation of the looking, in the way that screaming is an augmentation of watching the touchdown play, or crying is an augmentation of watching the sad movie.

it did not seem to take me long to do, but i still couldn't finish it after four hours, so had to return to it the next morning (by now it was dark) to complete the leaves, sky and depth of shadows.

there were many small disappointments along the way, and some areas i had to work on longer than i wanted, but no blunders, no mud. i had reached the point where i could foresee how the painting would evolve.

and had a huge amount of pleasure in doing it.

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