keeping flexible

i found as i improved my painting skills, they tended to become inflexible, form around a specific style and become habitual.

i'd learned much earlier that painting is done with an uneven mix of skills. like an acrobat's pyramid, the stronger skills on the bottom seem to rigidify or tense up in order to make it easier for the weaker wobbly skills they support.

to break out of this kind of rigid productivity i made myself try new subjects and methods of painting.

i had finished the guide to watercolor papers and had a large stack of over 40 different kinds of paper in quarter and half sheets, unused remains of the full sheets used in the paper tests.

i recalled that some painters, when they list their preferred materials, will say they work with two or three different brands of paper. the paper tests made me realize that papers are really very different, and likely good for different applications. this was a side of painting that my mania for colors and brushes had obscured.

i began painting through this stack, just to try the various papers and textures and formats, and to keep from getting bored with paper as a material.

there were a couple of genres i wanted to learn. portraits was one, nude studies was another, and fantasy images was a third. (i began to look at titian and botticelli, kahlo and clemente with envy, for the kinds of mythologies they were able paint.)

my wife went off to do fieldwork in uzbekistan again, so i moved a lot of the painting equipment to our large dining table, which sits by an entire wall of picture windows looking out on our yard. i painted more frequently, mostly on the weekends.

during a visit to the new york moma i encountered the book go sees by juergen teller. it was too heavy to bring back with me, but a month or two later i found it in a local art & photography bookstore, browsing for books to use for painting images. i bought it to use for portrait models.

a "go see" is a brief test shoot, a chance for the model and photographer to get acquainted, build their portfolios, try out for new jobs. teller just took snaps of every model who came his way, using very different poses and lighting. although they all seemingly aspire to be models, each woman has a unique presence: impish uncertainty, confrontational or challenging energy, a kind of fatigue or hopelessness. a few unlikely faces — amateurs, whores, service workers — were mixed in the parade.

i tried to let each model and paper i selected (almost at random) dictate the choice of colors and method. the photo suggested the paint palette, the paper the brush style to use. and these models were terrifically cooperative and tireless!

some pictures i carefully traced from the book with a magnajector, some i rendered in a freehand drawing, and some i dashed off without any drawing at all. i tried to find a response that would meet the person in the image at least half way.

i also began painting edward weston nudes (such as this image of his lover, charis), mapplethorpe flowers, anything that helped me stretch my technique. i even paused digital films and drew freehand from the screen — this painting of anne-laure meury was sketched in that way.

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