Saturday, March 24, 2012

Best to Jump

Yesterday, probably had a failure.  Probably picked a bad spot:  too much grey-brown.  Maybe I learned something, though, about adding color to bring up a dull painting. 
It’s become more and more evident and interesting to me to notice how, when I do that – go in loosely and not very carefully, gesturing (in response to vague suggestions of color in a landscape) with more intense/bright color, the landscape comes alive in the manner of the landscape itself – it actually looks more like the landscape – more vibrant in the way the scene actually is.  Hard to explain.  It’s as if it makes it vibrate, the way the landscape vibrates when you’re out there.  But the caveat (in my experience) is:  no fake color.  It has to be drawn from the suggestions of color that are out there.  You can be wild and loose with it, but it has to originate in what you see.  And if I follow that rule, I tend to get good results – better results than if I don’t let loose. 
It can feel like going a little crazy toward the end of a painting.  I tend to paint what I see in general terms, and then when I end up with something limp, I pull out the stops and just start taking stabs at all kinds of things – but as long as I just push forward and don’t get scared, interesting things sometimes happen.  It’s usually at the point where I’m ready to give up, though:  where I think, well, this painting is a loss anyway, so I might as well go a little wild and see what happens.  Which is a rather unstable and unpredictable way to go about things.  I wonder, why not just start out crazy?  But it’s because:  I haven’t figured out what “normal” is yet.  You need to start somewhere – go through the attempt at a straightforward route to what you’re trying to do, and if that doesn’t work, then explore other options.  I like a fluid, half-thought-out effect, and maybe you can get to that best if you’ve already laid some fully considered groundwork.  And then you jump off the cliff, set yourself free.
I have such a greater appetite for risk when I’m outside.  It’s a precious thing – a gift.  Why squander it and work inside?
I can bring a painting into my studio, start messing around with it (because I didn’t have time to finish on site, or because something’s bothering me that I didn’t notice before, etc.), haggle and fuss infinitely, yet still not get it right, or satisfactory; then, take it out to the same spot the next day and with a few strokes, END it.  -- Fueled by that ease with risk that being outside infuses you with.  Not to be underestimated, not to be not taken advantage of.  It seems (to me now, anyway) as necessary as paint – as necessary a part of the painting process.  I don’t paint still lifes, so I don’t know if it’s the same thing when you work “from life” inside.  I don’t know, that is, whether it’s a phenomenon of working “from life” or “outside.”  But it’s real, and it’s very helpful.  I’m back to feeling like I don’t want to do it any other way, ever. 
Regarding going back over dull colors with bright ones:  it seems analogous to what my RISD watercolor teacher taught us about layering red, yellow, and blue at the outset of a painting:  you get this cool underpainting that looks transparent and full of light, whereas if you’d mixed those colors and laid them down in one layer, it would look like mud.  With oil – the way I paint with oil -- you need a first layer that combines colors and tones – and looks like mud – but then you need to go back overtop with bright/intense colors to mimic the many colors that are in nature, but hidden in small amounts or in diffuseness.  But you can’t let diffuseness make you think that nature should be expressed as an amalgam of colors – versions of mud.  Or rather, you can, but that’s another style of painting. 
I want what I do to be gathering color.  There’s so much more out there than you think you see.

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