This is from the day after New Year's. Resolved to get outside more, even on cold days! Bright blue sky -- cold, but no ice yet. I liked the balance between the downward force of the reflections and the upward push of the reeds.
Got out with very little time yesterday and it seemed to work for me, to some extent, as it sometimes does. Made me work quickly, and take risks. When you have to get something down fast, you see in shorthand: You see; you put the paint down; you correct immediately if your color or tone is off; then you move on. Those twin pressures to get it right right away, and then shift your attention elsewhere, are very helpful in painting. No "I'll come back and fix it" flexibility to loosen your grip on the moment; you know you will come back and adjust, but you intensify your focus so that you come close the first time. It's more exhausting than taking your time, than not focusing as hard. Focusing is draining. But it tends to be a lot of fun -- fun like a high-wire act (to some people, that might not sound like fun). You are more within the excitement of color -- you're closer to the bone of the process.
As I try to "do better" each day, I feel like I'm pushing myself in the direction of "wilder" -- more free, less concerned with having it look like "things" -- letting it be color and tone and gesture. For now, that feels like a good direction. But I maintain my fidelity to sensitivity; and when I veer from that, I'm less happy with the results. I love to see freedom, but I love to see sensitivity just as much.
Here I mean sensitivity to color, and tone, and to feeling -- to what I see/feel. Seeing and feeling are too close in this context for me to consider them separate concepts. Color, tone, gesture/composition have emotion, and you need to get that emotion right to communicate it. I guess maybe what I "feel" when I see, for example, the color and tone of the water, becomes a shorthand for me: I mix the color and assess how it looks when I put it down according to whether it "feels" right. So feeling is a method or approach -- a way to assess and paint fast, and to respond fully. For me it seems to be a "zone" I get in (or not), and it requires a lot of focus to stay in it. Breaks are needed. And focus runs out, which is why smaller pieces often work better.
Yesterday I noticed the Sound Phenomenon at work more explicitly and precisely than usual -- the phenomenon where, when I'm working full tilt, it's somehow "loud" in my mind and almost seems loud around me. Maybe it's the din of my thoughts when I'm making many choices quickly. As I near the end of the painting, it gets quieter; and when it's time to stop -- when there are still a lot of unanswered questions, but the board is covered with paint, and there is connection between all the parts and a sense of harmonious movement throughout and my eye can travel around it happily -- it gets completely quiet. And if I try to "go back in" (make changes) at that point, it's jarring, painful. I wish that this phenomenon always worked so neatly -- it doesn't -- but it's usually present to some extent. Maybe I'm more in tune with it, or listening better, on some days than others.
More and more, I'm trying to get the colors I want down in the first layer of paint, to prevent muddying. Colors are purest when they are put down on the (in my case, white) ground. Or on a dry paint layer -- but in one-session plein-air painting, there are no dry layers; all layers are wet on wet. And while you can layer a color over a close version of itself and retain something close to its purity (light rose layered over medium light rose), most wet on wet layering is going to dim its true tint. So I try to keep a lot of that first layer -- and if I need to, I wipe down to the board and start over to get a pure, clean hue.
I may have written about this before, not sure, but: Managing contrast in a painting -- representing/getting down dark darks and light lights -- goes a long way. They (very dark and very light tones) are tricky because they can contaminate, or get contaminated by, other tones, and because they can dominate your image -- they can be too "loud." But they need to be struggled with -- if you don't get them in there, you end up with an all-middle-tone, muddy, lackluster painting, rather than something that has an impact.
I have a tendency to get lost in color and not remind myself to attend to tone; I need to keep a tighter grip on whether or not my tones are accurate. And various enough. They need to range across the spectrum (of tone -- light to dark) just as my colors need to range across the color spectrum.
Apart from thinking about contrast, I'm trying harder than ever to paint "freely" -- to dive right in and get things down quickly and without fuss, in whatever way my hand moves, whatever way I see things the first time, whatever way it "happens." (I have been invoking Wolf Kahn's phrase, "Just let it happen.") And I am trying not to second-guess those initial marks too much -- just adding any obviously needed brighter or darker tones, or more intense color. Corot's comment that "Everything that was done correctly on the first attempt was more true, and the forms more beautiful" has been ringing in my ears: I see that happening too, and I want to let that "trueness" stand, not beat it down or stamp it out with second-guessing.
Also, I have been musing about something I heard a chef say in an interview with Charlie Rose: that each day he tries to do better than before, to improve. That is why, as an artist, you have to keep pushing past what you've done before -- never trying to replicate it, but seeking a way to move forward. Make something new, that you like even more.
So you can't think too much about past work, past paintings. You can recognize in them things you like, and remind yourself of the frame of mind you were in when you created them (how much you cared/took care vs. how much you let yourself go; how much of a hurry you were in; how much you allowed your imagination go wild vs. reined yourself in), but you can't try to do the same thing again. To repeat yourself is like trying to apply a formula, and formulas don't work in painting. Or rather, they don't work to open you up to risk and exploration; they work only to constrain you. And it's letting go of constraint that seems to work best -- to create exuberant, evocative work.