April 2010 Spring is in the air……
The river is resting after ravaging the banks earlier in the year, the gates are closed and there is very little current. It is spring for sure the fish are jumping and rolling in the caramel water, in their spring rituals of replication. We took our first voyage of the year last weekend and hope to go out again this weekend. We survey the changes the river has made over the winter and quite often just ride in silence wrapped in the deafening blanket of nature. I do most of my deep thinking when we go out on the water, there must be something to the saying “Still waters run deep”, but quite frankly rivers run deep as well.
Farmers are planting crops with reckless abandon, I am confident that most if not all farmers are in it just to create new life in the fields. The intoxication of the smell of life and rich brown promising soil drives them to return to this every spring, until they can either no longer physically or emotionally wrap their lives around it. There is something to be said for persistence, it is the force that moves us to challenge ourselves to search beyond struggle, it is the mentor of endurance, and I for one believe it is a force that everyone faces daily.
In the studio I am working on paper again. I am reminded that life is uncertain and brief and that life comes full circle and in stages that are predictable but not without pain. I face the fact that my dog, Rocko, is growing old and has many frailties that crush me every day with their incapacity in his life. I am certain our time is not long together so he continues to be a pivotal theme in my work. It is not just him, but the companionship that we share, and the actual need we have for each other. The piece today shows my vulnerability and the fact that not every stroke is one of artistic bliss. I would like to show how often it is a freeing and very growth inducing lesson to breathe life into a painting that for one reason or another falls short of what you expected.
The original painting is on paper, and for the most part is a disaster in my eyes. I had originally thought of using two figures connected and having them interact with animals, in particular dogs. I feel this painting fails on many levels and it very much like running through church naked to post this for me, but I think we all learn by our mistakes so here goes…
I am disappointed on many levels. There is no emotion in this piece there is nothing happening between the shapes to makes the piece feel dynamic. It is mute in its ability to speak to anyone, short of the dog shape referring to Rocko, it is emotionally bereft of feelings. The design is lacking miserably as well, so this is not what I wanted. To show how really cruel I can be to myself, I am posting the black and white jpeg, which without color shows even more clearly the blankness of this piece.
The paper is not expensive, probably four or five dollars, but the little monkey that periodically appears in my head keeps poking and prodding my brain forcing me to not give up. I could more easily start on a new piece but something is urging me to experiment with the mediums and perhaps teach myself something technically as well in the process of resurrecting this painting. So here we go…I just love a good adventure…
Large brush in hand, actually a chip brush , the cheapest you can buy,I dip into the gesso and begin to see a heartbeat thump on my paper, life is returning here. I am feeling better with every stroke. There are parts that are completely obliterated and covered with the blanket of thick snow white gesso. I am feeling the comforting promise of a new beginning with the first stroke. There is a mingling of colors being picked up in the previous layers of watercolor and gouache creating new textures and colors with the gesso. The gesso is acrylic based and as the watercolor mixes with the gesso it creates a toned gesso surface. My paper is now taking on a leathery new texture, I am thinking the gesso will be somewhat absorbent but also will only allow any application of watercolor to lie on the surface giving me the option of lifting any color I am not satisfied with up to another value or completely off. This is good, and gives me even more options. I end up with almost a blurred deep in the fog looking painting that is interesting in itself but I am sure I can make this work so I will venture to another level. I feel somewhat vindicated at this point, and go to bed thinking of new ways to apply paint to this new and engaging surface.
Okay no bed yet, I am unable to sleep until I change a few things. I am starting to change the design a bit; I added another dog and some lines have moved. I am still not sure about the figures, they bother me but I will tend to that in the morning. I have a gallon of gesso if I need to change the figures I can do it tomorrow.
Morning comes and I am walking into the studio and seeing the painting with fresh eyes, caffeinated by 3 cups of coffee and ready to paint. I am still not happy with the figures, they do not make the statement I am after with this piece, so I gesso one of them completely out of the space. I have to wait for the gesso to dry, and while I am waiting, I do a few value studies to play with the design. I am thinking about the painting and the concept behind the piece. I feel closer to it now that it has one figure as that would feel more personal. I am trying to show the relationship of a figure to another figure or figures and this time it is animals, in particular dogs. When I think of dogs the words that come to mind are loyal, faithful, companionship, playful, watchful, guardians etc
I am posting the black and whites as well as the color jpegs to show the values and how they are working or not working. Well, the dog shapes are fun and seem to be leading the eye pretty well back to the figure but the figure is a stick in the mud. It actually kills the piece with the stoic vertical stiff look, this has to be rectified. I can say the colors are nice but the value is too heavy on one side. The options are one to heavy up the value somewhere on the opposite side to give a balance or two I can change the values totally again. I am in this for change so since the entire figure has to change; while I am changing, I will create a new value pattern. I am hoping to give the figure a way to connect physically and mentally with the dog shapes to show the connection I am trying to evoke from this painting. I am thinking this could be nice bird cage liner at this point but the little monkey is working overtime and prodding me to keep trying. I have a plan for the figure and will put it into action. Here we go…
Well I gave my figure some life and extended the upper dog leg shape down to connect to the figure. Now I have my eye moving in a circle shape which reinforces my theme for the piece. The hoops will be another way to give the circle shape to the piece. I will repeat the hoops three times, as odd numbers are always more interesting and in my mind I am thinking that the dog shapes each have a hoop and the figure has a hoop, this makes sense to me,as we all seem to jump through hoops to please each other. I am pleased with the turn of events here and seeing a definite rhythm going now. The design now is pleasing to my eye and works to relate my message, I can ask no more from a design standpoint in this piece, and to think I was going to make this a bird cage carpet just a few steps back. Perseverance is the key to most things in life and art, giving up is easy but I have learned volumes from my mistakes in this piece. After a few more hours of pondering strokes and application of paint and working through my thoughts on color and cohesiveness in color I finish the painting. I may never show it or sell it but it is invaluable for the lessons it taught me in the process. Here is the final painting. It feels right to me now and I believe it works, or at the very least it expresses the emotional feeling I was after and I saved the paper!
I hope you might have learned something from my mistakes and enjoyed muddling through the process with me. I am grateful to you for reading. Take care and have a great month!
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