Monday, February 25, 2008

Happy Accident

At times it happens that while painting a picture artists come to a block, whether if it's for aesthetic or technical reasons. In my experience it happens frequently, but not quite like one particular painting, a portrait I have been trying to complete since October of 2005. My dear old friend Steve is back on the easel, a portrait so close to completion but yet so far off. The background has been reworked so many times, as well as the face, but I can never get it right.
In my eagerness to try to get this picture out of the way once and for all I started making mistakes. I chose a color that might work for the new background, but it turns out that Turkish Umber is way too wet. I thought it would be fine since I would be mixing it with Unbleached Titanium, a very stiff paint. But the umber had too high an oil content. The mixture was too loose, runny, and it would not give me the kind of strokes I needed in this painting. I didn't want to change the color, and mixing more paint would do just that. I reached for some chalk to stiffen the mixture up. Chalk, when added to/suspended in oil turns transparent, but it remains bulky. Just the right thing to fix my dilemma. But out of clumsiness I poured too much out of the jar. No problem, all I had to do was add more oil. Again, I poured too much oil and everything became a watery mixture. To get it to the way I wanted I mixed more dry ingredients such as Titanium White pigment and more chalk. I also added more of the Turkish Umber to keep the grey tone.
After some mixing I got the paint to the consistency I wanted. But to my surprise, when I applied it to the canvas it had a full body. It was thick enough to create some wonderful brush marks without blending. I thought I had come across a new way of painting, I had been looking of something to give my paint more body, and thick painting mediums like Canada Balsam and Venice Turpentine weren't doing the job. Turns out I had the answer all along I just didn't think of it sooner.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Start Fresh Again

When I began this painting I had decided to approach my process in a new way. Instead of mixing colors on the palette, I took Tad Spurgeon’s advice (through his website), to mix the colors directly on the canvas and develop the painting from there. At first it seemed like I could be into something, hoping the new approach would take me on another direction. But after the canvas was covered with the first paint layer I couldn’t help thinking that everything looked grey and muddy. I hate muddiness! In order for me to keep working I needed to get the painting back to square one. Again, I covered the surface with earth tones and some Zinc white. It was time for a fresh start

I let it sit and dry for a couple of days, although I could have worked on it some more the very next day due to the fast drying time of the Canada Balsam medium I’m using. As always I start working on the background, an important element in my work since it sets the mood of the painting. In trying to keep the balance between warm and cool tones, I chose to work the background with King’s Blue. Recently I have been very interested in different blue pigments, and this was an excuse to put that interest into practice.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

What To Do With Bad Lunch

Tuna Salad Sandwich, 2008, ball point pen in Moleskine sketchbook
It was a bad sandwich, something about it didn't taste right. It took half of the whole sandwich for me too figure out that something about it was just not right. Took some thinking in my part to find out that it was the chesse that was funny tasting. I looked at it and didn't see that it was bad but it sure did taste like it. I had to pick the cheese out, but by the time I was done I was no longer hungry. The whole stop and think what's wrong with this sandwich killed my appetite. I felt bad throwing it out, I hate wasting food, so what to do with this? Why not draw it? Moral of the story is, if your food is no good, at least it serves as a good drawing or painting subject.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Let it Snow

Snow came down hard all throughout Tuesday. It’s the first snow fall of the season in New York, it covered the city in white, which it’s a nice site to see, but as most of us here know the prettiness only lasts for so long. Once it starts melting everything becomes a big muddy swamp. As snow flakes hit the windows I sat in front of the easel late at night working on the sliced pear painting. I had done some work to the background a few days ago but it came out all wrong. I had to wait for it to dry before I could start work on it again. In the meantime I had to think about how to cover the pale mint green I had covered it with. It needed to be toned down, there was no doubt about that, but how and with what color. I was not sure if I should keep working with some kind of soft green or should I try some other neutral color. Too many thoughts running through my head made it hard for me to come to a clear idea of where I want this painting to go. To get rid of confusion I covered the background with a mixture of earth tones. I applied it thinly so that the green under layer could show through. I proceeded to keep working the whole painting using earth tones, building up layers trying to get a new feel for the painting.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Color It

This is perhaps the scariest part of painting. The first few layers of paint can sometimes be discouraging, colors appear matte, flat and at times muddy. Every painting has to start somewhere, and the great thing about painting is that the start is alwasy messy, but from all the comotion of good and bad choices one arrives at clarity. I was reading the notes of another painter whom I admire, Tad Spurgeon. I am always intrigued by his process and his knowledge of materials. Somewhere along I read that it's best to mix colors on the surface of the painting itself, instead of doing it on the palette. 

"I am also making this more with the technique Hoogstraten outlined of not mixing color on the palette, but allowing the tones to mix on the painting. This is a bit jarring at first but keeps everything brighter with this low chroma palette and results in small zippy color fragments being left underneath."

I took my cue and started applying colors on the canvas and mixing them in as I went along. At first everythig was bright and crude, but as I added more color some nice combinations started happening. This is when the scary part comes to a halt and possibilities arrise. This is the part when ideas come, and since it's very early in the process they can all be tested. For now I have a general idea of where this painting might go, but who knows, things can always go in different directions.  My observations so far of this new approach is that it helps keep the paint loose, which will be beneficial at the end in keeping a painterly feel.  

Friday, February 01, 2008

Spiral Jetty in Danger?

Robert Smithson, Spiral Jetty, 1970, Great Salt Lake, Utah
I just received an email forwarded to me by my friend Josh, a sculptor, that it seems like Robert Smithson's Sprial Jetty might be in danger of being destroyed in the name of oil drilling. Bellow you will find an article which explains the situation, followed by an email from Nancy Holt, Smithson's widow. Whether you're a traditional or modern artists, or even if this is not your aesthetic, there is no denying that this is an important work in the history of art. Please help save it!

Los Angeles Times
Quick Takes
January 31, 2008
Drilling plans spur art protest
Artist Nancy Holt, the widow of artist Robert Smithson, is encouraging others in the arts world to protest plans for exploratory oil drilling in Utah's Great Salt Lake that may have an impact on her late husband's 1,500-foot-long, 15-foot-wide environmental artwork "Spiral Jetty."
The giant "earthwork," built in 1970 of mud, salt crystals, basalt rocks and water on the northeastern shore of the Great Salt Lake, near Rozel Point, is considered perhaps Smithson's most important work. Subject to the rise and fall of the lake water level, the work was submerged for three decades, re-emerging in 1999.
After being notified Monday of the drilling plan by Lynn DeFreitas, director of the group Friends of the Great Salt Lake, Holt blasted a group e-mail to artistic colleagues urging them to send letters of protest "to save the beautiful, natural environment around the Spiral Jetty."
In an interview Wednesday, DeFreitas said that the proposed drilling by Pearl Montana Exploration and Production would not call for drilling directly into the artwork but offshore equipment could cause noise and visual impairment in a relatively pristine area.
John Harja, director of the governor's public lands office for the State of Utah, confirmed Wednesday that his office had received about 160 e-mails from all over the world, mostly from artists or art facilities, protesting the drilling plans. He said the office had extended its deadline for public comment on the proposal to Feb. 13 and that Pearl Montana Exploration and Production would be taking all comments under advisement.
--Diane Haithman

From: Nancy Holt <nholt@nancyholt.org>
Date: Tue, 29 Jan 2008 12:34:46 -0700
To: Nancy Holt <nholt@nancyholt.org>
Conversation: Spiral Jetty Oil Drilling
Subject: Spiral Jetty Oil Drilling

Dear Friends,
Yesterday I received an urgent email from Lynn DeFreitas, Director of Friends of the Great Salt Lake, telling me of plans for drilling oil in the Salt Lake near Spiral Jetty. See Attachments. The deadline for protest is tomorrow, Wednesday, at 5PM. Of course, DIA has been informed and are meeting about it today.
I have been told by Lynn that the oil wells will not be above the water, but that means some kind of industrial complex of pipes and pumps beneath the water and on the shore. The operation would require roads for oil tank trucks, cranes, pumps etc. which produce noise and will severely alter the wild, natural place.
If you want to send a letter of protest to save the beautiful, natural Utah environment around the Spiral Jetty from oil drilling, the emails or calls of protest go to Jonathan Jemming 801-537-9023 jjemming@utah.gov. Please refer to Application # 8853. Every letter makes a big difference, they do take a lot of notice and know that publicity may follow. Since the Spiral Jetty has global significance, emails from foreign countries would be of special value.
They try to slip these drilling contracts under the radar, that’s why we found out so late, not through notification, but from a watchdog lawyer at the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, the group that alerted me to the land leasing for oil and gas near Sun Tunnels last May.
Thank you for your consideration of this serious environmental matter.
Be well,
Nancy

In the Meantime

I have been working on Yellow Heirloom Tomato steadily but slowly. I keep fussing with the towel, which seems to never end. I've started to get way to precious with it and tonight I decided to stop. I needed a break from dabbing endless hues of whites, yellows and greens. My eyes have been going crazy and tired with the towel. So to take a break from it why not start a new painting? I'm back at painting on canvas, a familiar feeling like an old friend that makes you wonder why you ever lost touch. I'm also back at using the aquare format which for some years I have favored most. As I put things in my life into perspective I am very happy to start painting again. I am very excited to be back at work that I may start workig on a third painting. As one painting comes close to being done, is always nice to have other paintings going in the meantime.