SS: 003 / How do I start a painting?
First I want to thank those who have expressed interest in the first blog posts, it is motivating for me and greatly appreciated!
In this blog I was asked by a great friend of mine and talented artist, Dillon Bay, who asked if I could cover how I envision one of my paintings? How I would describe the mental steps I take before applying any paint to canvas. Thank you Dillon for your thoughts I hope this will make sense to everyone. I know that sometimes my typing rants only make sense to me, but I will do my best not to get too wordy.
I'm thinking that this topic will best be covered in sections. This post will be a perfect follow up from the previous post that discussed my subject matter and reasons why I chose the images I have for painting.
Thinking of a painting is a process that, for me, changes frequently. Some paintings are inspired by other images or artworks I have seen in person or online. Other paintings are a response to a concept that has been bugging me at that point in my life, for example the self portrait I painted last year (pictured below) found its purpose/concept during the process. Ultimately this painting was made to confess a simple emotion that I rarely talked about to most of those around me.
That self portrait turned out to be more important to me once it was finished, as I said earlier the concept developed or "revealed" itself to me during the process. This reveal has been a trend to my paintings over the past year. When I decided to work from family photographs I didn't, and still don't, know the how the paintings will turn out. But I think that's why I like working from them.
Painting used to be something that I would practice. I would practice the techniques of painting "close to reality" always "photorealism" which was fun at the time, but eventually I started to think that anyone could learn how to paint some of the works I made, leaving me unsatisfied. During my junior year at UWSP, I started to pay more attention to the scribbles in my notebooks. The ones that seemed to appear from thin air in between the lines of the pages. One time after I finished a semester of classes I cut out a batch of my favorite doodles in a notebook. I glued these onto scraps of masonite and then worked back into them with acrylic. This process of starting from an internal source really had my interest. Although, as with most artists, we are ashamed of earlier work. Tests that failed in our eyes don't live up to what we feel capable of creating now. I still see one of these college notebook creations on a daily basis, but the others are buried in a box or in a closet somewhere.
Hopefully through that jumble of thoughts you figured out that I grew bored of copying photographs color for color, and instead found a desire to explore and discover through my painting. Well that's what I meant anyway.
Bringing us back to the question of where I start with a painting. Well I spend a lot of time thinking. I've found that I'm the type of person that can sit and think about one occurance,on replay, for hours at a time. Sensitive is another way some people describe how I tend to react to the world. Eh, I'll take it. I think to be a painter you need a level of sensitivity that might run a little higher than average. I think that because of the weight I assign to situations, I in turn become more focused and motivated to paint. Sometimes I belive that everyone is sensitive, but only some choose to show it in obvious ways. I also think that people channel it in different ways.
Lately I've tried not to spend too much time planning the look of my artwork before its made. Going back to the statement about discovering through painting. When I work I have a loose direction for where I think the painting will end up. This causes me to paint over my entire progress at times because the surface isn't working for me at that particular moment. Some people may look at this decision as a negative thing. "You'll lose everything you've already made" or "You spent so much time on this" are responses I've heard before.
To me painting is a very simple thing. It's kind of strange when I stop and think about how much time I've spent holding a stick with hair on the end, moving pigment mixed with oil onto a piece of wood or woven canvas. Art is not the materials used in the process. Think about some of the most notorious paintings that millions of people have cherished over time. I visited the Chicago Art Museum a few weeks ago and my jaw dropped when I walked into the room of Monet paintings. But I also looked at the texture of the paint and thought about what the back of the canvases might have looked like. This is why I will paint over something that doesn't strike me anymore. I realized not that long ago, with the help of my painting professors, that what I love and spend hours and hours doing is with raw materials that mean nothing until the artist changes them.
Again I've decided to let my fingers ramble on run-on thoughts that veer from the goal of this post. Its just so damn easy to let all the thoughts flow through my fingers! Anyways, now I will address the technical side of beginning a painting, should be a bit easier to follow:
I will explain a process I have used a few times for some of my favorite paintings I've made.
Last year about this time I was looking for a free photo editing software that was similar to photoshop. I found pixlr, which is an online app that had the tools I needed and was easy enough to learn in a day. With this computer app I began putting together compositions that interested me and had undeveloped concepts at the time. Here are some examples of edits I made leading up to my spring semester of 2015.
The first photo (three figures) was made from photos I took during the winter of 2015. The bottom two pictures were created from images that are probably 20-22 years old.
Now I will post the paintings that were made from these edits shown above.
So these three paintings are examples of this process that I found with pixlr. The third painting was the one that changed the most from its digital composition. Part of that was because I worked on and off of this painting from about 9 months.
Showing you the digital compositions and its finished painted version doesn't really explain my thought process though. I think that what I'll do now is focus on one of these paintings and try to think back to what led me to the choices I made in that moment and why. To do this I will use the third painting as an example the one with the stroller.
This painting which is titled "A Look in the Park" was inspired by the photo below:
(I do have to say that I was going to try really hard not to show my source material too often because I didn't want to change someone's response to the paintings. But in this case I will make an exception to help anyone who is interested in understanding my process.)
In the bottom right corner of this photo you'll see my thumb peeking in. At this early stage of using family imagery I was taking pictures of these photographs using my iphone. Which I now know is a crummy way of starting because you have to deal with glare and loss of resolution. Scanning works a million times better.
I would give a description of this photograph, but I don't think I was really aware, if born yet, on this day. In the picture are my brother Tony and sister Becky. This picture is a good example for qualities I look for in subject matter. Because I start with rummaging through a handful of 4" x 6" images, I keep flipping through them until I see something interesting. Then after staring at the scene long enough I start to develop in my head a vision for what a painting might look like from this photograph. I remember thinking about the look my brother was giving my sister at the time. The way that she was looking towards the person taking the picture but not directly at the camera was also really intriguing to me. Its photos like this that have a really peculiar tension between the space of the figures.
Sometimes I see a picture of people I know and recognize and sometimes I only know someone through relation but have never met. The one similarity between all these images is that they all have affected and shaped my life and who I am today. When I flip through the stacks of 4x6's I think about this long line in the dark that has flashes of lights running along it. Each light could be one of these photos. Getting closer and closer to the moment I am in right now.
So what do I do when I pick out a photo to paint or a group of photos to paint? I guess you'll have to read my next blog post to find out.
Oooooooh building suspense....
Enjoy the day! And thanks for sticking through with me to the end!