Monday, December 31, 2012

going back in

Winter weather extended our trip to the coast from eight days to ten, since we drove the longer southern route to avoid Pacific storms in the north. That, combined with a bout of nasty stomach flu, took me away from the studio mentally as completely as I was removed physically. But I took my camera along on the trip, and on the days of better health I managed to record small, informal, subjectively compelling photos of water and reflections. The practice had the desired effect of moving my mind into its visual artistic mode, if only briefly, and provided a link to that aspect of my life in a way that neither sketchbook nor journal has done in the past.

Today was my first opportunity since getting home to go back into the studio, and to go back into that mental space where my painting happens. I took advantage of the first few moments to take a fresh look at the current work hanging on the pegboard, and I could feel myself being pulled back into the process. Before immersion happened, I made mental notes about the new ideas that presented themselves.  Then I put on my painting apron, and got to work.

One piece in particular, a 24" x 24" study in browns, is very close to finished and needs only a session or two of small, thoughtful mark-making and blending. Much of the painting can stand as it is, with some areas (such as the 4" x 4" excerpt above) delightfully crisp and complex. But other sections are dull or awkward, and call for going back into them to add interest. Rather than tackle this today, I eased back in more slowly, revamping an unsatisfactory 12" x 12" (still unsatisfactory but improved), messing up a pair of too-precious 8" x 10"s, and generally reacquainting myself with the materials and the rhythm of work. It is good to be home.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

change of venue

We are off on an eight-day trip to the San Francisco area to visit friends and family. I closed up the studio with some reluctance, since I have been enjoying the momentum of the daily sessions of the past ten weeks. As I looked around my space today at the paintings completed, the paintings nearly done, and the paintings just begun, I couldn't help but have a sense of accomplishment. And several of the incomplete pieces are calling out for more development, so that I think it will be easy to get back into the rhythm of work when we return.

My hours today were spent on a 12" x 9" piece that has been through so many "final" iterations that I ended up dissolving and scraping back two separate surfaces that had thickened the piece without bringing it to a conclusion. This is a simple matter of spraying mineral spirits onto the surface and scraping and brayering off layers of paint. Fun but also dangerous, this process reduces paint thickness and also reveals (often unexpected) treasures on the lower layers. The danger is that those surprises may not complement the vision of the upper layers, and I sometimes have to reassess what to do next. I have discarded more than one piece that became so mangled that I despaired: One of the pleasant developments of the past few months is that I seem to be able to manage things better now.

This morning, after an hour-plus of work, I had a very pleasing result, and thought, "Finished at last!" But then I wondered if a mist of mineral spirits might clarify some of the colors (applied correctly, mineral spirits can cause some pigments to separate from others and bring a pleasing brightness to a surface). This led to fiddling and nudging, more misting, and, ultimately, taking off too much paint in too many places. Nonetheless, I had the sense to stop before losing all of the work I had just done, and I left the painting hanging on the pegboard to dry. It is one of the pieces to which I am eager to return. It may in fact be finished; I was too close to it to tell by the end of my work today.

The image above is not of the 12" x 9", but rather a finished 16" x 12" from last month -- another that was sprayed and brayered twice before coming to conclusion. I have the honor of its being part of a new web site, Resources for Cold Wax Painting, created by Rebecca Crowell. The site provides a wealth of material about this flexible and expressive medium in which I work.

Friday, December 14, 2012

mixing business with pleasure

So far in my brief career as a painter, I have had the luxury of sending my work off to others and letting them tend to the business of sales. I began painting seriously about the same time that friends founded Gallery 24 here in Torrey, Utah, where I live, and they were kind enough to represent me. Over the years I have been with two other galleries in southern Utah. My production level has always been slow enough that I never had more pieces than the galleries could handle (not that everything sold!). In the last couple of years, however, as my style has become more consistent, my production has increased a bit, and I have begun to consider other ways to sell, either through a new gallery or through direct efforts.

I am still considering these options, and plan to investigate them actively after the holidays. In the meantime, though, the owners of Gallery 24 decided to retire and close the gallery. Chagrined by the idea of Torrey losing one of its two galleries, and by the thought of not having local representation, a small group of us artists who have been with the gallery decided to investigate the idea of keeping it open ourselves. The result is a six-partner agreement, about to be filed as a business with the state of Utah, and the organization of a new... well, organization. We are a friendly group, and so far are working well together. We each have different strengths and interests in terms of the business side of things, and so are sharing tasks as much as we are sharing ideas. It is both exciting and scary, to be in charge ourselves. If nothing else, it guarantees that 2013 will be an interesting year.

There is a lot to learn and experience, and while I know that it will be fun, at the same time it is not something I would have sought without the incentives of the specific situation. I am far more interested in creating than in selling (yes, I know, selling can be creative, but not in the same way!). On the other hand, if I intend to explore other options for marketing my work, the experience of being part owner (yikes!) of a gallery can only enhance my efforts. It is an opportunity for growth, in what I hope is a manageable way, and I hope that the experience will complement my efforts in the studio.

The latest of these efforts, above, is 16" x 16" x 2", as yet unnamed. I like it.

Friday, December 7, 2012

vision and revision

There are times when the work just flows, and times when it doesn't, as creative people generally know and experience. For seven weeks now, I've been painting for fifteen hours or more each week, showing up in the studio on a daily basis, and the practice has become an established habit, which was my original goal. (Yay! Check that one off the list!) As time goes by, I experience both days when the work flows and days when it doesn't. Because I know I'll be back tomorrow, I don't panic when things don't go well. Nor do I take it for granted when the process flows and the results are pleasing. I pretty much know that it probably won't happen two days in a row, but it happens often enough that I don't get discouraged.

I would like to figure how what it is that makes things go well when they do. Am I more relaxed? I don't think so. Do I have a different attitude, for example curiosity and playfulness rather than determination and focus? I don't think so, either. Do I have more of a plan for what I do, or less of one? Neither. Do I paint more quickly, more instinctively, more carefully, more casually, more daringly, more cautiously? I can’t say that any of these characteristics are consistently present when the process flows, nor when it doesn’t. Whatever happens, just sort of happens.

If I can’t identify what makes things flow – or not – the implication is that I will never be able to count on the process going well. Books and magazines are full of articles about how to get the process flowing, from carefully planning and executing to relaxing and letting things go, and numerous methods in between. My personal tendency is to try to note what techniques work, and when, to achieve some effect that I want, and to consciously know what I am doing. This is much of what my hours in the studio are spent doing: experimenting and then documenting the successes.

But if I can’t control the flow, I would still like to know how to encourage it, if such a thing is possible. At present, about all I can do is show up and have faith that it might happen. Maybe someday I’ll find a hook that helps it happen on a consistent basis.

Another salient issue related to this phenomenon is how to make progress when the materials aren't cooperating. I am gradually learning tendencies to avoid (my obsession this past week has been about piling up paint too thickly). Looking for danger signals as a painting progresses is a good method for avoiding major problems, but it is inevitable that the learning process be full of problem solving. I’ve done a lot of dissolving and scraping this past week, and it has been something of a breakthrough that I have successfully brought to conclusion two paintings that in earlier stages had been “ruined”. I do generally have a vision – if a vague one – of what I want to produce, and in many ways these days it is just a question of how much revision it will take to get there.

The image above is of a much revised 24” x 30” piece that I have declared to be finished. The bottom section is thicker than I like in some areas, but I have reworked it so many times that I finally declared, “DONE!” I think it will do. On the other hand, I can always scrape it down again….