Sunday, December 30, 2012

Pushing Paint

For the longest time I used to paint from memory, than from photos, and than from just bits of photos and yesterday in an afternoon of painting I experienced several shifts of thought and realized very distinct differences in painting and the feeling you have when you are deeply involved in a painting.
I think teaching painting has very much pushed me to not be happy with the idea of pushing paint around, the feeling is very enjoyable if not frustrating which depends on your place and mood.

I have several waterfalls started-one of Petit Jean in Arkansas which has been pending for about a good two years and another of Turner Falls in Oklahoma-you notice a trend here-waterfalls. I don't want to paint another landscape that is as good, even closely to anything I have previously created, I want the water to be so clear and so crystal the viewers get at least a cold feeling or even barely the feeling they get sitting in front of a waterfall. I want the viewer to look for the movement and clarity and try to find the key to how the painting has captured that feeling so well-this is a tall order for a painter but something that I believe is a process that has showed me the place where painting from memory can only fail. The simplest things we don't notice are the reasons why we see a waterfall and feel things in a landscape-these small details are the first things we lose in a painting from memory.

Here is the experience that I noticed first hand. Usually I start painting with the idea that I have a short time to do as much work as I can get done and I must feel whatever painting I decide to start. If I am in the mood for a cold winter scene, I have a hard time painting a sunny landscape. If I am extremely detail oriented, I will chose to paint something that has lots of details I can get lost in and not  a water scene that begs for less detail and more quick responses to atmosphere and image. I have always said the less you put into t a water scene the better because the details are often in what you don't see or barely see rather than the great use of details.  I have a rose painting that people have remarked about the droplets-it's the simplicity and lack of paint that actually captured the droplets-this image was actually created from life which brings me to the next idea and supports the idea that memory often fails us. When we try to capture something beautiful and simple our memory tends to overdo the image-we fill in the gaps with details and ruin the fresh simplicity which will make the image what the viewer has a dilemma and begs the question-how did he or she do that?

I painted the Petit Jean image and departed from the original idea that escaped me and made me push paint back and forth for the last six months, granted in overlapping the strokes of paint the skeleton image beneath was actually necessary and made the overlapped detail work but at the time it seemed tedious at best-ask my student about painting rocks-notice the second painting she did was void of details-that says a lot. So suddenly after looking at a photograph the image came together and suddenly every stroke was called for-I knew where the paint went and what color went where because it made sense and the photograph although missing much information allowed me the direction to support whatever memories failed me.

After having a great flow of work with the one painting I switched to a commission I am working on from a photograph, the image is very detailed but extremely well positioned and thought out. The lines are clean, the execution is almost without surprise-which is the drawback of painting from a photograph where the knowledge of the scene increases the quality of the image being captured, much of the surprises and mistakes that occur from memory are lost. Much of the freedom of stroke and movement are somewhat toned down-there are drawbacks to both. After a very successful time painting this painting I switched to a portrait for all of a second or two but I just wasn't in the detail oriented mode and feared ruining what I started. So on to the Turner Falls image-painting from memory and some poor pix-I felt like I did more harm than good-the colors muddied quickly, the depth and clarity of the water turned more into a bunch of lines and colors that just didnt' capture any depth, coldness or clarity of the water-I was pushing paint again.

I quickly got off before I did too much damage and worked on an ocean scene that has gone through many changes in form and focus-it's kind of a wild card but here is the fun of painting from memory-freedom-almost working in an abstract feeling-enjoying the movement in lines, the change of form and colors-I created an ocean scene but nothing in the scene was clear as a wave or a rock, even the boat was somewhat an afterthought. The only success I felt I had achieved was a great depth of the painting, a change in the light and movement and it was a really free enjoyable process-I will in the future look at an ocean scene to capture some of the intangible details that I feel I missed in the execution. It is just funny how the brain reacts to different processes of painting and different needs are achieved by different approaches we take to capturing realism/impressionism/expressionism., which brings me to the new year and the new process I am excited to embark on-Plein Air- I plan on painting outside from life more often and I'm excited to see the change of works and how the eye and brain depicts realism from life instead of photographs or memory.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Taking Chances with Style and Technique

Too often we fall into a safe rut with our artwork or creative endeavors, choosing subconsciously to stay with what we are familiar with. A portrait artist may tend to stay with portraits, a landscape artist with a certain landscape style or even region they paint. Over the years I have painted many landscapes and unfortunately at times find myself attempting to stay within a particular style or using the same mediums and colors.

As I have gotten older and perhaps more confident with my mediums I have gotten more eager to try new things and open to new directions. I have painted more people in the last few years than I ever have, I will try anything once, being unafraid to not succeed is the key to many recent successes. I have recently started to revamp a painting that had sat on my wall for many months waiting for a new direction. The painting is a simple landscape of Lake Ray Hubbard and the original image is a late afternoon moon rise over the lake. Originally there were the wild sunflowers in the foreground which were small and barely gave any direction in the painting. They turned into an area of flowers that didn't do much for the scene but maybe lessen and distract from any depth. I did like the direction the moon was taking and the light in the scene was headed somewhere but the foreground was just blah.

The painting sat unfinished, I even added flowers, deleted them, adjusted the light and the water but nothing seemed to spark the creative vision that originally motivated me to start painting. This particular image was not even sketched out or envisioned which might explain the loss of direction in painting it.

I drive through the country and see many sunflowers on a daily basis and have gotten the idea of a field of wild sunflowers with dashes of blues and violets. I thought of the image as a rough, almost violent scene of sunflowers in a simple field. Suddenly the image that lost all its inspiration became a place to throw paint and enjoy strokes of raw color. I didn't care about the quality of each flower or the grasses and detail it was more the whole image with the vibrance of the sunflowers and dashes of violent color and suddenly from no mood and direction an image finally appeared in my mind.

Another element that appeared in the new image was that of a young girl staring into the distance, the departure from the original and the chances I took with colors, style and subject matter turned something mundane into a vibrant place that restored my excitement and inspiration. I believe the creative mind needs to be challenged, pushed beyond its comfort zone and allowed to play.

The need to create what will be a masterpiece can often turn into a mundane task that loses all its vigor. Sometimes taking chances with color and form and having no fear of failing miserably is the shot of inspiration and passion a painting is desperately missing.


Have any other artists had the same process? Do you always know where the painting is going and how often are you surprised by the final work? Do you often enjoy just the process of playing with form and color instead of being afraid to not perfect the inspiration?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Art by Gordon: Criticism, the Best Learning Experience I've Ever ...

Art by Gordon: Criticism, the Best Learning Experience I've Ever ...: Criticism, the Best Learning Experience I've Ever Known Artists can become blinded by their own sense of accomplishment and tend to recrea...
Criticism, the Best Learning Experience I've Ever Known

Artists can become blinded by their own sense of accomplishment and tend to recreate the same image and the same mistakes over and over again. Another drawback in this point in the creative career is that we tend to feel we're better or further along than we are. I had the good fortune about twenty years ago to meet with a very talented professional artist and teacher as well as a gallery owner. My first expectation at the time was that they couldn't get over how amazing of an artist I was and that they just had to have me in their gallery at any price I wanted. Of course, this was not the case, luckily for my beginning career as an artist-I learned humility and much about what makes descent art much better.

I learned that what I knew about perspective and depth was lacking and learned to think about depth, color, light, value-Immediately I learned what I might be doing right and what I needed to do better.
So many of the bad habits I had picked up and the lack of being able to be objective enough to truelly see what I was creating opened a whole new scope of ideas and a wealth of knowledge I had just started to process.

Unfortunately my first feeling of painting was awkward at best. I started out questioning every movement I made, I had a hard time going into a subconscious state of creating because the things I had learned were not second nature yet and I was thinking and processing every lesson I had learned. I found myself pushing paint-a term I use for what seems like painting a strangers painting. I saw the process and instead of being able to paint fluidly and without thinking, every stroke I made was awkward and clumsy. I had several failed series of works, many that never saw the light of day.

Over the years I had come to the point where the new lessons I had learned became second nature and I no longer had to think of how to create in varying shapes to create interest or to change values or colors to illustrate depth, everything became second nature to me again but instead of going back to painting the way I had been, I had a new way of seeing my own work and a greater arsenal of tools to use in my painting and I learned to use them with the instinct of an artist that had grown from the criticism and objectivity of the lessons I learned from other artists and art lovers.

I welcome criticism, I want to know what hits and what doesn't, I know it is a subjective process and one persons' art is anothers' garbage but I believe the more we can step back and really see what our art does to the viewer and learn other ways of judging our own work, we open a door to an amazing insight into what makes us artists and what makes great art.

QUESTION: What was the greatest lesson you learned through a viewers opinion or the criticism of artists or art lovers that were critical of your art? How did it change you as an artist? How did it change your art?

Monday, December 3, 2012

Art by Gordon: This post is a question to all creatives and I hop...

Art by Gordon: This post is a question to all creatives and I hop...: This post is a question to all creatives and I hope we can get a dialog going about the creative processes. I would like to know if there ar...
This post is a question to all creatives and I hope we can get a dialog going about the creative processes. I would like to know if there are commonalities in the creative process. I will lay out the questions and I hope readers will include their comments about their process of creativity.

Question 1: What motivates you to create the image, work of writing, etc?

For me, there is an initial stimulus, it is usually an atmosphere that I encounter while in a landscape, that feeling creates the mood and usually there is a feeling of temperature which drive the colors and a feeling of mood which drives the light or lack of it. The initial inspiration is very quick and the image is clear in the mind but the feeling and the image disappear very quickly. This initial inspiration is the impetus for the sketch which can often sit in a sketchbook for years and will often change and adapt in several different sketched versions. I feel like the layout is decided by this process of the idea fermenting.

Question 2: Do you finish a painting or work of writing before you start on something else?

I work on multiple works simultaneously, I have a short attention span when it comes with the inspiration and the details.

Question 3: Are there rituals you go through or certain processes you go through while creating?

When I first start painting, there is excitement and enthusiasm about painting. I will quickly go into somewhat of a blur while painting or writing and often forget details after finishing for the session. What often appears to be incredible in that state often turns out afterwards to be nothing but mistakes-The view I have of my work changes every time I look at the work which often is why it is hard to finish paintings. It all depends on the mood I am in and the paintings tend to take a life of their own, much of the details I don't consciously remember creating-they tend to work themselves out in the process. After a series is done, there is usually a period of somewhat depressive state with much doubt of the finished product hit the mark. Over time I will know if it was a success or failure.

The creative process is a very intangible working of the brain, I think we work between conscious and subconscious and being able to turn the creativity on and off can be a blessing or a curse. I have felt the euphoria of creating and the opposite side of that feeling and believe it is a common thing among creatives-we are constantly working between both sides of the brain and continually grow the parts of the brain that see our surroundings in a way that others might not. I hope many of my readers will chime in on this process and answer these three questions adding whatever creative thoughts or ideas of the process you see fit. Thanks for reading my blog.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Art by Gordon: New Paintings About to be Updated on Site After t...

Art by Gordon: New Paintings About to be Updated on Site

After t...
: New Paintings About to be Updated on Site After teaching two painting classes, I have learned many things about my trade and the act of pa...
New Paintings About to be Updated on Site

After teaching two painting classes, I have learned many things about my trade and the act of painting. I will be creating several posts about the processes of teaching, the lessons that I shared with my student and how I was able to decipher what I do subconsciously into terms that the layperson could understand. Articulating the process has really helped me in the process of my own painting.

I am planning on posting probably twelve paintings or so in the next few weeks. I have finished eight paintings already and after photographing, signing and finishing they will be posted to the and with each painting on the site I will either include poetry to describe the place if appropriate or the mechanics of the original inspiration and how long it was on the list of paintings to be done. This I hope will give a better insight into the process of the creative experience.

I believe my paintings have really come full circle-they have gone from very dark, to ridiculously light and now back to somewhat darker but much more colorful and rich in color. More changes that are coming to the website is a page on photography and a page on writing. I will also be highlighting some upcoming stories that will be published on the site. Please check back and I will keep posting about the upcoming paintings.

Art by Gordon: Capturing Depth in a One Dimensional Frame In rea...

Art by Gordon: Capturing Depth in a One Dimensional Frame

In rea...
: Capturing Depth in a One Dimensional Frame In real life, the brain deciphers reality and the depth of a scene by visual cues but much of t...
Capturing Depth in a One Dimensional Frame

In real life, the brain deciphers reality and the depth of a scene by visual cues but much of the dimension is filled in by certain assumptions that the brain makes by experience and reason. The assumption of reality often hampers the effects that the artist tries to create, what we assume of reality is often more complicated or visually incorrect, in creating droplets of water the initial conception would attempt a complex process of capturing the depth and clarity of water when in actuality the process is very simple and basic, the less detail you can achieve especially trying to create water the more believable the end image.

In seeing images across the visual plane we use our experience and concept of depth and color to make decisions on depth and the distance we are seeing. You know that the ocean is a great distance of space, the visual cues you record only support and confirm the distance. I recently went to a cave in California, Moaning rocks cavern-the distance to the ceiling of the cavern is roughly the height of the statue of liberty but because of the lack of visual cues for the brain to decipher the distance the distance seems much less than the actual depth of the cave. The illusion of distance and space is something that the artist and the photographer must capture and relate on a one dimensional field.

Many times you see a scene and photograph the image hoping to capture that same feeling of depth and beauty and unfortunately many times we are left with a flat uninteresting image in the end. There are two processes at work here, first the camera attempts to capture everything in a gray basic tone and will make a multitude of values a close semblance of constant gray, photographers must meter their light to exaggerate lighter or darker areas of a scene to make the camera decipher a scene in a more significant range of tones therefore allowing the depth and space of an image. Another factor that is involved is the availability of visual cues that allow the viewer to decipher the distance between the back of a one dimensional plane to the front. These visual cues capture the illusion of a distance that is deciphered on a flat plane.

Painting is the same kind of visual illusion, you must adjust, exaggerate and highlight changes in light, tone, sharpness and value-this is how you allow the eye to go deep into a one dimensional scene capturing the illusion of space on a flat plane. Surrealists often bend this illusion and often the feeling of a reality that is awkward or somewhat disturbing may be achieved, cubists capture various planes of an image and flatten the each plane on the same plane-all of these techniques is how the artist manipulates how the viewer sees the space the artist creates. Art is an illusion and the more options the artist has to manipulate it, the more options and cues that are available to interest the viewer. This is the first lesson that I taught my recent student and how we approached each area of the paintings had to do with this premiss.
Finding A Finishing Line

I  have a short attention span in regards to painting, that is why I end up painting multiple works at once. There are steps in the process of creating that are all very integral but often intangible. I call the first stage of the inspiration the fermenation period of the idea. I have no interest in painting something that is just attractive, there needs to be a feeling, an emotional response that comes to the viewer, with this in mind I believe the need for the fermenation of the original concepts captures the subtle edges that turn a pretty landscape into an emotional scene.

Over the recent years, I have gotten very scattered in my painting process which has come to equal an amazing amount of works without any sign of finishing. I have worked on paintings that originated up to twenty years ago and continue to map out creations that will eventually become sketches and finally finished works. These ideas tend to stay in the fermentation point and recently I have all images stopping abruptly at that stage, this is a dilemma for an artist wanting some product to display.

The problem with my somewhat fickle approach to painting is the original idea is often so fleeting that in the middle of creation the idea and original inspiration become barely tangible. In my recent teaching experiences an observation has occurred to me-you either work forward toward the finished product or you are pushing paint around. The pushing paint around is a feeling where you tend to just move paint around and this is often when I get the feeling I am painting someone elses' painting and I have become lost in the details, the original inspiration is gone. I have watched my recent student turn from someone that asks what next to someone that knows where the paint and stroke needs to go, almost instinctively and that is in my opinion when you are creating and not just pushing paint.

My studio is filled with so many paintings that hang on the wall in varying stages of completion, some are so far beyond the original idea I have often thought of just trashing them and often some are just never finished. I recently pulled down all the orphans of my creative inspiration and decided which needed to be finished, which needed to be trashed and the difference in the stages of their completion, in this process I was able to get closer to actually finishing paintings that before had hung on the wall waiting for the next step.

It is a very strange feeling when you pick up from a pile of paintings, each individual painting and suddenly you know what needs to be done. There are invisible cues that become real as if suddenly I  know where every stroke should go and what color goes where. There is a feeling of absence at this point just like writing poetry, suddenly you are lost in the image but your subconscious mind is completely familiar with the work and understands every nuance of the scene and what needs to be done to finish the painting. I have signed eight paintings in the last week and have started the six week process of eventually finishing them with lacquer, it is an exciting point in the creative process.

I believe one reason that it's hard to keep momentum on the multiple paintings is when I get lost in a painting's details I lose the subconscious understanding of the details and what needs to go where. Changing paintings and atmospheres disrupts that feeling of being overwhelmed by the details but unfortunately my short attention span takes over again and another painting begins its long process of becoming a finished product.