Jan 29, 2015

#9- Blue in the Face

#9 - Blue in the Face, 6x6", Oil on Gesso MDF Board

Well, I gave myself a task to paint a face in less than one hour.  I used a reference from a mug shot, but substantially changed the likeness.  I liked the face and the look of studied indifference.

Once I decided to run with it, I saw what paint I had left on my palette from my last painting, and impulsively decided to make the face blue.  I had a lot of blue left over.  One thing led to another and the guy ended up looking a little under the weather, like he had a bad fish taco or something.

One of these days, I'll settle down and get focus, but right now this feels like I'm a kid in a candy shop and I keep bouncing from one idea to the next.  I am enjoying to ability to risk, but not take a lot of risks because the paintings are small and don't take a long time to resolve.

This one did end up taking more than an hour, but not much more.  It was pretty fun to do, too.

More faces?  Maybe.  I might even try this one again in more traditional colors.

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Jan 27, 2015

#8 - Nocturne at Dawn

#8 - Nocturne at Dawn, 6x6", MDF Gesso Board

This is an experiment in working with contrasts between sky and trees.   It's a challenge not to get cliched about this, so I concentrated on awareness of surface, brushstrokes and pattern.  The lace formed by the trees and sky holes is an interesting subject.   My jumping off point was a photograph of a sky in these general colors.  I made the rest up, looking for excuses to use high contrasts and broken detail.

This is another in what may eventually turn out to be a series of nocturnes. 

But for now, I'm going to work next on some faces, exploring color and emotion.   I'm still jumping around a lot, trying to find my pace with these works!

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Jan 25, 2015

#7- Snow Shadows - Making It Up as I Go Along

#7- Snow Shadows, 8x8", Oil on Stretched Canvas

So, coming off the experience of trying to be more spontaneous and not sweat every single detail in my last painting, I decided to just paint something, working from my head - mostly memory.  (With me, this could be dangerous.  My friends will agree.)

I started with a random photo of some woods against the sky, but departed from there quickly, and threw in the snow in front to use as a big reflector of the sky color.  I just worked on the contrast between the cools of the blues (which are actually pretty warm, for blue) and the highlights, which became golden because white was just so...white.   I toned the panel with a bit of rubbed on burnt sienna first, but ended up painting over most of that.

It was fast, and enjoyable, but I think I'm ready to move to other ideas now.

 I'm turning my thoughts to more figurative subjects.

A few years back, I amused myself by painting mug shots I found online.  It was never meant as a disrespectful thing, and I took care not to go for strict likenesses.  But the faces were too irresistible not to try to paint, and the images were public, since the police made them so by publishing them.  I timed the paintings, and gave myself one hour from blank (toned) canvas to finish.  The practice didn't last long, but I think I might like to go back to experimenting with this again soon.

When I was in college, we had a drawing instructor for a life drawing class who made us draw 15 second poses.  For HOURS. And he also insisted we get it all - the whole body gesture.  At first, we thought he was nuts.   But, when we finally got around to doing 30 second poses, we thought that this was almost too much time!  So, there is something positive, I think, about making fast decisions about larger gestures and forms at the expense of more trivial details.

I'm talking myself into this.   I might give it a shot soon.

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#6 - Icy Nocturne - A Study in Intensities

#6- Icy Nocturne, 8x8", Oil on Stretched Canvas

With this, my sixth small painting, I decided going in that this would not take me all afternoon.  I made a deal with myself that no matter what, I would make choices and live with them.  This didn't come as an easy bargain, let me tell you.  I like to pick, polish, and fret over things.  And it is really a new thing for me not to need several sessions with a piece before I'm happy.  Sometimes, it's many sessions, particularly with portraits, which have taught me humility, if nothing else.

So, here was this reference and it was kind of begging for some interest, so I decided to pop up the color and see where that took me, no matter what.

The reference was taken a while back after a freezing rain storm.  It's actually looking down the alleyway next to our house.  Everything was a glare of ice that night with surreal colors reflecting of iced surfaces.

I don't know if I caught it, exactly, but this was a hoot to do.  The freedom of not fretting too much about it made me feel a bit more courage, and I pretty much laid on the color and left it.   I even told myself I didn't need to share it.  No one would ever know.  It would be my little secret.  Ha!

It's not my usual style, but I'm not used to painting being like this, so this was great to do.  Looking at it now, I'm thinking it's maybe a little over the top, but I'm leaving it as it is.  What might make your eyes cross in a larger size is less garish in this smaller one.   Maybe.

I wonder, do a lot of people find making paintings relaxing and fun most of the time?  I really can't say that I do.  It's intense, interesting, nerve wracking, and it wears me out.  I still love the challenge, but I never understood the concept of it being simple fun.  Moments can be exciting, like when there is a passage that really works, but fun?  Nope.

Well, today, it was fun.  Two hours of it!  Maybe this is something this daily painting practice might give me.  Courage?

 (It's taken me a few days to put this up since the paint is pretty heavy impasto, and I like to scan these little ones in rather than photograph them.   I needed to wait for it to partially dry.)

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Jan 23, 2015

Process Driven Art vs Product Driven

I don't know if the title should be "vs" or "compared to" because I don't even know if they are mutually exclusive.   In fact, I hope they are not.

On my friend  Clare Murray Adam's BLOG, she was discussing about how her work is always about the process.  I envy this way of making art, and know many people who work this way with brilliant results.   Clare's work is testament to the effectiveness of this approach.    It is kind of like a call and response where the artist makes a move and waits for the materials and inspiration to suggest the next one.  It becomes a dialog with the materials, and is as intuitive as all get out. 

It's thrilling, and requires trust in the method, and trust in your own ability to discern and reflect on a pretty fundamental level.  I think it means you're in the zone, as they say, for most of the process.  Freedom, trust, dialog, expression, and ability to fly whenever the urge takes you - all of these are pretty intoxicating and compelling reasons to go this way.

I am clinging to the hope that this might just be possible with my work, but my natural way of approaching my work is so different.  I am one of those people who likes to know my destination before I set out, and my work tends to start with some visual trigger.  I find something that interests me, and then work to make a few references that best express this thing.  Often it is a small simple thing like the sun on an eyelash.  Or sometimes, it's just thrilling colors used together.  Whatever it is, my push is to communicate that thing.  And I'm working as a realist now, so that adds to the rigidity of approach.  So, right off the bat, the goal post is planted.    And I measure my success on how well my product resembles my original idea.

So, often, this is a slog, depending on how difficult the concept was in the beginning.  And I tend to like to torture myself by trying stuff that is beyond my skill set, just because.  This, actually, makes making art both gutty and exhilarating, depending on how things go.    I guess my "zone" happens when I get something right.  But it's often like this sigh of relief, and can be pretty agonizing getting there.  So, I've never thought of making art as relaxing or fun.   It's more challenging and nerve wracking.  Still very worth doing, though, when I gather the requisite energy.

I hope to change some of that by doing these smaller works.  Somehow, the smaller format releases some of the angst about making a major piece.   I'm noticing that when I attempt something that is less challenging for me, my interest flags a little.  I seem to need the uncertainty of not knowing if my goals will be met.  It might be my version of the excitement of creating without a net.  But I have that net.  And it can feel like a cage.

So, here is my new goal. (One of them)  I will try to paint intuitively, and NOT have a visual end goal, necessarily, except to make something that resonates with me.  I will make marks and try to see what they indicate that my next move will be.   And, why should that be scary?  It shouldn't.

It is.

I have my sixth painting drying now, ready to post as soon as I can scan it.  So, my next one will be something where I fly by instinct.  We'll see where that takes me. 

Thank you, Clare, for the inspiration.

Jan 22, 2015

#5 - Stone Lion

#5- Stone Lion, 6x6", Oil on MDF Panel  (SOLD)

This, my fifth small painting, is another subject that I figured I could handle with fast gestural brush work.   The subject is a stone lion face that is on the gate of Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida.  It's carved from red sandstone, and is quite beautiful.

 But it's deceptive how working in mostly value pattern can turn into a dance between hitting the temperatures as well as the range of value.   What I thought would be a straightforward process quickly got complicated.

It didn't help that I chose cad red for my under painting.  I like red under paintings, but in this case, there was so much red in the colors of the stone face, that things got confusing - and wet.  Really wet.

Reluctantly, I had to step back with the piece incomplete because I needed it to dry before popping in the lights.   This is how I usually work my larger pieces., but the whole idea with these smaller ones was to get in; get out; and get it done.  

While I liked how this was turning out half way through, I needed to stick with the plan, and keep things much more spontaneous.

But, one thing with this small painting project that I am not ready to let go of is the desire that each finished study has "something" visually interesting.  I'm not interested in churning out vast numbers of little works just so I can put notches in my easel.  If these pieces are anything, they are a record of my interest in specific visual ideas, or my wish to understand on a deeper level an aspect of using various approaches to color.

It's early in this game for me.  But even after only five, I'm seeing the benefit of thinking this way about making art.

Next, I think I'll try another landscape.  This time, a nocturne.  And I think my challenge will be to include as much saturated color as possible in low light, which has a tendency to pull the intensity out of color.

Stay tuned.

Jan 20, 2015

#4 -Soft Light and Fog, a Study in Whispers

#4- Fog Whispers, 6x6", Oil on MDF Board

For this, my fourth small painting, I was working in generalities, trying to explore the warmth of the sky light against the contrast of the darker, cooler water and land mass.  The low light was tricky because colors die in it, and catching the right values and intensities was my challenge.

Richard Schmid, the accomplished American painter and teacher once said that blending is like mumbling.  I have always kept that in mind since I read it in one of his books.  He is right.  There is danger in blending away all the energy in a piece when you obscure the immediacy of the brush marks as they are placed.  But fog is soft, and maybe more about muffled quiet than a mumble.

I chose to soften the whole piece after I laid it in.  Then, I came back with my brush, allowing the freshness of unaltered strokes.   I'm not sure if the result is exactly what I wanted, but once again, this was a valuable learning experience. 

I hope it is more like a whisper than a mumble.


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#3 - Seagull

#3 - Seagull, Oil on Board, 8x8"

This is my third painting in the series of small works, and continues that animal theme.  It's from a reference we took at the beach in St. Augustine, Florida.

This darn bird.  It adopted us on the first day and was a pest because someone *cough* fed it some bagels or something.  It found us every day and just casually decided to hang out close by just in case any bagels might be heading its way.   If it got impatient, it would inch just a tiny bit closer and stare at us, accusingly.   Camera was handy, so it got its picture taken.

It didn't leave a tip.

In this piece, I wanted to work with the bird's values being both lighter and darker than the background.  But what absolutely made me happy was the discovery that the sand was actually BOTH light neutral lavender and honeyed orange.  Oh, man, that was cool.  I like this one, but weirdly, that painting of the background was the revelation to me.

See?  I learned something new.


Now what?   I think I'm going to move to some nifty 6 x 6 inch MDF squares to paint on next, and I am going to really follow this thought about the temperatures of color in the mid values as a device to push and pull form in a composition.   I'm tempted to delve into some landscapes, maybe using fog as a device to dampen down the contrasts and force very subtle shifts within a narrow value range.

Gesso time, then off to the races with this idea.

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Jan 19, 2015

#2 -The Blue Horse, A Small Study in Reflected Light

#2 - The Blue Horse, 8x8", Oil on Board

This is my second small painting.  I managed to stick to my time constraints, and I was aware that I needed to rely on my instincts on color and gesture more, and on the need to go back into it and refine things less.

The piece, titled "#2 -The Blue Horse," is painted from one of my older references.  The horses were standing in a hilly field with early sunlight hitting them on an icy morning.  What interested me was the reflective nature of the dappled gray horse's coat.  It bounced back the blue of the sky, and created a striking horse of a different color.

This was so much fun to paint, and I stopped as soon as I felt the message was clear.  Less is more...I keep telling myself this!

"#2- The Blue Horse" 8x8", Oil on Gesso Board.

(For purchase information, please email me.)

Jan 18, 2015

My First Go at This - Biting Off More Than I Can Chew

#1 - Cat in the Sun, 8x8", Oil on Board   (SOLD)

This is my very first small painting, number one in a series of hopefully, zillions!  I chose to work from some of my references I keep for my work, and I've always liked this one.  It's from a photograph of a friend's cat who was trying to sleep in the sun until this HUMAN kept sticking a camera in his face.  Imagine the nerve!

He was tolerant.  Just.  But the light coming through his ears was what made me love this as a subject for a painting, so I went for it.

Bad choice for the first piece.

The demand for all those nuanced shifts of tone in the shadows of his face slowed me down considerably.  What I wanted to be a fast, maybe 2 hour painting became a time eater.  I think it took me two days of off and on work to complete it.  I was a little intimidated by the desire to keep working it until it felt over polished, but stopped short of that, vowing that the next one would be much less complex.   I often say that after finishing a demanding, complex piece.  I ignore my own declarations more often than not.

But, if the purpose of this whole project is to free my mind by allowing shorter start to finish times, then I needed to figure out less complicated visual problems to attack.

I'll get there.

In any case, here is "#1 - Cat in the Sun"  It is 8 inches square and painted with oil on gesso board. 

Jan 16, 2015

Getting This Whole Thing Rolling...

Today, I made myself a promise that I will complete at least four small paintings per week, and I'm 3/4 there now.  I have three finished, drying 8 inch squares.  I'll post them one at a time, probably starting tomorrow.  It's already an exciting and interesting exercise.   My old way of working was (is still) to generate a large composition from various references and take what usually was a few weeks to complete the painting, working in successive layers until I was satisfied with the result. 

This method of working is exciting because it allows fast decisions, quicker turn around time and more risk taking.  And, it lets me express ideas in almost a visual shorthand, which I love to do.  I can play!  And I know it's going to teach me a lot.  I'm going for the gestural, rather than specifics.  And I'm going to use as large a brush as I can to force me to deal with the most important elements and learn to get rid of distractions and unnecessary detail.

I'll write more about my thoughts on the process of each specific painting as they are posted, but already with only three under my belt, I found each successive one was more fun, and more freeing.  For some reason, I started with doing little animal sketches, and so my first three are that.  

As I was working, I began to notice that the biggest kick I was getting was in working with the mid-tones and the temperatures and values within them.  So, I guess my focus so far visually is that, looking for shifts and unexpected color changes within a mid value area. 

The joy of this is that one thought leads to another, and once I recognized this curiosity of mine, it led me to want to do very gestural landscape pieces, looking for nuanced mid-tones and playing with intensity and temperature in them in landscape work.  And it is also making me want to play with my values, perhaps not having white as the lightest color, but a more subdued Naples yellow or cream as my lightest tone - tightening the value range and making distinctions simply with temperature.

I am pretty excited about this.

Jan 5, 2015

Daily Painting Journey Begins

"Pierced Portrait"  (detail) 
As usual, I'm late to the game with trending interests, but thanks to a friend who shared Carol Marine's excellent book, "Daily Painting," and the shared enthusiasm of artist friends, this blog has been born.

I'm really fascinated to find out how my approach to making art will be influenced by working small and working often.  It's not something I've ever done, and I know it will be valuable for my work.  It's just a matter of beginning.   

So, on this blog, I will post my efforts, and hope that the inspiration of this way of working will lead me down interesting paths.  I'm excited to begin!

~Lynn Digby