Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Disappointed bears and sad pandas.

This morning I got up, made some coffee, read my email, checked my sites, and then settled down for a good browse through the Idea book.

I've mentioned the idea book a few times, and it's not just some nebulous cloud of post its or a sketch book I got on sale that turned out to have crappy paper and reason for its' clearance sticker. Nor is it a text file (although I do have a back up on my google drive that I can access to add things to when I find myself with phone but without book)

It's an actual book

This book, as a matter of fact.
The name comes from what I used to say to myself before I started keeping Idea Books, I'd come up with these great ideas and forget to make a note of them and then later, I could not recall what it was. So I started saying to myself and anyone else in ear shot, "I should write this stuff down". Naming the book that had the effect of me saying:

"I should write this stuff down... Oh! Wait! I have a book here called just that! This would be an excellent place to do just that!"

So basically I have this, or the text file on my phone, with me at all times.

So every once in a while I'll have a morning when I sit down to work, where nothing pops into my head. Occasionally I will have a really good morning where I wake up dreaming a good idea and I get right to work on that, but most mornings, once the coffee saturates the grey matter, and breakfast hits my stomach, something interesting will pop into my head.

Sometimes, when nothing occurs to me, I'll spend the day doing promotion work, tending shops, refining listings, or listing things that have backed up.

Other times, I will declare it a day off. I've gotten much better at forcing myself to take a day off (well, off-ish). 

But usually this will prompt a stroll through the Idea Book.

Now, when I write these things down I try to be a little more exact about things, I try to avoid writing things like 

"HATS! And  also a moose!" Which I might look at weeks, or even months later and wonder what the hell I was thinking.

So there's a lot of detail, sometimes quick little sketches.

It's not the neatest little ordered list of things either. It's pages of ideas scrawled out, sketches here and there, random lists of items for set work.

When I browse through it, it's with pencil in hand, and I cross out things I did since the last time, make added notes, and new ideas if I see anything that spurs a new tangent.

This morning I came across a note under the lists of animals I want to make sets of illustrations for that just said "Bears!!"

So I set out looking at some bears pictures for anatomy pointers, and started sketching out some things.

I got a shape, and a pose I liked worked out, and sketched it onto a piece of watercolor paper that I'd taped down. I got as far as the ink outline...

And I HATED it. I mean once the ink was down I was screwed obviously, there wasn't much I could do about it. I don't have any liquid watercolor paper (which is a thing now) so there was no fixing it.

For clarification, I'd messed up the snout slightly, when going over the pencil line with the ink, and it was making the face look long, and sad. Since I was going for cute, and happy, this was a problem.

I tried altering the line, I tried deciding the brown bear could be the second of the set and maybe panda bear markings would fix it, but pandas are shaped significantly different than brown bears. So it just kept looking worse and worse. so then I just tore it off the drawing board and chucked it.

Then I engaged in some hardcore work avoidance, by cleaning the kitchen.

I've decided the bears need something, maybe more anatomical research, maybe a trip to the zoo with a sketch pad, maybe just a fresh start a week from now. Clearly bears were not happening today.

It's interesting that no matter how many ideas you have stockpiled, some days you just aren't going to get any work done. 

Of course part of the problem may be that I have about 6 canvases swimming around in my brain I can't work on because my studio is currently inaccessible until well after I could reasonably start working and be done in time not to be wired and awake all night. I have to start working early in the morning, so that no matter how long I work I am still done in time to wind down, otherwise my brain keeps me up all night struggling to get "out of the painting" not to mention it's hot as hell in there when I can get into it.

So today was a bad day in most respects. Hopefully, tomorrow will be better.

Monday, March 4, 2013

When to be finished.

I've been working on an oil over gold and silver leaf painting for the last few weeks, right now I believe that I may, in fact, be finished.

This got me thinking about the importance of knowing when to stop.

It's a hard lesson to learn in art. It's probably a hard lesson to learn in a lot of endeavors  But it is an important one.

When you are painting and you are just starting with it, you're young. Not necessarily in age, but in art. There's an edge of youth to your concept design and execution as you learn how to handle your tools, and paint what you see. And there's a lot of things running through your head;

"This is going to be great"
"This is going to suck"
"I can't wait to show everyone my masterpiece"
"I can never let anyone see this"
"If I keep going I can make it perfect"
"I'm going to be famous and rich from this *followed by five minute daydream*"

the cacophony when you are starting out is great and it's hard, very hard, to filter all that out until you are left with the two most vital things:

The meditative state of just "being in the moment" of the painting (what I often refer to as an artistic coma)

and the only thought you need to listen for - "It's done now"

That "voice" is there from the beginning, but learning to listen for it is a skill you need to practice.

For me, in my experience, I found that once I was able to slip into that meditative "working state" at will, that knowledge of being finished with a piece came to me at exactly the right time, often stilling my hand and forcing me to push away from the easel and put the brush down.

How did I get to that point, the point where that other world was always ready for me to slip into? And that voice was clear?

It's actually more boring of a reason than you might think.

Up until I was about 8 or so I mostly drew and doodled and sketched with dry media, pencils, crayons, and such.

My painting experience up to that point had been on paper, with good ole crayola kids' watercolors and a little set of pentel watercolor tubes (remember those? I'm old now) and I'd never liked them.

I always wanted them to be thicker and brighter and have more coverage and body. I would mix them to an ink like consistency, washes annoyed me... (looking back I can't believe I ever felt that way, because now, I love them for just that reason, but I still felt that way about watercolor as recently as 6 or 7 years ago)

So, for a birthday present my gramma (I'm sure my mom had some influence here) gave me a set of liqutex acrylics. A starter set of a beginner's palette, having a red, a blue, a yellow, a white and a black. I also got a few brushes and a package of canvas panels.

I LOVED it, it was bright, it was thick, it was colorful, it was exactly what I wanted painting to be.

And the problem with it, the problem that stunted my ability to really learn what painting should be, was this: It dried fast.

I could "knock out a painting" in a few hours. I didn't have to stop and think, there was no conscious reflection on each stage of the painting. I sat down, I painted, I was done.

When I was about 27 or so, I decided to take a class in oils. I just wanted to learn the basics, the tools the chemistry the theory of layering the paint, how to use it effectively, etc.

Once I started with that, and was forced to slow down, wait for things to dry, only do so much and come back to it later.

An oil painting is a lesson in taking your time. You have to learn how to build your layers, fat over lean, how to make corrections in form and line in the next pass, how to shade and highlight as separate machines of use. You have time to watch the paint dry, basically, to step out of that coma and really look at it between passes. You see the process happening as you go. Instead of being swept recklessly up in it. Instead of grinding away layer after layer in one sitting, and going too far, you see and hear and KNOW when it's done.

You become more connected to the piece, you have more awareness of the intimacy you are experiencing while painting. It teaches you how to slip into that head space whenever you need to.

Most art teachers will tell you that you need to have the basics down before you can throw them out the window. Well, this is the basics. This is learning to connect with what you are doing, thinking out each step and making a "to-do" list for subsequent steps. This is shutting out all thought that is not essential to the work, and learning to listen for the "stopping point"

Once I learned that, I found I missed the immediacy of the acrylics, but was so in love with how oils behaved during a piece, that I wanted to do "a la prima", one pass paintings, in oils.

So I took my new found knowledge of when to stop and went back to the beginning, reveling in the immediacy of doing a painting in one sitting, but applying the techniques and tools I'd learned from doing oils in the traditional manner.

Now that the "stop" was clear as a bell to me, it was easy to not overwork things, to let little quirks slide into the work and not obsess about digging them out. I can still see these little mistakes, but they no longer scream at me, like they used to when I was obsessed with perfection and ignoring the sound of the "stop".

I firmly believe that embracing that golden whisper has made me a better painter.