June 2006 Archives

[Unnamed Painting, in progress] I finished this painting today. I mixed together a pink of Titanium White and Cadmium Red Light with some Gamsol and dotted in the...dots. I don't know what they're supposed to be, but they're there. As you can see, I propped the panel up on my windowsill again.

I'll have to get a better image of the finished painting, but this is good for now. I have no idea what to call it. Tim Folzenlogen, in an e-mail message to me, wrote, "One thing I didn't like, was all your untitled titles. Why unititled? Don't you care?"

In fact I care too much. I'm unsure of titles because they lead the viewer, and sometimes I think that's okay, and other times I think it's superfluous. Because when I look at a painting, if I don't "get it" pretty quickly, I check the title for a clue. And there are times when I think, you know, I don't want to give the viewer a clue. I want them to decide for themselves what the painting is about, how it feels, without my telling them. If I titled this painting "Orgasm Number One," then viewers would think one way about it. If instead I titled it, "Loss and Memory," viewers would think something else about it.

So for now it's untitled. Unnamed. Just what it is, another object.

I love how it came out. Maybe it's simple, maybe it was easy to paint, maybe it's not exciting or interesting. But it's almost exactly what I wanted it to be, and that doesn't happen that often, so I'm happy.

The black painting is no longer all black.

[Unnamed Painting, in progress] Turns out it was never really as black as I thought anyway. Today I looked at it under bright sunlight and found it had more texture than I wanted: The black paint I'd mixed was in fact slightly translucent in a few spots and I could see some brushstrokes here and there, and of course there were the hairs I couldn't get out. But it was close enough for me, matte black like a cleaned chalkboard or the asphalt on a new driveway.

[Unnamed Painting, in progress] I did a sketch, a messy kind of thing, to give me an idea of where I wanted to go with this. But I had no way of transferring the sketch to the panel -- at least, none I could think of. The panel's black! I guess I could have used chalk or something. But I couldn't think of anything that'd really work, so I decided to freehand the painting without a sketch. By the way, check out that aluminum easel. My neighbor was throwing it out. It made me a little sad -- it looked like my neighbors had given up on their artistic career, and chucked out a whole bunch of (admittedly not very good) Bob Ross-style paintings on store-bought canvases and this easel. At least I can use it for something.

I started by mixing my color. I was looking for a kind of turquoise, an aqua kind of blue-green. I began with Gamblin Cerulean Blue Hue, which is actually (as the word hue implies) zinc white pre-mixed with a blue pigment made of copper. I added some Indian Yellow (I could've sworn I had some Hansa Yellow around here!) and Titanium White. Once I got the color I was looking for, I mixed in a fair amount of Gamsol because I wanted this to flow almost like ink.

[Unnamed Painting, in progress] I took the panel off of my easel. I don't feel comfortable trying to do detailed work on an easel; my hand just isn't that steady. I want to rest right on the painting surface. So I set up -- well, you can see from the photo how ad hoc my set-up is. I leaned the panel on the windowsill, using a radiator as a table, and sat on my bed. The light's good, anyway, since the window's right there. Yes, that is an iron on the right-hand side.

I sat down to paint and was shaking pretty badly. This was because, a) as I said, I don't have a very steady hand; b) my blood sugar was feeling low because of some new medicine I'm on; and c) I was nervous about freehanding. Really. The black surface of my panel stared at me, daring me to screw it up. I don't usually get nervous looking at a blank ground, but this time it got to me.

The only thing to do is jump in, though, so that's what I did. I loaded up a great cheap liner brush from the Princeton Art Company and put down some paint. After the first mark things went more smoothly and in a few minutes, I was done. And very happy. It looks almost exactly like I wanted it to. I was so fantastically ecstatic, in fact, I actually cleaned my brushes right after I was done.

[Unnamed Painting, in progress] This looks so perfectly like I imagined. That almost never happens.

Unnamed Painting, June 2006

Today let me share with you this painting I just started. I am thrilled to pieces at how it's turning out so far.

[Unnamed Painting, in progress] Now you might be saying, "But Chris, it's just black." When I asked my wife how she liked my latest painting she replied, "But it's just black. It is just black, right? I'm not missing anything. Am I?"

Yes indeed, it is just black. But it's almost exactly the black I wanted, and that's why I'm happy.

Stephen King talks about the guys in the basement. You bring them some kernel of an idea, you drop it off at the top of the stairs. And they go down with it into the basement and you go on with your life. At some point later, they come back up with something finished for you. You have no idea how it got like that; it's the guys in the basement.

Partway through the work on Centerfold, I realized this wasn't the kind of painting I really wanted to spend my time on. I mean, I did, I am, and it's not like I'm not going to finish it. It's just, I'm not sure where that's getting me. I've got this kind of Magritte-like style, where I get these ideas for juxtaposing one thing against another, and I go and paint it, and I'm left with a collection of paintings with no clear theme or style or idea, really. But when I try to imagine what I could paint, how I might do things differently, what I see is the work others have already done. I could be Tom Wesselmann, for example, or maybe Patrick Nagel. Well, that's been done.

So recently I passed this to the guys in the basement: Find me something new and different I can do.

Just a few days ago I was sitting there in bed, musing over what I might paint when Centerfold is done, and the guys in the basement delivered their results. I got an idea for a painting, fully formed; the idea is new for me, and different. In a way I think it's an amalgam of my own style along with a good bit of James Wolanin and Steven LaRose, two people whose sites I've been spending a lot of time on. I'm not sure if this is some great new direction for me or just a quick aside, but either way, I'm following it.

The two key features of this painting are, one, it's on a panel, and two, the panel must be painted a flat, matte black.

The panel is easy. While I can't get to James' favorites, Soho Art Materials, I can get Ampersand's Gessobord reasonably nearby and reasonably cheaply. So I picked one up Monday.

Getting the paint to be flat, matte black, without brushstrokes, that's something else. As much as I've absorbed from re-reading Gamblin's Website and talking to other painters, I haven't yet been able to grasp how to get quite the effects I want from oil paint plus medium plus solvent. Gamblin's site can be frustratingly vague. My knowledge of the chemistry of oil paint helps, but I'm not a chemist, so I can only go so far.

This time I had an idea, so I mixed some Mars Black with solvent -- in this case, Gamsol, Gamblin's odorless mineral spirit (OMS). I didn't add any medium at all. Then I took one of my larger brushes and spread out a thin coat on the panel. I was worried it'd be too thin and end up translucent, but that didn't happen: It was perfectly black.

Now for the brushstrokes. I didn't want any. There were hardly any, but still the paint had a definite grain I didn't want. I took this broad kind of bamboo hake brush which is really soft and good for blending large areas and I went back and forth across the painting. The only trouble is, this brush sheds like an Akita in August, so I had all these hairs I had to get out of the paint. I ended up leaving a few, but got most of them out.

I hadn't even set up my lights so I wasn't sure this was quite what I wanted, but over the course of the next couple of days, as the paint cured, I could see that, yes, I had gotten a nearly brushstroke-free, almost perfectly matte black surface on which I could paint. Success!

It's still not ready to paint on three days later, but it should be soon. More photos when I've done more.

Centerfold, May 2006, Part 3

On days when the painting goes well, it's easy to recreate my steps. They're obvious and I can tell what I was thinking. On days when the painting goes notso hotso I have no idea what I was thinking or doing. I have to look at my palette, if I haven't thrown it out, and try to figure out what I did. Was that burnt sienna or burnt umber? Which black is that?

Well, the last time I touched this painting, the painting, it did not go well. It went so badly, I broke one of my palette knives -- admittedly the plastic one -- and I only had two at the time. Not one of my good days, no.

So looking at my palette and the photos I dutifully took as I worked, I have to reconstruct what the hell happened. The main problem was this was the day I hit that point I hit in many paintings, where I realize I just asked for way more heartache than I needed to. For example, when I was about a third of the way through painting Blues One Two Three, and I realized two things: One, saxophones have way more detailed crap on them than I ever imagined; and two, if I'd simply swapped the sax around, the other side has a lot less detailed crap and I could have made my life easier. In this case, I'm thinking, all I wanted was to show some dirt and leaves. I didn't need all this stuff! Why am I painting it?

Too late now. I started it, I should finish.

[Centerfold, in progress, detail] [Centerfold, in progress, detail] [Centerfold, in progress, detail] I started off with what I think is Mars Black (Gamblin, of course), Portland Grey Light, and Burnt Umber, with Galkyd SD. This gave me a warm grey which I used to fill in the twigs and rocks. Then I added some more grey to make it lighter and cooler and used that for the lighter parts of the rocks and sticks. This much went fine.

[Centerfold, in progress, detail] [Centerfold, in progress, detail] It was only moving on to the leaves that things started to fall apart. I started with, I think, Transparent Earth Orange and some Galkyd SD. This was just too bright, so I made a thin Burnt Sienna and went back into it, putting in leaf veins and shadows and whatnot. I did some blending with a mop brush and began to get cranky -- this just didn't look the way I wanted it to. The leaf veins were too thick, the transparent colors too bright, the burnt sienna mix too blech. I began to get unhappy.

After this things get really unclear. I mixed up a number of reddish browns/brownish reds. There's Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber, various greys, some straight Titanium White, some black. It's all over the place.

[Centerfold, in progress, detail] [Centerfold, in progress, detail] I started going back and forth, adding in shadows and highlights in various tones, blending them in, and sharpening details. Then adding small highlights, getting cranky, blending more, and so on. The big crinkly leaf in the upper left corner gave me the most trouble, probably because I had no idea what it should really look like. When I sketched it I kind of hoped the details would work themselves out, but this day they just refused to help me.

[Centerfold, in progress, detail] [Centerfold, in progress, detail] [Centerfold, in progress, detail] Also -- and I can't figure out if this is a limitation of my paints or my technique or if I'm just not getting the right mixture of solvent and medium or if it's just that my brushes suck -- I can't seem to get a good solid thin line of paint no matter how hard I try. Everything ends up more sketchy than I want. At last, I surrendered: I'd gone back and forth enough times, I had to accept this is just how it's going to look. Some black to outline the sticks a bit from the background, added some cracks and things to the bark, left the brushes to soak (and probably languish for a week).

Next up: Can I find the right golden brown for the upper layer of leaves? Can I get them to look as realistic as I want? Will I have any hair left by the time I'm done?

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This page is an archive of entries from June 2006 listed from newest to oldest.

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