Saturday, July 30, 2011

Nicolaides words

Original oil painting 18x24"
by Susan Roux

After dozens of suggestions from Don to buy Nicolaides, The Natural Way to Draw, I finally own a copy. I haven't posted for awhile because I've been toiling over this painting. Do you ever do that? Toil? I have grunts and groans, huffs and puffs of exasperation that pour uncontrollably from my body. I throw my brush down, take a few steps, turn to look at my work through a mirror, exhale deeply with thrust and return to do another stroke. The level of concentration is so great that each stroke seems a massive effort. In the beginning of Nicolaides book, I read a new word to describe this. Painstakingly.

It describes my efforts to a T. It's miles away from having "fun" on canvas. It's deep and concentrated and a place I don't always get to while painting. It renders with precision and every now and then, I find it necessary for what I'm trying to achieve. In this particular case his sweatshirt became the challenge. I wanted it to read oversized. My fear was making him just look fat.

The secret was in the folds. Nail the folds and it will look correct. So I spent hours and hours and days and days on those folds. Long days.

I was pretty content with the results. I know these images are inferior as usual and some of the values and transitions are incorrect. But still, I feel I captured so much extra space in his sweatshirt that you could almost crawl right into it with him. Painstakingly. Yeah, good word.

Nicolaides had another word to describe a painting method. Ferociously.

Now doesn't that conjure up a great image for you? He ferociously put paint to canvas. The release expressed in that sentence is massive. It reminds me of my initial block in. Some parts go on slower, but I definitely have moments of ferocious strokes. Spontaneity and determined force are things I associate with that. I often call it scribbling with paint. My backgrounds certainly fall into that category. This is where I'm in fear of having too much fun on canvas. Sometimes it's tempting to call a painting finished after ferociously blocking it in. It's full of freshness and personal emotion. It's easy to feel connected to it, but rarely my best work.

The biggest challenge I had with this painting was trying to keep enough spontaneous looking strokes to achieve movement. The tightness of the folds made this difficult. I found myself softening them a bit in the end. I felt I had to overcompensate by making my loose strokes extra loose, otherwise it all looked too stiff.

There lies a balance in there somewhere. I know I have a lot to learn before perfecting it. Maybe it never gets perfected. A juggling of the right amount of painstakingly and ferociously applied strokes. The yin and yang of art. Balance. Rhythm. A poetry of color...

The journey continues.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Critique, yes or no?

Lupines in the Sky
Work in progress
10x30" gallery wrap
by Susan Roux

Where do you stand on the subject of critique?

My last post showed a painting before a critique and where I pushed it following a critique. A good critique is priceless, in my opinion. I wish I had one for every painting I paint. I find it elevates my work to new heights. It keeps me pushing, trying to achieve something beyond where I previously stopped. Just last night Mike and I were discussing this and he wished he had to a good photographer friend who could give him a good critique.

Odd thing is, as much as we would like to be continually critiqued, there are many who are opposed to it. It takes a tough skin to listen to your creative work be interpreted by another. We become tied and connected to the things we create.

It's a reflection of ourselves. Who has the right to tell us what's wrong with it?

Rejection in any form is difficult. It can knock the wind right out of you. But I don't think of a good critique as a rejection. Quite the contrary. When someone takes the time to analyze a work they usually already have an attraction to it. The critique isn't designed to crush an artist, but to urge him (her) to think of it in different terms and possibly see it differently as well. We get very close to our work. Especially those of us who work a painting for an extended period of time. So much of ourselves is invested in it.

Though just as love is blind, so often is the artist who has a certain goal in mind. We'll set parameters for ourselves. Things like a limited palette or brushstroke edges. Some soft, some hard, some blurred, some bold and distinct. We can focus so hard on certain aspects of our work, that we'll easily miss other things. Things we already know. They slip from memory temporarily. A good critique allows you to retain what you've captured and helps you push it to an even stronger finish.

Imagine all the paintings you've ever painted. If you could take the best things from them and put it all together in one work of art, wouldn't that be wonderful? This is the critique to me. No one is teaching you how to paint it, only allowing you the insight to add a bit more and turn your work into a wow. It's never about repainting the entire painting (though Don's sent me to do that a few times as well...). It's about taking what you have and adjusting it. It might be defining something or dulling something. Perhaps adding a punch of color or contrast.

There exists a fear of loosing what we've already captured and ruining it. Loosing that look of freshness. Getting it overworked. But returning to a painting for adjustments needn't be done with your largest brushes. Often tweaking with something tiny that can be blended with the existing work will do the trick.

The other factor that comes up in conversation is the qualifications of the one critiquing.

Yes, I'm very fortunate to have Don Hatfield as my mentor and critique-er. (I can make up words, right?) Yes, he is highly qualified. But often the gut instinct of someone not highly qualified can be as helpful. Your kids can be very honest. Painfully so sometimes when they don't get what this part is. Even after you explain it to them and they tell you well it doesn't look like that.

You'd be surprised how many people can give you a good critique. Many of us have the knowledge, it's getting it on canvas that's the challenge!

So where do you stand on critique? Is it a gift or an insult?

Monday, July 4, 2011

Heart vs Fundamentals

Lupines at Dusk
Original oil painting 10x20"
by Susan Roux

Creating art can be a nagging series of conflicts. There exists a fine line between painting from the heart and adhering to the fundamentals. How much of one is too much? Painting from the heart is freeing and spontaneous. Letting go. The brush dips in color and impulse and the canvas dictate what color is next. You feel your creativity bubbling out of you and great joy is experienced in the process. If that's all you do, where do you end up?

Is there such a thing as having too much fun painting?

The fundamentals, those pesky rules, pull it all together. The values define shapes. Design and composition lead the eye. Sun and shadow patterns contribute to the illusion of reality. A wise man told me an artist is allowed only a small portion of fun to be visible per painting. Oh shucks, really?

Here is me painting from the heart. I was captivated by the lupines on Monhegan. I loved the way they danced in the sky. I photographed a lot of them, but the feeling of observing them could not be replicated in an image. I wanted to portray them at dusk. Those wonderful lupine shades were transformed during golden hour. How rich and warm the cool blue's, pink's and purple's became. I concentrated on capturing that. My photo references were poor suggestions, so imagination took over.

Once I finally captured the light I was after, I felt the painting was complete. Funny how if you toss in one crazy element you're unstable with, everything you're grounded on slips from memory. A well advised critique put it all back into perspective for me. Too much heart and not enough fundamentals. Form became sacrificed au lieu de couleur.

I returned to the painting, freed from focusing only on color and began to establish form. Somewhere between heart and fundamentals one can strike a balance that satisfies. Satisfies the viewer, satisfies the artist. After all, if the passage is not defined well enough, the viewer misses the message...

Friday, July 1, 2011

Painting the fog

Monhegan Fog
Original oil painting 16x12"
by Susan Roux

I experimented while on Monhegan.

I began by spending two days painting a lovely garden in plein air. As you know, I'm a studio painter by preference. I enjoy being out in the elements, feeling the breeze, hearing the sounds, smelling the air, but my mind wants to paint like I have all the time in the world. After two days in glorious sun, it was time I get myself out of it.

Anticipating rain at some point, I brought a few printed images from my previous trip to Monhegan. I had a foggy scene and found myself missing painting my girls. It's odd how desire for something sparks one to deviate from normal behavior. I'd been trying to figure out how to incorporate the impressionist backgrounds I use on my girls into my scenery paintings. Suddenly in a new environment, it became clear to me.

The fog holds little detail and it seemed the perfect subject to launch myself there. I was set up indoors and aside from continual breaks to aloe myself, I was relaxed and in my element. Tucked in a corner with an ocean view, barefoot and dancing with my brush in hand while Luka played in my ears.

I took my time. I played with color. Adding, subtracting, neutralizing...

My reference photo was soon pushed aside and the canvas took over. It wasn't about copying anything. It became all about feeling. The feeling different colors emitted. The feeling of certain pigments against other pigments. Pure color navigated the course. I delighted in observation as color touched color. It became a time for learning, for experimenting. I can get pretty chaotic with color on canvas before pulling it all together in the end to hopefully find a soft relaxing scene. My housemates came over periodically to see what I was up to. They found wild color scribbled all over the canvas. They looked at my printed gray image. Confusion was written all over their face. They didn't say a word. Each observer had the same reaction. I know they couldn't imagine where I was going with this. Needless to say when it was finally finished, they were surprised with the results. It went from chaos to tranquility.

Clarity in the fog. How can you beat that?

Note: Unfortunately just as in my girls, photos cannot do justice to the rich, luminous, seemingly-alive backgrounds my technique is creating. You'll just have to see my art in person someday...