Ramblings: My Miserable Painting Day

Artists know that we can really mess up big-time. Sometimes we just have a miserable painting day.

And it happens much more frequently than we’d like to admit.

The other day I decided to attack a painting that I had done several years ago.  While the painting was pleasant to look at and interesting to a lot of people, it lacked what I would like to see  my work represent.  In other words, it lack the wow factor. 

I looked at the painting for a long time,  I realized I hated the design.  I kind of liked the colors.  I found the figure was fairly well done, but it was overall just pedestrian.

In retrospect, I should’ve taken photos of the painting throughout the whole course of the day to document all the stupid decisions that I made.

To start, I thought the figure was rather lonely so I enlarged the figure.  When she still didn’t have a life, I gave her a partner. That didn’t work, so I added another figure.  But three figures weren’t any better than one smaller one. So I kept on doing what I tell people not to do –  rework some things without really thinking about the design, the shapes, and the color.

There was no sense of movement left.  I should have just left it or gessoed over it so I wouldn’t have to look at it anymore.

But now I still had paint on my palate, my water wasn’t terribly dirty, and I wasn’t at a point of true exhaustion. So now I sit staring at a painting that is a whole lot worse than the original.  I am kicking myself.  I know I will paint over it and be frustrated again. I never learn.

Having said all that, I do understand that failure is part of the learning process. Some attempts are never meant to succeed. I still wish I had the presence of mind to photograph the whole process. Time sometimes lets those closed doors open again. New insights?

Old work sometimes includes little gems one can build on. But if it is all painted over it is gone. 

jittery jazz revised - not used for my miserable painting day

Ramblings: Brilliant Creativity

Out in the March done with brilliant creativityI think there is a general misconception by the public that people like me, who tend to get involved in what we loosely called creative pursuits, simply plod along.  We engage in brilliant creativity.  We progress from one brilliant idea with a beginning, middle, and end,.  There is a pause and then we go to the next brilliant idea.

Well obviously every idea isn’t brilliant, but when we are in our inspiration phase, sometimes we feel that it may be creating the best work we’ve ever done. However, the pauses can be a lot more lengthy.  During this intermission, we feel not just uninspired, but scared to death that there will be no more brilliant ideas! The best we can hope for is to regurgitate the things that we’ve done before, the tried-and-true and perhaps the successful (monetarily speaking.)

I say we and I probably should not. Because this is just the way I feel.

So this was a lengthy lead into the feelings I am having right now.

I can always go back to painting the themes that people seem to recognize from me. But that is playing it safe. And you don’t learn and you don’t excel by playing it safe.

But then a painter, like myself, sits back and says,

  • All right so how do I not play it safe? 
  • What do I do differently?
  • Do I change my theme?
  • My subject matter?
  • Do I change my technique?
  • Do I get more rigid or more exuberant?
  • Do I paint larger or smaller?
  • Do I tell a story or paint a feeling?
  • Do I paint more abstractly or with more representation?
  • Is the best really yet to come?

I don’t know those answers right now, but I have to believe that the best is yet to come.

Fear not! I will continue to paint, because I can’t not paint.

And you will be the first to know if I succeed in becoming inspired again. And it may be in the realm of technique and approach.

Ramblings: Drawing from the Beginning

One of my first memories of art is when I was nine years old.  I know I was nine years old because my sister had just been born and my mother came home from the hospital with a bunch of gladiolas. 

I proceeded to take out some colored pencils.  I drew a picture of the floral bouquet which resided next to the drawing that I had copied of a cartoon character.  The character was a duck named Slappy with a little stick over his shoulder holding his little bag of belongings like the hobos would do back in the day. 

I thought the drawing  of the gladiolas was pretty good.  I continued to draw as I grew up, but I never considered drawing to be something that I would do as a job that would earn money for me.  Remember, this pre-dated the current world of graphic design.  At that time, the closest college major for using art in the commercial world would be industrial designing.  So when it came time to consider college, I checked out the courses that were offered in each major and chose psychology instead of art, because the choices were so eclectic from English literature to language to sociology.

I enjoyed drawing cartoons sketches and thought I’d share this one with you today.

artist cartoon sketch drawing from the beginning

If you’re still looking for the perfect last minute Christmas gift, consider a beautiful painting!  If you’d like to schedule a time to consider a painting at the Associates in Dermatology office, give me a call at  757-846-3650

Town Center City Club Art Show and Sale

It’s summer time (or at least it feels like it outdoors!) so that means it’s time for wonderful art show and sale.  I’ve had paintings on display at the Town Center City Club for a while now.   It’s a lovely private club for business professionals in Virginia Beach.  It is one of the premier venues for business meetings, corporate vents, fundraisers, weddings, retirements and other special events. 

Come out and join me on Friday, June 28 at 6:00pm for champagne and desserts.  It’s a great opportunity to see the Town Center City Club and take in (or take home) some of my latest paintings.  Rumor has it, I’ll be doing some painting during our time there. 

Here’s the scoop:

Join us for Champagne and Desserts
Where: The Town Center City Club, 222 Central Park Avenue #230, Virginia Beach, VA
When:  Friday, June 28, 2019
Time: 6:00 pm until 8:30 pm
RSVP: Barbara Lewis (757) 490-8317 or Jan Digiovanni (757) 241-0666

Guatamalan Woman at Town Center City Club Art Show

Rant on Packaging

Packaging CartoonsDear Packagers of America.

You have taken child-proofing and theft control to such an extreme that most of us – not just the older demographic- cannot open anything without the help of scissors, pliers, wrenches, and in some cases, hammers.

  • A carton of milk has a tab that can almost break a fingernail.
  • A huge impenetrable plastic square that surrounds a teeny camera chip.  I know. It’s too small so too easily stolen so let’s pollute more of our environment rather than find a better solution.
  • A pull tab on the second layer of dairy products like yogurt that cannot be gripped by average-sized fingers much less pulled off.
  • A cereal box with glue so strong you demolish the box before you get to the inside plastic packing that needs scissors to open.
  • We groan at the words “pull here” knowing that won’t work.
  • And on and on.

Is there a solution? At least for the environment, can’t hemp (in addition to CBD oil for our aches and pains) be used to make a paper product suitable for packaging? Isn’t one of the reasons W. R. Hearst fought to make marijuana (from hemp) illegal so he could print his newspapers on paper from his tree farms without competition from hemp?

Are we really stuck with plastic islands in the Pacific and non biodegradable plastic in our landfills?

Maybe not. Come on folks- rise up! Demand our grocery stores customer service open our packages. When they get tired of wasting their time maybe they will demand that our packaging become better and easier to open.

Next rant: graphic design with illegible lettering.

P.S.  On another more jolly note …  I’m so proud of my son, Tad, with his new book, “The Santa Claus War.”  If you’d like to purchase a Kindle copy, please go to Amazon.   If you like it, will you leave a review?

Same Colorado Trip

 

We recently spent a week in Colorado where, yes, the scenery was beautiful,  no, the altitude did not affect us, and yes, the tour of Colorado’s most interesting crop was – interesting; but I have to tell you my moment to remember story.
 
Our Colorado friends found us a second floor room at a lodge right outside Rocky Mountain National Park.  It sits on one of those fast moving rocky mountain streams that provide background noise to sleep to. Because of the heat wave, our windows and sliders were wide open.
 
Around 1:30 am I was awakened by a horrible animal cry!  I got up and looked out the window into the darkness beyond the light that illuminated the walk beneath our room. The cries got louder and I could see a shape about the size of a fox pacing by the waters edge. it was obviously in distress.
 
About a minute later, I looked down onto the back of one enormous mama bear. Biggest I have ever seen and obviously not in captivity. She jumped the chest high fence into the thicket, the cries ceased, she (out of my range of vision) jumped back and, followed by her baby , proceeded back to the parking lot where I later learned she reunited with the two cubs she left behind to rescue her baby.
 
My heart rate returned to normal.  I returned to bed.  When the couple on the first floor heard how close the mama bear came to their wide open slider, they re-evaluated being first floor with an open door.

I brought my art supplies to Colorado hoping to paint by the side of the river while our group learned to fly fish. Well, I didn’t learn to fly fish, but I didn’t paint much either.

It was a learning experience though. I learned I am not a plein air painter. I don’t enjoy the process of hauling my stuff to a location and then preserving the memory on canvas. My iPhone does that. Rocks are hard to sit on, flying insects are a bother, keeping palette, water, and canvas or paper under control on an uneven surface is impossible. And the worst of it is that the final product is terrible. So back to the studio!

Visiting Colorado but no plein air painting

Artistic Rambles: Why the Sketch Was Better

Sketch was BetterI have been working on my painting for three days, weeks,months and it still doesn’t work. Why? My sketch was really incredible.  My sketch was better.  I  loved it.  But what could’ve gone wrong.

This happens to artists all the time and sometimes the error is that you probably never checked to see if your sketch’s proportions matched your canvas.

In my case the vertical sketch was thinner than the canvas. Therefore my two lady figures were not positioned perfectly. They were a bit farther apart and I was futilely trying to correct the design by filling in the area between them and it didn’t work. The interesting posture of one of them was gone.  No matter what I did with color- more red more yellow, etc.  I had lost the flow.  Plus the acrylic paint was gumming up on the canvas creating bubbles and losing vibrancy.

But I persisted. Usually persistence is a good thing – right Elizabeth Warren? Not in this case.

My fluid ladies were becoming awkward bias relief sculptures. They could not be deader than if I had taken a knife to the canvas.

But I persisted. At this point I pitched the brushes and tackled the colors with my gloves.  I started smushing paint around knowing nothing good would come of it. I even squirted expensive pigment right on the canvas – a sign of desperation.

Deep down I knew it was over. I thought about how an artist I knew had labeled some if his failures “sailors” because he took them to the beach and “sailed” them into the bay.  I am too much of environmentalist to do that. It would be just my luck the wetter paint would slough off revealing the original failure and some beach-goer would find it, dry it out, and with my luck I would see it at his retirement party. Thankfully unsigned.

There are many reasons a painting will never be as good as the sketch . What I have talked about is basically a design problem. Face it folks, bad design equals bad painting.

Epilogue
I used up my paint smearing it on the canvas and started a more textural painting.

 

dividing line

 

Afternoons with Gloria

Starting 2018 – Desire for Change

Summer Thoughts Sketch and Desire for Change

I think there may be a general misconception by the public. They see artists like me, who tend to get involved in what we loosely call creative pursuits, simply plodding along.  We go from one brilliant idea with a beginning, middle, and end.  We pause.  And then proceed to the next brilliant idea. Well, obviously most ideas are not brilliant.  However when we are in the inspiration phase, sometimes we feel that it could be the best work we’ve ever done.

Surprisingly to some, there are a lot more lengthy pauses where we feel, not just uninspired, but scared to death there will be no more brilliant ideas.  That the best we can hope for is to regurgitate the things we’ve done before, the tried-and-true, the successful (monetarily speaking).   I say we and I probably should not. Because this is just the way I feel.

So that was a lengthy lead in to the feelings I am having right now. I can always go back to painting the themes that people seem to recognize from me. But that is playing it safe. And you don’t learn and you don’t excel by playing it safe.  I’ve got a desire for change.

Then a painter like myself sits back and says, “All right so how do I not play it safe? 
What do I do differently?
Do I change my theme, my subject?
Do I change my technique?
Do I get more rigid or more exuberant?
Do I paint larger or smaller?
Do I tell a story or paint a feeling?
Do I paint more abstractly or with more representation?

Is the best really yet to come? I don’t know those answers right now, but I have to believe that the best is yet to come.

Fear not! I will continue to paint, because I can’t not paint. And you will be the first to know if I succeed in becoming inspired again. And it may be in the realm of technique and approach rather than subject.

I know where I play it safe. I know when I am painting for the public. But I also know that I am not getting any younger and I do not want to be merely spin my wheels.

If I want meaningful I have to give myself permission – to experiment, to waste paint, to fail.

Wish me luck!

How Do I Get My Painting Subjects

Ben Plays the Sax

Several years ago I wrote down my thoughts on my art process.  Much of it is still pertinent so I thought I would share them.   Since then, I have evolved some,  have made some changes,  and will share those thoughts later.

Many people have asked me how I paint my subjects and where do I get reference material.

Although it would be far easier to have a photo to copy, most of my work evolves from bits and pieces pulled together from a vast “morgue” of reference material that I have accumulated over the years. 

My Own Photos

The majority of the photography is my own. I took so many classes in photography at Thomas Nelsen Community College, I almost had to declare a major. After a masters degree in counseling from William and Mary, I did not need another degree.

Some of my music paintings are based on musicians of the past.  The subject matter is obviously culled from photos that have appeared in the media. But I am not a slave to any photos.  My work in its final versions bear very little resemblance to the material I use.

My Quick Drawings

I have the ability to draw well and fast.  I honed those skills during the 12 years I worked as a newspaper artist illustrator.  With the pressure of those incredible deadlines,  you either did the job fast or ( but there was no “or”)  the paper went to press without them.

My Process

I start with multiple photos usually laid out on my studio floor.  From there I develop a small color sketch.  Many of my music paintings are quite complex.  I am placing and rearranging the musicians until I am satisfied with the layout.

Then I introduce color. Many old photos are in sepia or black and white so the colors are selected by me.

The dancers series began when my husband and I took ballroom lessons for 3 years. We attended the dance parties and the ballroom exhibitions  (this was before the advent of digital cameras so I took lots of really bad photos and then I camcorded some dances). As I needed more info I would pause dance competitions on TV to see the moves I might want to paint.  An artist cannot take artistic liberty with dance positions. 

An art director once wanted to reverse a dance image for a magazine cover. Fortunately I got to review the changes first!   Because I cannot put the ladies right hand on the man’s left shoulder!  I can change attire and colors and design and exaggerate, but there are reality issues. Reality applies to musical instruments as well. I believe my work nudges abstraction, but always has a core based in reality.

My Color Choices

I do not use traditional color wheels.  I paint rather spontaneously and impulsively. An artist has to know the rules and then be comfortable breaking them for the goal of movement, power, and personal color.

My Methods

I have used latex gloves so I can paint with my fingers.  I have used sponges and old credit cards and modeling paste – whatever achieves the goal of painting something that excites me.

Rambles from a Jazz Festival

I am not unfamiliar with painting in public:

  • courtroom,
  • Virginia Living Museum,
  • art shows,
  • plein aire workshops.

But painting the musicians at the Jazz Festival in Duck, NC was a first for me.

Even though I was in a more isolated spot near the stage, I later discovered people were watching my art progress from the audience. Many stopped to chat as they walked to other areas of the green.

During my time at the Jazz Festival, I had the good fortune of meeting both locals and visitors and even the Chief of Police who shared my Bridgeport, CT heritage.

My biggest hurdle at this outdoor event in early October was how fast the acrylic paints dried even in the high humidity. I found I can be more successful in getting the painting how I would like it when I start by drawing with either India ink or acrylic using a smaller brush.

Next, I slopped on paint even when the sketch was still wet. Not overthinking color and doing what I call “brain stem painting” (i.e. painting by instinct which usually gives me a greater feeling that the end result will work). For me, “brain stem painting” means an emotionally positive feeling rather than an intellectual one.

If I really wanted to be a performance artist I would strap long handled brushes to my hands and have quarts of paint in buckets set in front of a huge canvas. That would be cool and probably messy!

Painting at the Duck Jazz Festival