Thursday, June 21, 2012

Why, I Never!

I hit a milestone recently.  It wasn't my fault, I'm old and my eyes are bad, and it shouldn't have been there to begin with! 

I also turned fifty this year.

I've got nothing against fifty, mind you.  I'm hanging in there.  Heck, my Doctor told me I'm as healthy as an eighteen year-old-- who has the body of a fifty year-old.  But never mind.  I kind of like what comes with age.  Perspective, for one. 

Artists like to say that "There are no rules", which they know is a load of horse-pucky. Some painters loudly proclaim to never use photos. Others limit their plein air or alla prima painting time to one sitting, because going back twice is "cheating".  I admit I bought into some of that stuff way back when.

When I was younger and just starting out as a painter, I had a series of rules I would follow.  One of them was the "My picture came to me by Divine Intervention; I never change it!"  So I would come up with an idea, then paint it as I first thought of it.  Never mind such little things as design.  Or composition.  In other words, I didn't work to come up with the best possible angle for my picture.  It's kinda like a writer who thinks his first draft is good enough.  Is it ever?

Nowadays, I fret endlessly over how best to convey my idea.  I'll research, plan, sketch, erase, sketch again, just to improve upon the original "Divine" idea.  Yeah, even landscapes get that treatment.  But even with all of that pre-planning, I still look back at many a painting and say, "Why didn't I think to do that?!"

Which leads me to another discarded rule: "I never touch a painting after I signed it!"  If it comes out crappy-- well that's too bad.  Or maybe I just couldn't figure out how to paint that passage.  Oh well, better luck next time.  It's all a learning game anyway, isn't it?

In all honesty, I gave up on this one not all that long ago.  If, after I think a painting is done and signed, I see where I can improve it, I will.  I very rarely varnish my paintings, so I can paint over them just like new.  If I discover a better color, or a way to fix a poor passage, I'm all over it.  What have I got to lose?  I've said it before, and I'll say it again:  If I see my fly is down after I'm "done" dressing in the morning, I still zip it up!

Over the course of time, I have discarded my rules one by one.  Except for one.  I have a sign in my studio that reads:

Parcos Nullus Intentio

The sign isn't there because it's something I habitually do, but rather to remind me to do it.  Look, all I want to do is make the best painting I can possibly make-- whatever it takes.  It's the reason I do all those sketches, or correct flaws in old paintings.  It's why I'll drag my easel out to a painting site over and over, or take thousands of photographs to get a detail right.  It's why I worked on a lobster boat.  It's why I endlessly study great artists.  Roughly translated from Latin, it means

Spare No Effort

And that's the one rule I never want to break.


Thursday, June 7, 2012

High Noon

A couple of weeks ago, while I was reading the local newspaper, (they still do make such things, by the way) or in my case, looking at the pictures,  I came across an Artists Call to participate in a plein air event at the Boothbay, Maine Botanical Gardens.  Now, I'll be honest-- it wasn't so much the chance to paint flowers that got me interested, or to visit a lovely spot that I'd never seen before, but participating artists got to get in for free.


So on a beautiful Memorial Day, Ellen whipped up a lovely picnic lunch of fried chicken, potato salad with fruit salad for dessert.  Since I considered this a regular work day, I had my usual for lunch:  a package of Ring Dings.  Her lunch sure looked good, though. 

Anyway, since I had never been there before, I didn't want to bring my painting gear.  I know me; I would've picked the first plant I saw as close to the car as possible.  Instead, I wanted to explore the gardens to check out potential painting spots.  So with sketch book and camera in tow, we set off to explore the 250 lovely acres of woods, shoreline and, of course, flowers.

The Botanical Gardens are a mixture of natural terrain and man-made motifs.  Normally, when one paints landscapes, we try to incorporate design into the mayhem of Nature.  Here though, the garden was set up with picturesque designs in mind.  So really, everywhere I looked, I could spot a good scene to paint.  But it wasn't until we had our lunch that I found my spot.  Way in the back corner of the Garden, near the Rhododendron bushes is a beautiful, serene waterfall.  Water and rocks-- right up my alley!   I grabbed my sketch book, and went at it.

I prepared my masonite panel later that day back at the studio.  Unfortunately, it rained hard for the next two days, so I had to twiddle my thumbs and wait for the sun to come back.  When it did, back to the park I went.  I hiked way back to that secluded spot, set my gear up in what was mulch, but was now ankle deep mud, swatted the mosquitoes, and went at it.  Most plein air types (of which I am not) hate to paint in the middle of the day.  The sun shining directly overhead make the shadows run and hide under the rocks, and completely washes out color.  Also, it's easier to find the right color when the sun is angling lower in the sky.  We really don't have a tube of color that can match the highlights of a noon-time sun.  I find all of that a challenge.  Bring it on!  So my picture is of the falls at lunchtime.

The participating painters will have a selection of our efforts hanging at the Botanical Gardens until the end of the month of June, with a reception on June 14th.  Hope you can make it!

I think you'll have to bring your own Ring Dings.