Wednesday, June 26, 2013

To Real, Or Not Too Real

I know it sounds vain, and I don't know about you, but I love it when someone compliments me about my paintings.  Say I just finished a picture-- my lovely Ellen might say, "Well dear... if you like it..." 

Or, my Mom might exclaim, "Hmmm... it's.... interesting..."

And sometimes my own sweet children (who hardly ever gush over my stuff) might enthuse,
"Well, it doesn't suck as much as some of your other stuff."

I know what you're thinking;  And it IS hard not to keep from getting a swelled head!

Another kind of compliment I get is when someone says, "Gee, that looks just like a photo!"  I always take that as a compliment, because to most people, a photo is as real as it gets, even if you and I know a photo's image isn't the way our eyes really see things.  But do you want to know a secret?  While I always respond with a heartfelt and sincere "Thank you!"  Inwardly, I wonder what I did wrong.

The truth is, I really don't want my paintings to look like a photograph, but a realistic painting.  So, let's see what I may doing with my paintings.  First off, the objects in my paintings are recognizable.  Can't do much about that, can I?  It's realism.  Then, what about color?  Well, I do try to paint things in a naturalistic manner, so if a tree is green, then I'll paint it green.  If the sky is blue, I'll paint it blue.  But wait a minute--

Do I have to?

What got me thinking about this is when I stumbled upon a painting done by a modern Master named Mian Situ.  Check him out.  The painting that dropped my jaw is this one, The Golden Mountain:

Now, one might say, "Wow!  This painting looks so real!"  But does it really?  Look at the colors he used to depict this brightly lit, daylight scene:  Reds, browns, grays, blacks.  If we were standing on this deck and saw this scene with our own two eyes, it would look nothing like this.  Here, the overall tone is warm, from the beautifully painted highlights to the gorgeous deep shadows.  He doesn't do the Impressionist "If it's a warm light, it must have cool shadows!" 

This is a Traditional Oil Painting, as opposed to an Impressionist Painting.  If this painting was done in an Impressionist style, with its loose modeling and variations in color temperatures, it would look like a depiction of a holiday pleasure cruise.  If Mr. Situ had used a photographic color scheme, it would just be a depiction of people on a boat.  Instead, the Artist wanted to convey an emotion about the people; What they had been through, and what they are feeling.  His color scheme does that.  And yet, it still looks real.

I dig that.

So, when I did my own little painting of a lobsterman, I had Mr. Situ's masterpiece in mind.  I also had this painting as inspiration:

Winslow Homer's Breezing Up, or A Fair Wind.  There is nothing more about this painting that I didn't say about the other.  It looks like a truthful depiction of a sailboat on a summer's day, but yet-- it is not.  Again-- not an Impressionist painting, although both Homer was and Situ is perfectly capable of using that style when it suits their purpose.

So, I guess my point is, if I want my paintings to look real, I guess I shouldn't try so hard to make them too real.  If you catch my drift...


Thursday, June 6, 2013

To The Boys Of Normandy

Today marks the 69th anniversary of the Allied Invasion Of Europe, on June 6th, 1944.  We know it as D-Day. 

By the way, did you ever wonder what the D stood for in D-Day?  Well, the truth is--- nothing.  The military loves double-speak; Every operation has a day it is planned to start and that day is called the D- as in Day.  But you didn't say, "Hey, when is the D?"  It would be said, "When is D-Day for the operation?"  Likewise with the hour.  It is called H-Hour.  So every invasion during WWII had a D-Day and an H-Hour, but history has designated June 6th as the ultimate D-Day.  It's kind of like how Civil War buffs know all about places like The Cornfield (Antietam) and The Peach Orchard (Gettysburg), like no other peach orchards and cornfields ever existed.

War is a game of cat and mouse.  If you are on the offense, your job is to surprise the enemy.  If you are on the defense, your job is to try to figure out every possibility the enemy can use so you won't be surprised.  We had a little secret against the Germans.  Actually, it was the Ultra Secret.  We had been intercepting German communiques for years, which meant we knew exactly what they were expecting of us.  Our job was to do the opposite.

The Germans expected us to cross the English Channel from Britain to France at its narrowest point: We chose a longer route.

They figured we'd choose a nice, flat area to land:  We chose bluffs and cliffs.

They thought we'd cross at high tide:  We chose low tide.

They were thinking we'd come over at night with no moon:  We chose a full moon.

The military brass also planned the invasion to the Nth degree.  The millions of young U.S. soldiers who'd been milling about England for two years were trained over and over again on scurrying into landing craft and storming beach heads and rocky cliffs and bluffs.  Each unit had a designated spot to land in Normandy and were given specific training for their spot.  After all, you couldn't just dump a few thousand soldiers on the beach and then say, "There you go, boys-- have at it!"  Each soldier had his responsibility, and it was drilled into him time and again.  So, that and figuring out boat assignments, air strikes, Naval bombardments and targets kept the Allied High Command busy for months.

The planners knew that they only had a three day window for the moon and tides to be just right.  If they missed that chance it would be months before they could try again.  What they couldn't count on was the weather.  After the troops had been loaded into thousands of all kinds of vessels, a storm blew through the Channel, stalling everything for two days.  But at the last possible moment, the weather broke for a spell, and the attack was on.

And from that point on almost nothing went right.

Ships had drifted off-course and landed the troops in the wrong spot.  Even after a shelling that was supposed to drive them out, the Germans put up a killing fight.  The soldiers who had been tossed about in their boats for two days, and who were mostly sea-sick, were weighed down with ninety pounds of ammo as they tried to wade through the bone-chilling water to get to the beach.  Many drowned in the attempt.  By the time the men got to the beach, they were disoriented, soaked, exhausted, and in many cases leader-less.  They were also pinned down by a murderous fire from German machine guns.  In essence, thousands of young men had been thrown on the beach and told, "Have at it, boys!"

What they did next wasn't a testimony on how preparation and training makes all the difference, but more on how quick thinking, initiative and bravery can overcome a seemingly hopeless position.  Quite simply, they did what they had to do to win the battle, whether they were trained for the task, or not.  Soldiers who had never been trained with certain weapons had to figure out in a hurry how to use it.  Dozens of men who didn't know each other, or have a moment of training together, coordinated their efforts to take out German bunkers.  It was as remarkable a feat as any trained Army ever accomplished.  Oh, and did I mention that for almost every man there, this was their first combat experience of any kind?

The rest, as they say, is History.

The generation who did all that-- for us-- are almost all gone now.  It dates me I know, but when I was a kid they were our school teachers, cops, barbers and such.  I remember playing a game of catch with an uncle and his buddy who were WWII vets.  They have since passed on.  If I live to a normal old age, I will see a day when there will be no World War II veterans left alive.

We observe and honor veterans on Memorial Day, Armed Forces Day, Veterans Day and all, but I've always felt we should remember the dates that mean so much to our history.  Days such as Pearl Harbor Day, V-E Day, or V-J Day don't really mean much anymore.  But they should. 

And for what they did, we can thank the boys of Normandy.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe...

Every once in a while I feel the need to add even more steps to my usual burdensome technique.  So aside from conceptual sketches, full value under-drawings, grisaille, etc., I will occasionally throw in a color sketch for the fun of it.  A color sketch should be used to work out potential problems that may arise in painting the picture.  It doesn't have to be a mini-masterpiece, just something that points you in the right direction.  Maybe you want to try a different value pattern, or color scheme.  I know I should have those things worked out before I paint, but invariably I don't.  My problem, if truth be told, is that my color sketches are generally damn well useless.  I just paint them without really giving them much thought.  Just think of them as a spelling exercise where I continually practice spelling CAT as K-A-T.  The exercise doesn't do any good if it doesn't resolve an error.

So for my latest picture, I thought I'd give the color sketch a little more effort and importance.

The following is the concept sketch followed by a few color sketches.  I really had a lot of fun working on them, and trying different ideas.

I'm going back to my lobstering days again.  Charlie, the Captain of the boat, used to lean against the hauling block as he cruised around looking for the next trap, or "pot" to use the proper jargon.

This photo is washed out, but I was thinking mostly abut setting my shadows against light to provide a more dramatic contrast.

                        I had a steel-blue sky before this one, so I tried a different, hazy sky.

                                       ...But with a warmer sky, I needed cooler shadows,

           I wasn't in love with the sky, so I went a little more naturalistic.  I think I'm gaining on it...

Of course, now the problem will be to choose one.  Any suggestions? 

Or will I just have to play, Eenie, Meeny, Miny, Mo?