Thursday, October 31, 2013

It's In There Somewhere

Dedicated readers of Maine-ly Painting (which before the collapse of the Soviet Union once numbered in the millions, but now is down to about two and a half) will note that my posts are somewhat few and far between.  Now, there are two ways to address that.  One is to complain about how busy I am, and how all my painting shows and travel is keeping me from posting blah, blah, blah.  The other way is to not address it at all, as in "I've been here.  Where YOU been?"

I can't do the latter, and the truth is, no, I have not been busy at all.  The real truth is this:  For some unknown and unfathomable reason, my ancient ebook computer that I use in my studio won't allow me to access Blogger to write these posts.  Oh, I can add photos, but it won't let me type.  (WTF?)  It's been that way for months.  Therefore, I need to use the computer that's in my house to access blogger.  But the photo files I use are stored in the ebook in the studio.  Which means I write the text at my house, and add the photos later from my studio.  Then go back to the house to edit, spell check etc.

As Mr. Rogers might have asked, "Can you say Pain-In-The-Ass?  I knew you could."

So as you read this, keep in mind all the superhuman effort it takes for me to keep you updated about me and my most innermost thoughts!

You're welcome.

Now, on to the point of this post.

Like a small percentage of realist painters (98.99%) I use photos a lot in my painting.  As much as I agree with those who complain about them, I think that as a tool they are quite helpful.  Keep in mind I said as a "tool".  To snap a photo and then blindly copy everything about it only leads to a painting of a photograph.  But that being said, when I'm out taking photos of possible painting subjects, I try hard to compose the shot as I would if I were composing the painting.  I do keep in mind, as I've pointed out more than once, (twice, and three times) the human eye and the camera lens do NOT see things the same way, so when it comes to the painting, adjustments need to be made in perspective and spatial relationships.  Otherwise, I'm just copying flaws.

Quite often, the photos I took just don't do it for me.  Even though I was moved and inspired by the scene, I'm left cold when looking at my photo.  That's when the miracle of digital photography comes in to play; Because sometimes what I'm looking for isn't the whole scene, but something within it.

Case in point: This past summer, Ellen and I took a lovely day-trip to Monhegan Island.  I took a gazillion photos.  One of them was this one:

It's two "Fish Houses" on a spit of sand called Fish Beach.  Google "Fish Beach, Monhegan" and you will see a ton of paintings depicting these structures.  Who am I to turn down a well-worn painting subject?  Like many before me, I liked the boats, and the buildings;  Except I didn't like the old guy sitting on the step messing up my shot.  So I snapped the pic, and left it at that.  Back in the studio, I was looking at this photo and doing what I usually do: Playing with it.

The photo!  (Geesh-- get your mind out of the gutter...)

I don't use Photo-Shop, but I do use basic editing tools.  Mainly, cropping.  Sometimes the horizontal photo I took looks a whole lot better cropped and re-sized vertically.  On occasion, just the right side of the photo provides an interesting design, and not the whole photo.  In this case, the left side was what intrigued me.

But remember what I said about copying flaws?  I did take care to adjust some things.  I changed the angle of the buildings to establish a more realistic perspective.  I then moved the shadow higher up on the wall to point at the old guy more.  Also, notice in the photo that the skiffs occupy a rather straight line?  I felt that made the composition look too flat.  Thinking it would be more effective to have the shadows act as stepping stones, I altered their position.  Lastly, the guy with the wrap-around glaucoma glasses may be a nice guy and all, but for the fun of it I changed him into a gray bearded sea captain sitting on the steps.

There you have it.  Another painting notched on the wall.  Now, if I don't post for a while, it isn't because I don't want to, it's because I have 16,000 photos to look at, crop and re-size.  I know there's a damn fine painting waiting for me to find it.

It's in there somewhere...


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Reality Of Imagination

And now for something really different...

At the risk of sounding redundant, generally speaking, or rather to put it in broad terms; in other words, I usually get my painting ideas from what I see.  I snoop around the neighborhood and if I see something that strikes me as worthy of paint I either paint it then and there (rarely) or snap a few photos of it to use as references back in the studio (almost always).  Sometimes I have an idea before hand of what I want and actively go seek it, but mostly I let inspiration come crawling to me.

But then again, there's that ultra rare occasion where my imagination actually drives the whole painting.  This is the story of one of those times.

(Let's get this straight first off; when I say "imagination" I don't mean paintings of Amazon women on Saturn.  No, I'm sorry to say my imagination still tends to run along the mundane in that regard). 

A couple of miles from me is an old Maine farm house and barn.  I've actually done some paintings of it:

I didn't show the house in this painting.  This is it:

It's just a typical Maine farm house with an extension off the end we Mainer's refer to as an ell.  The ell is used for the storage of tools, or back in the day, wood for the kitchen wood stove.  Which, by the way, this place still had.  I had never really stuck my head in the ell, but one day when I was bored, I doodled a little sketch of what I imagined it might look like in there:

 I went back to the house a few days later to chat with the ancient old man who lived there, and whose father built the place back in '75.  As in 1875.  I wanted to see how close my imagination was to the real thing.  Close, but as I suspected-- reality always beats imagination.

I let the matter drop.  More's the pity.  That was over two years ago, and the old man has since passed on and new owners have the place.  (To their credit, they are fixing the house up.  It's painted all white with none of that rustic green trim.  The wood stove in the kitchen has been replaced by a functioning modern stove.  The admixture of furniture ranging from Victorian to Depression era has been replaced by some tasteful Ethan Allen stuff, I am sure.  In other words, it is hopelessly bland).

Last month I stumbled upon that old sketch, and for some reason, it wouldn't let me go.  Looking at it, I began to think, "What if I substitute the old guy for the chair to show the light streaming in?  And what if I had a person standing on the other side of the room?  Hey, maybe his wife.  What would she be doing?..."  And on and on.  The challenge was:  Could I turn a figment of my imagination into something totally believable?

I'm not trodding on new ground here, by the way.  The illustrators of the Golden Age of Illustration- heck-- the academic painters of the 19th Century-- did the same thing.  I mean, did Bougereau really see those Nymphs struggling with that Satyr?  The trick is in the props.  After years of hitting up antique stores, yard sales, and barn sales, I've got lots of stuff -- I mean props.

Some I used to study the properties of light.  Others I posed and drew from life.  


Where did I get the idea for old newspapers as wallpaper?  From old photos:

And what about that raggedy chimney?  From my attic...

And the door?  The woman?  The bucket and tools?  The old guy?

From stuff I've collected.  Lots and lots of stuff.  Er... props.

After I set the scene, I sat out in my garage and drew as much as I could from life.

After all that came the normal routine of color sketches, preparatory charcoal drawing, then final painting.
I know that all this begs the question-- was it all worth it?  I mean, that's a nice path you hacked through the jungle (I hear you say) but does it go anywhere?  Well.... I guess sometimes it's the journey, not the final destination that's important.  I did all this really as an experiment.  Maybe the results won't show themselves until later; But now I know what it takes to hack through that jungle.
And besides, now that I've let my imagination loose--
Can Amazon women on Saturn be far behind?