Feeling Stuck

I started doing this because I saw a video of a master penman who was working on a piece, and he said something like: “People always say how talented I am. They see me write something with one stroke in a few seconds. But what they don’t see are the years of practice, the mountains of exercises, and all the nights at 3 AM practicing. They think it only took me a few seconds to write that, but really, it took me years and years to make that one mark.”

That inspired me. I’ve never considered myself a truly talented artist, in large part because my older brother is so damn good. I’ve always envied his ability to draw, and never thought much about the fact that he can draw so well because he spent days and days and days drawing.

If he was awake, he was probably drawing. I never noticed his earlier work, because he was always so much better than me. So, I loved the idea of drawing and painting, but I figured Tim is a talented artist, and I’m not. So, I didn’t put the time into it.

When I heard that quote, I realized that I’m not a talented artist because I haven’t tried. So, I decided to try.

This whole blog is my attempt to show all those late nights and failed exercises. My hope is that eventually I’ll be really good. Eventually people will look at my paintings and say, man he is so talented! Then, I’ll be able to point them here and show them all the long nights and failed exercises.

Of all the paintings on this blog, there aren’t many that I have kept, and there are fewer that I’m genuinely proud of. I’m not able to produce a painting that represents the feeling I had about a scene or a moment, and that’s what I want to be able to do. I don’t want to represent something, I want to represent how something felt – which is sort of like trying to describe the taste of the color three.

Anyway, I painted a few things today. And at the end of the day, I feel stuck. I feel mired in a lack of progress. I want to improve, but no matter what I sit down to paint – I end up with something that feels sloppy and careless.

I try to remind myself that I’m learning – I shouldn’t feel like I’ve got it yet. I have only been doing this for eleven months, which means if I were in college again, I’d still be a Freshman. If I want to master this, I’ll need to keep going until I “graduate” through my senior year, and then I’ll have two years before I get my “Masters” in painting. Then, I’ll need another four or five years before I should realistically feel comfortable with saying I’ve arrived.

That means I’ve got another nine years to go before I can say I gave it all my effort. If I feel like I can say I’m a talented artist at that point, then I will have proven to myself that talent isn’t real, it’s just another way of saying “dedicated.” If I’m still no good by then, well, then I was wrong.

With that said, here are the paintings I have made recently.

Sky and Grass: #1

I want to come up with “recipes” for the elements in my paintings. And in nearly all of my paintings, there is sky, and grass.

This painting is an exercise in painting those two elements using a “recipe” that I feel I can reliably reproduce.

The first, most important aspect is deciding where the horizon should be. This is one part of determining the viewer’s height above the foreground. If the viewer is standing upright, looking out over a flat expanse, then the viewer’s head should be roughly five and a half feet off the ground. The horizon will be level with the viewer’s eye. So, that means if we drew a line from a vanishing point on the horizon to the top of the viewer’s head, that line would go up, but just a tad. If we drew a line from the horizon to the viewer’s feet, it would go down sharply – because the viewer’s feet are below the bottom of the page.

That means the objects at the bottom of the page (which are presumably at the viewer’s foot-level) are actually kind of far away from the viewer’s eye. So, one thing I know is that the grass at the bottom should be about twenty feet away-which means it’s too far to see individual blades of grass. For this reason, painting the grass with horizontal strokes works well, because it describes a row of blades of grass. If I were to paint vertical strokes, I would be painting very tall grass.

The horizon is also the point where all the objects are the same height. That’s why it’s a line.

Finally, the horizon is the point where the most air molecules are, because we look through all the air molecules between us and the horizon. Each molecule scatters a drop of light, so by the time we get to the horizon all of the light is scattered. Nothing is in focus, and the predominant color is the color of the atmosphere. On a hazy day, that will be white. On a dry day, it will be clear, and we’ll be able to see the things at the horizon with more clarity.

Because we are all familiar with the appearance of a hazy horizon, the easiest way to imply depth is to represent a hazy, out of focus, mostly white horizon.

In order to achieve this, I painted the sky first, deeper blue at the top, and fading to white (clean water) at the horizon. But, that deep blue sky is much further away from us than the grass that’s twenty feet away. So, the sky at the top of the painting will have more air molecules between us and it – so, even the darkest value in the sky should be lighter than the lightest value in the grass at our feet.

Here’s where I messed up first. I painted that dark value in the sky much too dark. So, the sky feels very low.

I wanted clouds in the sky, so I knew I needed to preserve some whites. I also know (from looking at them a lot) that clouds have a lot of crisp edges, and lost edges. To achieve this, I first sprayed clean water on the paper to saturate it unevenly. Then, I dappled that deep blue into the top, and let it wander. If it stopped at a spot where there wasn’t much water, I got crisp edges. Around those crisp edges the pigment feathered on the paper as it absorbed, giving me a lot of lost edges. I continued doing this, with more water each time, until I had painted the whole sky. I left some areas untouched in order to give the impression of clouds. Then, I went back while it was still barely wet, and dappled in some Payne’s grey.

This worked for the most part, but that Payne’s grey was far too dark, and it looks like it’s about to storm.

Next time, I’ll try lifting the clouds with clean paper towels, and I’ll skip the Payne’s grey.

For the grass, I painted a quick wash of yellows and browns and greens, more saturated at the bottom and white at the horizon. Then, I let it all dry, and went back to the grass with a fine tipped brush and painted some rows of pigment. I then feathered the rows carefully, using the same brush, but just clean water this time.

That seemed to work really well for the grass. I’ll need to try that again.

Nimisila: #1

For this painting, I wanted to try practicing water again. I really like the effects I got with Ron Hazell’s rippled water technique, so I tried that again.

I started with the sky, the same way as before. First I sprayed clean water, then dappled in Ultramarine Blue gradually adding water as I moved to the horizon. When that was done, I lifted some edges on the clouds with a clean paper towel.

I let that all dry and then painted the water using Ron Hazell’s method. First, paint a graduated wash, dark in the corner, white at the horizon, and let it dry. Then paint over it with clean water. When the water has dried so the sheen is off, paint lines for the ripples. If the paper is too wet, the lines will feather, which can be fixed by going over them with a bone dry brush.

I then painted the trees and shore. The distant trees were mostly just blue, and blurred. For this I painted clean water along the horizon and painted a line of blue at the bottom of the clean water. As it spread upward, I painted a ragged line just above the first to represent out of focus trees.

When that dried, I painted a row of trees a little closer, for these I used more yellow so that they could be more green, as they are less impacted by the atmosphere.

Then I painted the nearest trees, using quick lines to try to represent the millions of tiny branches at the shore line. I tried to use the yellows at the sunlit side of the trees, and greys and blues on the opposite side. The trees still feel very flat to me. Looking at it again, I should have extended the height of the trunks, that’s out of perspective quite a bit.

Desert Rocks

My first attempt at painting large portions with a palette knife.

I was inspired by Joseph Alleman’s “Down Time, Big Horn Crags” to try a slightly different style.

“Down Time, Big Horn Crags” by Joseph Alleman

I love the style he paints in, Which is simultaneously realistic, and stylized uniquely. His sharp controlled angles and excellent command of light are inspirational to me on pretty much every painting. In “Down Time” he uses a mix of sharp angles and lost edges to paint the scene, which has a surprising sense of depth, in spite of the fact that most of the edges, values, and level of detail is consistent from the foreground to the horizon. He seems to achieve this depth by changing the rhythm of the lines, and by using perspective masterfully. I love how he managed to do this, and I want to experiment with it a lot more.

For this quick exercise, I painted a simple sky using UM blue, and blotting out some clouds with a paper towel.

Then, I painted the mountains using a graduated wash of warms and cools that started at a value 3, and ended there. I let the colors mix on the paper, and when the paper was a little dry, when the sheen was just about gone, I used my palette knife to scrape the pigment around. At first I did this timidly in diagonal & vertical strokes. But I found that the very quick horizontal strokes were more interesting – probably because they were done with confidence. By mixing the direction of the palette knife I was able to define different planes of the image in an interesting way. I want to do more of this.

I then used a thick drop of Bloodstone to darken some of the spaces between the knife edges. The paper was still wet when I dropped that in, so it wandered freely, but didn’t slide into the highlights, which gave a really easy and interesting sense of light and shadow. Again, definitely worth trying more.

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