Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Lately, I have been hearing the word "sophisticated" thrown around too often.  In a general sense "sophisticated" can be used to imply that something is under the influence of a strong education, proper manners, and a deep respect to cultural knowledge.  In other uses it can also describe something that is complex or intricate, or something that is satisfactory to high class taste.

Regardless, there is only one definition of "sophisticated" that I find relevant in describing artwork: deception.  Not because artwork itself is inherently deceptive or misleading, which it may actually be, but because the very use of the word itself is deceptive.

Art is subjective and always dependent on interpretation.  It is dependent on the viewer, their lives, their era, their generation, their taste, and, for that matter, their sophistication.  Each work of art is both great and terrible.  In a broad sense, this applies to just about everything that has ever existed.  There is absolutely nothing special about this armchair, skill-level-one philosophy, either.  And to illustrate that point simply: "One man's trash is another man's treasure." Art cannot not escape this broad of a classification

Artwork cannot be classified as sophisticated because, by definition, recognition of "sophistication" is dependent on the life experience and taste of the viewer, not the inherent qualities of the artwork.  The use of "sophisticated" as a description is a sales technique, not a formal critique.  It is used to empower the viewer and make them feel sophisticated, not to describe the visual elements of the work.

Always be conscious of someone trying to apply a level of class to a piece of art.  It is usually an attempt to empower the buyer, not the artwork, and in the end any positive critique toward a work of art is only a few prepositions away from being completely dismantled.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Get There 2.3 (Painting the Sky Pt. 2)

The techniques I use for the second layer of the sky are the same as the first layer.  Therefore the first half of this post probably won't take too much description.  Normally I would have painted this thing on the wall but FM had open gallery hours as I was working on this step.  Thank you Peter St. Lawrence for an easel large enough to fit this thing.  Normally I would use my Klopfenstein.  It claims to securely hold a 72 inch painting, but I wasn't finding that to be the case.  In most other cases it is a great easel.

I took the opportunity of the first layer being dry to re-up my layer of white.  The horizon had been too blue so this was a perfect time to add a little more contrast to the sky.

It is much easier to smooth the paint on this layer.  Rough brush strokes and transparent layers do not show as much since the layer under the wet paint is not black anymore and matches (for the most part) the color and tone of the new layer.

The black and ultramarine really start to pop on the second layer as well.  The endless blending of the first layer, though it can look pretty smooth, tends to neutralize out a little too much.  This painting was ready for the next step after the second layer.  I've had other ones need a third and fourth sky layer to finally be ready to move on.  It's tedious and obnoxious, but it's necessary.

Here were the brushes I used.  The Blick Mega Filbert and a 4 inch brush made by Princeton.  The brand isn't important in this case as long as the brush is densely packed with natural bristles.

Be sure to end painting the sky with a even layer of vertical strokes.  This way light will have less glare off of the brushwork.

I have seen several techniques to paint clouds.  Usually, they involve smashing and dabbing on the paint thick and quickly, then smoothing it out with a larger brush.  I never cared for how this looked.  To me, it doesn't matter how thick, massive, or puffy clouds can get; they never have that thick impasto* look that most landscape paintings seem to gravitate toward.  For that matter, I never thought clouds "feel" that way either.

I started laying on the the Titanium White (with a little added tint of ultramarine) with the Mega Filbert.  I was doing that swoopy style brushwork you see the everyone do on TV.  I have no idea why I started doing that, it just seemed like a good idea.  It wasn't, or better yet, it didn't make much of a difference.  In this case the paint was still too thick and I was applying to little of it at a time to make a difference.  I had no intention of changing the consistency of the paint either.

I decided to ease up on the fancy dancin' a little bit.  Usually that type of painting is reserved for artists with a camera on them.  Everyone loves the fancy dancin'.  If you ever need to make a painter act melodramatic just throw a camera on them.  Seriously, do you think Ed Harris would have been nominated for an Academy Award if he portrayed a hyper-realist painter?  They drink too you know!  I don't care what people say, Pollock was WALKING around those canvases.

I used a ladder to paint the clouds.  I didn't feel like putting a lower set of screws into the wall.  The main reason was because it was getting late and I was too lazy to grab the drill from the top of my storage racks (even though I clearly had the ladder out anyway).  In hindsight I am glad I didn't because it gets pretty dusty in my studio and I very well could have accidentally kicked dust onto the lower portion of my canvas while painting.  This could have mixed into my paint and rolled into little clumps while working on the first layer of the land.  I am aware it's not very romantic to worry about dust.  After all, Picasso once said:

"The earth doesn't have a housekeeper to do the dusting. And the dust that falls on it every day remains there. Everything that's come down to us from the past has been conserved by dust... It's my ally. I always let it settle where it likes. It's like a layer of protection."

It's a shame that there was no dust to protect his wives and mistresses from his beatings.

I pulled out a small round brush to start building the edges of the cloud.  I know it is most certainly not "time saving", and this is probably not the most traditional method to paint clouds but I wanted to give as much attention to the details of the cloud as possible.  I couldn't leave it to one general technique and assume that the viewers eyes will automatically resolve any inconsistencies beyond my control.  Again, I feel I should reiterate, these choices are all just techniques and methods to provide the means to an end.  Who knows, in a year I might be preaching the Word of the random.

At this point the structure of the cloud is applied.  So far I have only used the slightly off-Titanium White with a little linseed oil to add some transparency.  As you can see, the center of the cloud is a little pastier.  It was not my intention but if I spend more time trying to smooth it out with linseed I will just smear a hole to the blue that I cannot repair until it all dries.  Considering that this is not the final layer on the cloud I will leave it as is.  When it is completely dry another day I can come in and add another layer of white to even out the appearance and make it seem to glow on the canvas.

I wanted to even out the brushwork left over by the small round tip too.  I used a synthetic filbert this time.  I normally wouldn't recommend the synthetic but since very little wet paint was coming in contact with the bristles I chose to take advantage of their smooth, hard edge.

You probably noticed by now that this is a very strange cloud.  It was strange when I saw it in the desert too.  Here is a photo of the photo I took.  I do not aim for my paintings to be exact replicas of the photos, or for them to recreate the irregularities of the lenses either.  Holga and Diana photos are so easily written off nowadays anyway.  One thing about the cloud that I would like to carry into the painting, though, is the saturated, UFO like glow it seemed to be emitting.  It would be the truest way to represent its unsettling appearance in person.

So beyond adding one more layer of white to the cloud later, I am pretty much done with the sky.  All I have to do is be careful not to damage it.  It is damn near impossible to repair that level of flat gradation without having to repaint the whole thing.

After a long night's work nothing beats dining on a pre-packaged salad from the grocery store and soaking in the rampantly eccentric party lifestyle that is being an artist.  Such a wild dance!

*impasto: another word used by a-holes to describe the painting process where the paint is applied thickly (mostly quickly) to show the brush or palette knife marks.  In most cases the word is used to imply that the speaker is looking for money or sex.