Mistakes

November 5, 2016 § 2 Comments

“When you hit a wrong note, it’s the next note that you play that determines if it’s good or bad.” -Miles Davis

How often when painting do we put down a color patch, a mark, or a brushstroke that just doesn’t hit the note we’re after? Too often. The many ways that our moves on the canvas can be off are dauntingly large. The value can be too dark or too light. The hue and temperature can fail to mesh with the existing colors. They might pop out or sink in, or create a jarring discord. The drawing – things that affect the rightness of proportion, or the readability of the space – can go off track, creating strange distortions.

Our first reaction is to think we’ve made a mistake! A mistake is something that is not correct, an inaccuracy. But what if we change the way we look at, and think about, this apparent disaster? Learning to paint is not just about learning techniques, it’s about appropriating new eyes and a new mind for considering this fraught enterprise in which we’re engaged. What if we stop thinking about that bad color note as an isolated “incorrectness” and instead consider the whole context in which this misstep appears defective? Sometimes a mistake is a gift in disguise.

In the end, every color we put on the canvas is simply a fact. Every color is a verb that acts. That patch of paint we’ve just applied to the canvas has a color hue and temperature, a value and an a level of saturation or intensity. Further, and more importantly, it’s appearance in our painting is a function not just of pigment but of relationship. Leonardo was perhaps the first artist to note the phenomenon of relativity in color and value. A color, he says, appears as it does according to the context in which it is placed, and that same color can look very different depending on the other colors it is seen against. Delacroix, embracing this phenomenon of painting said, famously, “Give me mud, and with it I will paint the flesh of Venus, if you allow me to surround it as I please.”

Miles Davis, the great jazz trumpeter, gives us a new way to think about these so-called mistakes. Everything depends, he says, on what comes next. The next notes you play can either confirm and compound the sense of wrongness, or they can begin to welcome that mistake into the ensemble and make it meaningful, even revelatory. A mistake is what we make when we’re following a preconceived aim and a piece of the puzzle doesn’t fit. If we stay open to what happens we have the potential of following the work into some very interesting territory. The many gaps between what we think we’re doing and what actually happens is where a lot of the excitement of painting happens. Thinking of painting as a kind of visual improvisation, rather than a step by step process, opens new doors. It gives us a whole different set of sensitivities with which to solve the problems of a particular painting.

Wayne Thiebaud’s Painted World

September 8, 2016 § 1 Comment

I was privileged as a young student to participate in a workshop at Mountain Lake in Virginia in the early 1980s, organized by my teacher, Ray Kass, from Virginia Tech. I imagined that Thiebaud would be a kind of Oscar Wilde-like character, as colorful and flamboyant as his delicious paintings of pies and cakes that were very much defining the contemporary art world at that time, the world that I, as a young painter, was preparing to enter. What I found instead was a deeply humble man who wasn’t much interested in talking about himself, his work, or his reputation. We spent an evening looking at old, brown masters of the past – Chardin, Rembrandt, Tintoretto and others – while Thiebaud held forth on his deeply held belief in the need for painters to work at acquiring the disciplines of looking and seeing the world around them. Here’s an instructive excerpt of a talk by Wayne Thiebaud given at the New York Studio School in 1999. In it he articulates in his wonderfully clear, no-nonsense way, some of the same values that he shared with us those many years ago.

Richard Diebenkorn’s Sketchbooks 2

January 18, 2016 § 2 Comments

2014.18.133_CDP-pub

Stanford University has launched an interactive website containing all of the sketchbooks of Richard Diebenkorn, 1922-1993. Click the drawing above to visit the site.

Diebenkorn’s Sketchbooks

August 26, 2015 § 1 Comment

Richard Diebenkorn, Cover of Sketchbook #8 (1943–93), printing ink on laminated board (gift of Phyllis Diebenkorn, © The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation)

Richard Diebenkorn, Cover of Sketchbook #8 (1943–93), printing ink on laminated board (gift of Phyllis Diebenkorn, © The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation)

Click the image to read Allison Meier’s article for Hyperallergic.

Richard Diebenkorn’s Notes To Myself On Beginning a Painting

January 31, 2015 § 8 Comments

97549279e63509a0120050e5a056afc7

Danielle Muzina

December 14, 2014 § 3 Comments

Brilliant new work by Danielle Muzina who graduated with her B.F.A from the OWU Department of Fine Arts in 2013. Danielle is in her first year of the M.F.A. program in painting at Miami University, Oxford, OH.

Color Massing II

November 20, 2014 § 5 Comments

Describing a breakthrough he had while struggling with a landscape painting, 19th century American painter, Albert Pinkham Ryder wrote, “…the old scene presented itself…and before my eyes , framed in an opening between two trees. It stood out like a painted canvas…three solid masses of form and color: sky, foliage, and earth. The whole was bathed in an atmosphere of golden luminosity. I threw my brushes aside; they were too small for the work at hand. I squeezed out big chunks of pure, moist color, and taking my palette knife, I laid on blue, green, white, and brown in great sweeping strokes. As I worked, I saw that it was good and clean and strong. I saw nature springing into life upon my dead canvas! Exultantly I painted until the sun sank below the horizon. Then I raced around the fields like a colt let loose and literally bellowed for joy!” *

A gallery of color massings from the centuries:

*From Painters on Painting, edited by Eric Protter
%d bloggers like this: