14 March 2008

241 days, and not counting

a talented painter and friend of mine wondered, when he launched his own blog several weeks ago, why a painter would ever want to maintain a "painting a day" output.

but he also expressed admiration that i kept up the pace for so long, especially as i made up the days missed to sickness, travel or other responsibilities.

well, after 241 days of continuous postings, today is the day that i stand down and change the subtitle of this blog. but as i do, i want to answer my friend's question for those painters who might consider a similar commitment.

THE GOOD POINTS. why attempt "a painting a day"? because it fundamentally sharpens and strengthens your painting abilities. among the benefits:

• deadline discipline - i do not paint for bread and board, and i don't take commissions i am not interested in, so i otherwise would not feel the external discipline to start new work and keep it moving.

• mood doesn't matter - you get over the idea that you should only paint on the cheerful frisky days; there is work to be done, and you show up to do it.

• becoming a closer - one of the first luxuries you relinquish is the idea that a painting can linger on forever; you learn to keep a painting on track and guide it toward its ending; the work doesn't dawdle or drift.

• streamlining work - work habits get polished down to the most efficient and most productive; fussing, perfectionism and daydreaming get pushed aside; clutter gets sorted out and put away; painting technique sharpens.

• painting in series - you start to appreciate the value of working on several similar paintings at the same time, utilizing the same palette, paint mixtures and working procedures; rather than work on three different paintings that you finish each in a day, you work for three days on three similar paintings; you look for a cluster of sibling paintings (images) that you can develop at the same time.

• backlog clearance - in the crunch, a half finished painting is much more attractive than a blank sheet of paper; to keep up the pace, you eventually dig out every half completed work and either discard it or finish it.

• productivity - obviously, productivity goes way up. you have, after 100 days, 100 paintings (if not more!) to show for it.

• play and improvisation - i found the pace of the work forced me out of the routine in ways that encouraged experimentation with new techniques; and the need to keep motivation going led me to choose paintings that were fun or exciting to do, rather than familiar. cruising is not as much fun as flying.

• stamina - perhaps the most important benefit is that all the mental and physical painting muscles get a good workout, every day, or (as with any exercise) on makeup days, so your stamina greatly improves. last fall i carefully traced from photographs a series of six matching, 14" x 10" paintings, the stefanie figure paintings, but quit after completing only the first one: the effort required to do all six was just too much for me. well, after six months of "a painting a day," i dug out those five outlined papers, spread them out on my work table (right), knocked out finished paintings in four days, and didn't break a sweat. it was like sprinting up stairs that used to leave me winded.

THE BAD POINTS. not everything about the "painting a day" process is positive, however. among the drawbacks:

• quality ceiling - paintings often ask you to slow down or take a break, and there is a tendency to push against the work, sometimes too hard for the sake of quality; the best paintings may require more time than you have to spend.

• format shrinkage - if you really are doing a painting a day, without recycling paintings you posted months ago, then you have to work smaller; i ended up gravitating to the 10" x 14" format, but many "painting a day" artists (for example, the talented molly brose) work in smaller formats than that.

• filler works - inevitably, the work stream gets cluttered with inconsequential or knockdown "filler works" that find their way onto the blog because, well, something has to go up today!

• make up strain - unfortunately, i did not adopt the humane policy of excusing myself for vacations and holidays, and since starting this blog my rolling stone of a wife has carried me off on about 6 weeks worth of holiday or recreational travel ... and that meant 6 weeks where i had to produce at least *two* paintings a day just to catch up ... which inevitably made the work a burden.

• reactance - add all that up, and reactance -- the contrarian human tendency to do what is forbidden, and to avoid doing what is required -- sets in, the painting becomes just a chronic labor, the fun goes out of it, and fear and loathing set in. of all the drawbacks, that is the most disheartening and unacceptable.

THE UGLY POINT. on balance, this has been a fabulous ride, and i would gladly repeat it all again knowing what i know now. but the final reason to break off my daily postings has been the palpable and aggravating deterioration in the blogger service -- for example:

Safari can’t open the page “http://www.blogger.com/whatever.g” because the server unexpectedly dropped the connection, which sometimes occurs when the server is busy. You might be able to open the page later.

maybe blogger can't be bothered to handle threads spawned through a dialup connect; maybe blogger has decided safari and firefox aren't worth dealing with; maybe blogger management wants to handle rising user demand by raising the time-to-execute "price" (cost) of its service. whatever: i've had enough of hoping today is my lucky day.

p.s. nick ... the cypress painting is back in the queue.

13 March 2008


Charcoal pencil & watercolor on Whatman CP 600 gsm, 22" x 15".

with the wife gone and some other things in the background, including a bottle of lucid absinthe, i got myself into an unravel and passed a hard night and morning.

i slept until noon and then in the evening dragged myself down to the studio for an audit.

i copied the features from my life mask, in a scribbly uneven hand, then flooded the image with wet color. the whatman paper holds the paint on the surface -- the finish has a subtle frizzy texture that won't let the water down into the pulp -- so that paint blots up easily. the charcoal blurred and flowed along with the paint, subduing the drawing.

i left the painting and went to bed; the next morning i added more paint to the background, and shifted some colors around with magenta or purple, but basically left it as it was.

12 March 2008

weekly figure group

Carbon pencil on Strathmore drawing 180gsm, 12' x 16".

the model this week was jeffrey, familiar to me from previous sessions and a hardworking poser. these are some drawings from the 3 or 5 minute poses early in the session.

unfortunately i left shortly after this because i felt sick in body and in spirit. i drove home and went to bed.

11 March 2008


Carbon pencil on Strathmore recycled drawing, 16" x 13".

kortney was back today; we did portrait poses and ended a little early so that she could get on to a late afternoon shoot with another artist.

i finished the session with a portrait drawing, about 20 minutes, in the same pose that she took in her previous visit (feb. 12). "putting truth and untruth together, a shot may be made at what this hybrid actually was like to look at" (finnegans wake).

10 March 2008


Watercolor and carbon pencil on Arches CP 300 gsm, 14" x 10".

i had a hankering to do a botanical, a break from the portrait and figure work and the recent pile up of new models. i wanted to do a "whole plant" drawing in the style of renaissance floral prints, the kind that shows the roots and one or two insects on the leaves. before she left for mexico, my wife offered me one of her tulips, which she did not want where it lived and was not going to transplant. so out it came.

i decided to do a dark background rather than white, but i forget what all it is mixed from. viridian and cadmium red, i think, but there is also some manganese violet in there too. gives the ground a rich granular texture, like emery paper. the brush strokes show, but don't intrude.

the petals are done with mixtures of cadmium red and scarlet, with perylene maroon -- what a versatile pigment! -- water blotched to give them a feathery texture.

09 March 2008

writing exercise

Charcoal and watercolor pencil on Utrecht bristol 180 gsm, 12" x 16", on black background.

while browsing a book on maurits escher, mostly for recreation, i came across this quote:

A person who is lucidly aware of miracles that surround him, who has learned to bear up under loneliness, has made quite a bit of progress on the road to wisdom.

i copied this in the format of my first handwriting exercises in elementary school. i double ruled five lines of bristol and wrote with compressed charcoal, and was surprised to see my handwriting revert to the childlike form. the "erasures" are smudged out mistakes. i shadowboxed the card with black paper and posted it on the wall, where it looks just like the slogans, famous sayings, pithy wisdom that used to stand over my earnest classroom head.

what a long road we take in life, and how far away now my beginnings seem to be.

08 March 2008


Watercolor & carbon pencil on Whatman CP 600 gsm, 16" x 12".

april pleased and inspired me so much that i used our last half hour or so to knock out this freehand portrait drawing, with the hair completed from a photo and the whole filled in with watercolor the next day.

her hair forms tendrils part way down, then dissolves into a kind of threaded mist, very delicate and profuse. i opted for suggesting the rhythms through wavy bands and alternating areas of light and dark within each lock, a pleasing effect to me but not really faithful to the model. so, i am toying with the idea of preparing a portrait head before her next visit, so i can freehand draw in the hair, every last strand.

most of her portrait photos capture her delightful smile; here she took a sober expression for the twenty minute sit. there is a classical or austere quality to her features that i really like.

07 March 2008


Carbon pencil on Strathmore drawing 180gsm, 14" x 10".

next up is april, a local woman and proud mother, who had a positive experience modeling for a friend and wanted to do more.

for some reason i had a lot of difficulty drawing her hands, which appears in the drawing as the stray preliminary outlines. these kept shifting around on me. perhaps her presence distracted me.

i always ask models to arrive with their hair up, if they wear it both up and down, so they don't have to arrange it in the studio. april comes out of germanic stock and has an impressive nose with many facets. the portrait is not quite good but captures the serenity and positive center of her spirit.

05 March 2008

weekly figure group

Carbon pencil on Strathmore drawing 180gsm, 14" x10".

another model no show ... this time because the model got lost trying to find sebastopol. ongoing cell phone dialog trying to bring the guy down. "no no, turn RIGHT!"

meanwhile don leivas sat for drawing, this is my 15 minute portrait. he seemed to like it.

the model finally arrived, trim built guy, got some good drawings off him. here is his first lying pose ... i think he was tuckered out from all that driving around in the dark.

anyway, i had to leave early because my wife was departing next morning for a week vacation in mexico. our last night together for a while.

03 March 2008


Carbon pencil on Strathmore drawing 180gsm, 14" x 10".

next up is tabitha, a young sonoma immigrant from seattle, here to take the herbal medicine course in forestville. very sweet lady, cheerful and lively.

her hands were set on well defined wrist bones, fun to draw. the portrait is a good likeness i thought. we spent two hours doing portrait and figure photography. she is a natural model ... "i love to get naked."