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Fires are horribly fascinating

Red has never been my favorite color. But ever since my son told me about how the fires in California were making the air unbreathable … and ever since I saw the daytime photos of San Francisco with red skies … I’ve been painting red paintings. Fires are horribly fascinating.

My first attempt was also an experiment with using a lot of fluid acrylic on raw canvas and I named it Intense, because my feelings were and the painting was.

Intense 14×18

The intensity carried over into my next painting, Rage. All about the red sky, the air pollution, and my son and his family trying to breathe.

Rage 14×18

My next painting was my attempt to calm it down a little, to almost make it a beautiful sunset. Aglow is still mostly red, but not so violent.

Aglow 16×22

Finally, after hearing that the fires on the West coast seemed to be slowing down, I managed my most serene “fire” painting yet.

Blue Ridge 16×22

Blue Ridge started as a painting about the fire just barely visible atop distant mountains, something I visually remembered from a years ago trip to the Rockies. Somehow in the painting it became quieter, more peaceful.

Unfortunately, I haven’t banished the demons yet, because I still wake up in the middle of the night thinking about the fires and how I want to paint them. My next two, though as yet unfinished, are more red, more violent, less peaceful. The fires are still horribly fascinating.

Let the experiments continue

My studio isn’t huge. That’s the bad news: it restricts what I am able to do. It’s also the good news. Because I have minimal storage space, my recently completed paintings are often propped up against the wall, here and there, forcing me to look at them, reminding me of what I’ve done and what I was trying to do. It’s motivation to keep trying. Let the experiments continue.

My two most recently finished paintings, although very different in technique from each other, are very similar in style and technique to experiments recently started.

Blue Ridge is a continuation of my desire to combine the atmospheric effects of acrylic thinned with water on wet raw canvas (wet-on-wet) with some harder edges achieved by putting the thinned acrylic down on dry raw canvas (in which case I have to put the wetting agent directly in the paint … and remember to let the previous layers dry).

Blue Ridge 16×22

Blue Ridge is a wonderful combination of soft and hard edges, both atmospheric and stylized.

It’s all rather complicated and fraught with peril. My initial attempt, Intense, was a total failure in terms of the technique, although I liked the resulting painting. (You can read about it in my Oct. 7, 2020 blog post.) My next experiment, Just Glow, was more of a success with the hard edges, although it doesn’t look like anything I normally should have produced.

My second painting, Aaah, is the result of a totally different experiment: painting with unthinned fluid acrylics on textured canvas (light molding paste added to gessoed canvas).

Aaah 12×12

In my earlier experiments with painting on textured canvas, I created the texture by simply gessoing over previously awful paintings. With Blown, the texture was used to help show the force of the wind. In Aaah, the wind and the clouds are more chaotic, less unidirectional.

I seem to be making some headway. My experiments are a little clearer and I’m remembering what I did and why I did it … and most importantly, what did and didn’t work.

So, let the experiments continue…

Blowing in the wind

Painting alone in my home studio (rather than at the Art Students League) for so long has left me a little adrift. Instead of having a plan for a particular painting in mind, I’m just sorta, well, a leaf blowing in the wind.

Just Glow 14×18 Acrylic on unstretched raw canvas

For Just Glow, the only plan I had was to a) work on unstretched raw canvas, b) cover it with white first to provide a base, and c) paint on dry canvas so I’d have some hard edges. I had some vague idea of painting a really abstract sunset… Once the the yellow, orange and red were down, I added the blue in varying intensities. Finally the (yellowish) white. The major difference here is that I didn’t wet the canvas first. So … Just Glow is another experiment.

I Wish 18×24 Acrylic

I Wish is a variation on my painting from early April, Almost Clear. Both are acrylic on gessoed canvas with the focus on brush strokes to try to convey the wind. Both are painting over earlier paintings I didn’t like (don’t ask, they were really bad). And the colors are similar.

But I Wish is more similar in style to my “normal” atmospheric paintings. Even though you can see the individual brushstrokes to show the wind, there aren’t a lot of hard edges.

The three paintings I’m working on now will probably be very atmospheric as well, although the judicious addition of a hard edge here and there is appealing.

My experiments seem to be narrowing down a little. No promises though. If experience is any indicator, I’ll get comfortable with whatever the new technique is and then want to mix it up and try something new. The difference now that I’m just working from home is that it feels like one experiment after another. So far it’s not gelling into anything that resembles a “comfort zone.” We’ll see.

Experiments are confusing

For the last few months I’ve been moving in and out of a variety of painting techniques: wet-on-wet on raw canvas, wet-on-dry on raw canvas, wet-on-wet on gessoed canvas, pure paint on gessoed canvas, watered down paint on gessoed canvas… I could go on, but I think it’s obvious why experiments are confusing.

Of course, I’ve been approaching this as an artist, not a scientist. I haven’t been trying something, then changing one variable and trying that, changing one more variable and trying that … and keeping scrupulous track of the results. In fact, the only track I’ve been keeping is looking back at what I’ve painted and trying to remember how I did it. And the answer isn’t always obvious, unfortunately.

But I’m an artist, not a scientist, so I think I’ll just continue with the experiments, maybe writing on the back notes about how I did whatever I did. Better than nothing.

So here are two very different experiments, and I happen to remember how I did them.

Blown 12×12

I started Blown by gessoing over a previously awful painting and leaving some texture in the brush strokes. After that dried, I wet the canvas with water and brushed in the basic colors with watered down acrylics. Once that dried, I intensified the colors with fluid acrylics (I recall being frustrated with the recults and thinking that next time I would use tube paint). Once that dried, I repeated the step with tube paint. And, finally, when that dried, I created the brush strokes for the wind using a very scraggley bristle brush (and watered down tube paint).

Many layers, a variety of techniques. I’m not sure how I should categorize it.

This next one is somewhat easier to categorize.

Intense 14×19

I simply squirted, poured and brushed wet (fluid or thinned with water) acrylic paint onto dry raw canvas (oops, after first laying down white paint thinned with water and letting it dry). I wanted to protect some of that white here and there, but there was too much paint swimming around. Tilting the canvas moved the paint around and I kept having to mop it up with paper towels around the edges.

As it dried (very slowly), I added yellow here and there. It was a labor of love with precious little control, which maybe reflects all the pictures of the California wildfires I’d been seeing. And there were certainly more variables than I initially thought.

The lack of control reminds me (a little) of some experiments I did a couple of years ago pouring fluid acrylics mixed with a pouring medium on gessoed canvas. The paintings then had a lot of hard edges, whereas this has none.

I’m glad I’m not a scientist. Trying to control for just one variable at a time would be difficult, not to mention boring. Somehow, even when I think I’m repeating an experiment, I end up changing more than one variable. Each painting is different, making its own, unique demands.

So it’s confusing. What else is new?

Experimenting on my experiments

As the pandemic continues and getting art supplies is not as simple as it used to be, I continue to experiment (using the supplies I already have). But my experiments are all over the place. I’m experimenting on my experiments.

I kept trying to achieve the loose effect I used to get with watercolor and then later with acrylic on raw canvas. So first I took a canvasboard, flooded it with water, and then dropped in some acrylic. When it dried, it WAS nice and loose … but kinda boring. So I tried to define the sky a little more, added the ground and had the white cloud overlap the tree tops. Voilà: my fantasy landscape:

Fantasy 12×9

I didn’t want to repeat the watercolor attempt, so I just tried to blend the acrylic paints directly on the canvasboard for a new sky and then added darker colors on thickly for the ground. More like a “normal” acrylic painting. Smoothing white on top made an interesting sky and then I made the water more active to balance it out: Ghostly.

Ghostly 12×9

My third experiment was acrylic on stretched canvas. I blocked in the basic colors using fluid acrylics and then stroked in the details using a bristly house painting brush: Moonlight. So far so good.

Moonlight 12×12

Last, but not least, I gessoed over a stretched raw canvas with a disastrous painting from last year, and then tried again to block in the major color areas. After that dried, I added the brush strokes using fluid acrylic: Ghost Light II.

Ghost Light II 18×24

I don’t know how many of these — or even which ones — I’m going to love when a little time has passed. The goal is not to produce paintings I love (although that’s okay if it happens), but rather to decide what technique I like enough to continue … or come back to.

Global Expressions

The new exhibit at The Blue Door Art Center is aptly named, Global Expressions – A Celetration of Cultural Heritage. It includes 4 of my paintings based on my memories of various overseas trips and my reactions to COVID19. Here are two of the four.

Ghost Light, 18×24

When theaters are closed and dark (as in a pandemic), they keep a “ghost light” on. I suppose it’s to make it easier to find the things that have to be turned back on when they reopen.  Somehow the phrase “ghost light” stuck in the back of my mind after reading the NYTimes article. I didn’t want to paint a real theater with a real ghost light, but did want to convey what the words meant to me, the hope that everything would get turned back on.

Hwange Sunset, 24×30

Although my trip to southern Africa was almost a year ago, I continue to be captivated by my memories of spectacular African skies.

The Blue Door Art Center, 13 Riverdale Avenue, Yonkers, NY is open Fridays 3-6, and Saturdays 1-6. The work in this exhibit is quite remarkable and well worth the trip.

Thank God for my son!

I really don’t like to burden my son with all my computer problems. He’s very tech savvy, works for one of the big tech companies in Silicon Valley … but he has a job, a wife, a new son … in short, he has a life. So I usally get my tech support from the Geek Squad. They’ve been pretty good in the past, but this last time drove me crazy. Three days and no answers. I couldn’t use the computer and I was so frustrated I couldn’t paint. Well, one quick email with my son and I’m back in business. Thank God for my son!

And now I’m trying to make up for lost time. I’ve gessoed over a painting I hated and couldn’t finish. And I’ve also added some light molding paste to give it some texture before I start to paint. It’s a new technique I’ve been wanting to try and I had to cover over some of the texture from the previous painting. So, double whammy!

And now I’m starting to paint again. And here’s the first layer…

Feel the Wind Blow

It needs work, but that’s okay. I’ve got nothing but time.

Lord, it’s frustrating…

And I’m not even talking about the pandemic. I installed a new operating system (Catalina) on my MAC (at Apple’s suggestion, I might add) three days ago and nothing’s been the same since. A bunch of software programs I use all the time (Word, Excel, etc.) now don’t work and my calendar won’t sync and won’t let me add anything. Lord, it’s frustrating!

I’m not exactly tech savvy ( you might call me a Luddite) and I thought Apple products were supposed to be easy.

The real problem is the Best Buy Geek Squad support I signed up for ages ago. Three days later and I’m still waiting for the advanced person to contact me.

I think I’ll ask my son…

I’ve got to lose

At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, I’ve got to lose the dreaded Covid-15 (15 extra pounds, that is). My painting pants have been feeling a little snug lately, but that’s not it. I actually looked in the mirror and didn’t like what I saw. Haven’t weighed myself, so I don’t know exactly how bad it is, but the exact weight doesn’t matter. I just have to lose.

Suddenly I said to myself, “Self, what have you been doing with all that extra time you have?” And Self answered: “Not much. A little painting. A little shopping. A little cooking. A lot of eating. A lot of sleeping. And very little exercising.” … [You see what Self and I are getting at.]

Something has to change. Actually, somethings have to change. Exercise three times a week (already started). No snack with my 6:00pm dry vermouth (already started). No more cookies (aww…). Walks at least once or twice a week (not started yet; can’t do it in 90 degree muggy weather). More painting (already started). [The list will grow.]

In fact, the one good piece of news lately is that I have been painting more, trying new things (new for me, that is). And painting more means that I feel better, which helps with the other things that have to change.

So, to cut to the chase, some new paintings:

Storm’s Coming

This isn’t finished, but I think I’ve captured the feeling.

Storm on the Rocks

I thought this was finished, but now I’m not so sure. See how I feel about it tomorrow.

In both of these, I like being able to see the brushstrokes. It’s very different from painting on raw canvas.

Might as well keep experimenting …

Well, there really must be a backlog of orders for stretched raw canvas, so I might as well keep experimenting. And actually I kinda like working with acrylic on canvas board or gessoed canvas (which is fortunate, since that is what I have available).

And the really great news: if you don’t like the result, you can just gesso over it and start again. In fact, I’ve actually gessoed over a couple of my acrylic paintings on raw canvas that I didn’t like, thus giving the canvases a whole new life. As that obnoxious commercial on tv says, “Who knew?”

So, continuing my blog about experiments from almost exactly one month ago (Experiments can be tricky… ), here are my latest two experiments:

Ghost Light 2020 18×24 Acrylic

When theaters are closed and dark (as in a pandemic), they keep a “ghost light” on. I suppose it’s to make it easier to find the things that have to be turned back on when they reopen.  Somehow the phrase “ghost light” stuck in the back of my mind after reading the NYTimes article. I didn’t want to paint a real theater with a real ghost light, but did want to convey what the words meant to me, the hope that everything would get turned back on.

Stormy 2020 9×12 Acrylic on canvasboard

There was a storm brewing over the Palisades, but I wanted to change it up a bit.  I kept the sky, but modified the Palisades and the river. Everything else seems to be changing, why not my view?  And this is my still relatively new experimental technique, so that is changing too.

This new experimental technique arose due to my running out of raw canvas, but having plenty of gessoed canvas and canvasboard. Once my raw canvas orders materialize, I’ll have to figure out which I want to use. Decisions … decisions. It’ll be nice to have a choice.