i’m starting for the third time on this painting. i began it ten years ago, and immediately ran up against the complexity of painting it. for instance, the darks i have not put in yet form a wide swath of shadow diagonally across the painting, and should be painted all at once, to avoid different tones in the shadows, and then later, go in and erase or scrub the places where there are blades of grasses, etc. but the way i’m working, i’m going to end up surrounding the existing blades of grass etc with darks, which means a million little shapes of darkness. and they all have to be the same color, so i will have to go back and keep touching paint into the drying pools until they’re all equally dark, which means having, oh, 25 square inches of paper damp at once, and working back over all the little blobs without letting any of them dry out. it’s tricky, but can be done. it’s not the “right” way to do it. oh well.
what i’ve done is to start putting the green highlights of the grasses coming up from the water surface. and then i started putting in the midtones in the vegetation behind the kid. the stuff running along the fence on top is rosemary, so that means i’m putting down my lightest phthalo yellow-green mixed with a little bit of cerulean, and put on very thin so only the blueness shows. then i went around next to these and put in some slightly darker greens, which you can barely see. then i got out the sap green (which is a mixed up color, so there are a bunch of different sap greens. this one is the darkest green i have, and is a little grayed out, so it’s not bright green in any way. hooker’s, i guess you might also call it.) and started putting in the darker greens in the fence to the left. and then i did the same on the far right, but added some ultramarine into the green to darken it right up. and that’ll almost be my darkest background dark.
it’s good to get the darks started. that’s why i usually break the rules and start right in with darks at the beginning of a painting. because it’s such a psychological sticking point. because you’re really committing yourself when you start putting in the darks. as humans, most of our perception is based on shadow. the shadow tells us where the edge of an object is, tells us how much attention we should pay to the appendages, tells us how fully shaped it is, tells us something about how massive it is, and whether it conveys a threat, just by the lines and shadows of its shape.
as an artist, and because i’ve studied the mystic traditions, i know that there are no hard edges, that there is no molecule-wide line that separates my body from the rest of the universe. everything interplays at the edges, but we like to ignore that as humans. which means we really emphasize the edges, the boundaries, the form. over emphasize, if you ask me, looking at our human troubles with politics and religion, all of which enshrine boundaries and demonize the other side.
this closeup shows most of the work i did yesterday. all varying shades of greens.
much of my problem lies in my palette. when i laid out and started painting this picture a decade ago, i was a faithful end-user of art supplies. by this i mean that everything that i used to make art had a label on it and was bought ready-to-use either in an artstore or online. this is unfortunately how it works in these modern times. the perception is that the regular artist can’t use unorthodox artist materials, that everything has to be not only archival, but approved of by some higher authority.
but since i reject the angry-daddy god in all his guises, i’m not buying somebody brand of paint. i’m not reading the catalogs, i’m not believing the hype. when i read the catalog, i’m looking for ingredients, i’m looking to see what they’re using in their paints. but i’m not going to spend any money supporting them. i can’t afford to.
i’m an old fashioned, starving kind of artist. i dive into dumpsters, i scavenge, i start from scratch. i never eat in restaurants or go to movies. i don’t have a cellphone. i don’t watch tv. i live on less than $10,000 a year and think it a virtue. so i’m all about mixing dry pigments with whatever medium i need and going from there. that’s why paint manufacturers and art supply stores hate me.
anyway, back when i started this painting, i was a regular artist, buying everything premade and shrinkwrapped, and i had 150 different tubes of watercolor and 30 brushes. and they were all laid out in this giant plastic palette with a billion little wells in them. as for the tubes they came in, i have gradually given them to my daughter, who now and then likes to knock out a painting. and so, not only do i not know what the pigments are, arranged around the huge plastic tray, but i also can’t replace any of them. so when they stop dissolving, like the raw umber did some time back, then i guess i don’t have any more raw umber. and so the huge palette now has a bunch of holes in the color spectrum. not to worry, there are still 300,000 left, but you feel the loss of raw umber.
suffice it to say i’m working with a palette i have basically given up on, and i’m getting frustrated with the holes in it, and am about to pitch the whole thing (donate my palette to my kid) and start over from dry pigments and gum arabic. but not yet. since i started with a particular palette, it would be inviting disaster to complete it with completely unknown pigments mixtures that may or may not like what’s underneath. so i’ll make do. i’ll take a picture of my behemoth palette one of these days.