Thursday, July 24, 2014

Wednesday Watercolor Whatever! Demo on Shadows

This is a demo I created during last nights Wednesday Watercolor Whatever! class.  We were looking at shadows and dark areas in compositions and how to handle them.  In particular, we were looking at the difference between creating shadows on a white paper background versus shadows and dark areas within a painted area.  It was a fun exercise.  There will be no Wednesday Watercolor Whatever! next week, but we will meet again on Wednesdays in August.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Watercolor: Blue Flag Iris Commission for MSHS

My annual commission for the Minnesota State Horticultural Society this year is a blue flag iris.  Here are some preliminary images.

The drawing of the final composition on tracing paper

1st Stage of a study for the final painting

Final image of study for final painting

1st stage of final painting

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Art Thought: Drawing as a Way to Cultivating Mindfulness

I have been reading some articles lately that have me thinking about mindfulness. It seems that we humans have a hard time being mindful of what is around us and our proper relationship to our surroundings.  It greatly saddens me to see what is happening to our planet.  The environment is rapidly changing and might eventually not harbor life as we know it, including us.  And this is being brought on by not being mindful of how we live in relationship to our surroundings, the very thing that sustains us.

The human condition is such that we have an ability to think in the abstract, and thus, focus on the future or the past.  If we are living in the past, we react to the present situation according to our regrets from a situation in the past.  If we are living in the future, we react to the present situation in accordance to our hopes and fears of what might be, not according to what is needed in the moment.

Mindfulness is the act of living in the present moment, being open to what is, not what has been or will be.  It is a very hard state to achieve, at least for me.  Throughout the day, most people have a running monologue in their head. Often we are reviewing what happened the day before or earlier in the day, thinking about alternate scenarios, wondering if we did the right thing, etc.  Or we are thinking about the future: the list of things that need to get done that day, dinner plans for the next day, what to do on the next vacation, etc.  What happens when we stop listening to either our regrets about the past or our concerns of the future?  What happens when we simply are?  Well, that is the goal of meditation, to simply focus on the body, its processes, and allow acceptance to seep in through the quagmire of untrained thought. Mindfulness is slightly different.  Mindfulness is more outward oriented.  It is the act of seeing without judging, of relating without prescribing, of being open to what is without trying to control it.

To answer the question above, the other day I tried to remove everything from the past and future from my mind. Did I find mindfulness?  No. I found fantasy.  As soon as I was able to clear out the past and future my mind filled in the void with thoughts of things that could not possibly exist.  Suddenly, I was chasing down a murderer, I was solving the JFK assassination, I was conversing with sprites, I was... well, I wasn't doing anything, really, just passing time

How can drawing help achieve mindfulness? Drawing is a process of being in the moment.  At any given moment you are concerned only with the mark you are making on the paper. Ah, but now you've got me.  We are not only thinking about the mark we are making but we are also concerned with the marks we made previously and the marks we will make in the future.  How else could you have a composition that is consistent?

Well, yes, you've got me there... wait a minute.  No you don't.  While being concerned about the marks you made previously, you are not focusing on the past, you are responding in the moment to how those marks exist, in the present, on the paper.  You are adjusting and changing so that in the moment it represents the shapes, lines and values you want.  And as for preparing the paper for future marks, yes, there is some of that, but really, you are only concerned about the current marks and if they are where you want them.  The future will tend for itself.  As any drawer knows, lines don't always end up where you expect them - and often that's worth keeping.

I have embedded the following video in my blog before because I love the process of this drawing.  It is completely in the present moment, completely about making marks (and nothing else) and its incarnation is found in the act of dragging graphite across a surface - the most basic description of drawing.  This is Tony Orrico making 1 circle proto.

So the question is, how can drawing be a process that cultivates mindfulness?  If drawing is a process that is most concerned with the present moment, perhaps there are ways to expand this process beyond the paper.

While drawing, artists ask several questions in the moment.  Here are a few examples:
  • Is the line dark enough or light enough?
  • Is the line curved enough or should it be straighter?
  • Are the shapes in good proportion?
  • Is the shading representing the surface?
When drawing, we are always asking questions that are answered by attention in the moment to physical action.  We are answering questions not with words, but with actions.  I had a painting teacher in graduate school who would approach your painting and ask a question by taking a brush and painting on your canvas. Some people felt violated by him changing their painting.  He would not paint for the student or improve a failing area, he would simply place a stroke of paint in a certain location that the student would have to respond to.  Often it was a question that could be phrased as: "Do you think your values are dark enough?"  But the way in which the question was asked, the student was given a marker by which to judge their answer throughout the rest of the painting process - and the teacher didn't have to keep coming around and asking the same question. The teacher did not seldom did this, but it was a great way to get the student to observe more accurately and bring him into the moment.


I believe that there are ways that we can take the mindfulness skills we are learning while drawing and apply them off the paper.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Wednesday Watercolor - Whatever! Demonstration Pieces

Here are a few demonstration pieces I created during the Wednesday Watercolor - Whatever! class last week.
Jade plant in a cup - showing how to create value by using different varieties of the same color, i.e. yellow cup is created with cadmium yellow and yellow ochre

Still life created by painting an under-painting first and then layering color over it

Votive candle glass - darkening by adding opacity.
Come by Jack-in-the-Pulpit Studio next Wednesday night at 6:30pm and paint with us!