Experiments in Painting

Some experiments—that weren’t the best

After the success of a early morning mist painting of a Polish church steeple, I tried a painting of a foggy morning over the river that runs through Krakow. When finished, it looked more like a grey scale flat image. I need some other techniques before this can look the way I want.

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The next image shows an attempt to capture the energy and movement of the Sky Train in Bangkok. I loved the lines and the geometry of the site and wondered if I could capture the feel of the place with acrylics. I didn’t. I like the idea of laying out everything carefully, but when it came down to the image it felt static and grey. I did however love the results of the buildings in the background. I like how faint they appear, a suggestion that they are there. Still, I need some other approach, which I might figure out someway.

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This last painting is of a cool doorway in Bangkok’s Chinatown. This whole area of the city evokes an old feel, exotic, with narrow alleyways hiding tiny shops. I tried it with a pallet knife and loved the texture it created, carrying through the rough character of the buildings and the age of the place. The perspective got off though as the building looks like it is growing wider at the top. Still, I love the colors and the texture, so I’ll come back to the method again for this kind of painting.

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Tackling Water

My brother is an amazing photographer and fortunately for us, he posts frequently on Facebook. One of his photographs of the Ohio River really struck me: there was great depth in the image of the far bank with such great blues rippling in the brightness of the Sun which reflected directly off the water. He had a foreground area of rocks and trees. I wanted to compliment him by painting his photograph, but I had never painted water.

So I headed over to YouTube to find a lesson on painting waves. I found what I was looking for in MuralJoe, who offers a starting video of painting waves in acrylic. He was really helpful.

I had to alter the approach because my water was river water and the light shown directly onto it. My goal also was to capture the movement of the river in a static format. Could I give a sense of the clean brightness of the river rippling along and lapping the shoreline?

Here are the results:

5I was delighted at my first attempt at water, even though I clearly have a ways to go. In the photo the right foreground was almost entirely black, so I needed some shapes to add texture and establish the near area to the viewer, so I added more forms to the rocks and color to the trees, which were just silhouettes. I struggled with the white paint and making it reflect the light as I wanted, but for a first attempt, I have to be satisfied. He has the painting now, hanging near the Ohio River.

Experimenting with black and white: Learning to Paint

 

To avoid the problems I expected with my colorblindness, I thought I’d try painting with only black and white and explore how the brush can create different textures and how the lighter colors effect the darker areas.

I combed Youtube for some advice and suggestions on how to paint and found an artist who approached abstract art in a fascinating way. [Tatiana Iliina: Abstract Cityscape Painting] She wanted to paint a cityscape in black and white using a palate knife. I hadn’t tried a palate knife, but the speed and energy of the painting looked delightful to try, and the results she got were amazing. So I gave it a try. Here are my results.

What I ended up with was different than what she had. I didn’t like how the middle section looked, and I wanted to have more light areas. I gave more attention to the water effect by adding white and using the palate knife to create contrasting lines to the building shapes. 3

While on a trip to Poland with students, I got up early to explore the city in the early morning light. In one park, the Sun had risen behind a steeple making dramatic light with the fog: deep blacks and shadowy shapes.

I captured the moment in photographs and now, attempted to capture the mood in paint. Because it was morning and fog created a haze, there was little color for me to worry about, so I thought black and white would suit the painting well. 4

One problem I ran into was that the image ended up very flat because there was so much black in the bottom of the photo, so I added in more grey outlining the forms of the buildings and creating more distinct windows. In the end I love the mood created by the translucent light around the bell tower, but the tree doesn’t have the shape I wanted because the brush strokes were too thick to thin. I wanted more even strokes. Later I’ll work on how to achieve what I wanted.

Taking the plunge: Beginning to Paint

I finally took the plunge–I’ve started painting. Years ago I loved the art class I took in ninth grade (a mere 33 years ago! Sheesh), and since then I’ve been drawing, ink, pencil and charcoal. I never started painting because the art form seemed too esoteric or high for the simple and untrained talents I had in rendering. Painting was for the art students who apprenticed in large rooms with mysterious tools, stained clothes, old jars of smelly liquids. Which medium is the best for a beginner? What are the advantages of oil over acrylic? Watercolor over tempura? And what is the world is gauche?

A few years ago, I moved from keeping a hand-written journal to a drawn journal to capture the experiences of traveling in Nepal, Guam and Thailand. Then a chance gift gave me the push I needed.

A couple from Wales was moving from our neighborhood in Saudi Arabia to Oman, and we took their couch off their hands for a cool 100 in cash. While moving it, I saw his own painting, stacked in the to-be-shipped-pile. The oil painting was a bit rough, Arabic in theme: tall white buildings chaotically reached into the sky. He said, “I only paint when I’m drunk.” Made sense. After asking me if I painted (I said no, but I wanted to), he offered me all his art supplies. For free.

So now I was committed. I said I wanted to, and I had piles of acrylic and oil paints. I went for some board canvases and read up on the difference between oil and acrylic, and I chose acrylic because it was easier to clean up.

I wanted first to know how paint acted on the canvas. What happened when it was applied to the canvas and brushed about? What happened when two colors are added to each other on the canvas?

Here is the result. I liked the effect of the white thinning in and under the blue creating a falling motion. My wife thought it looked like a waterfall in abstract. So I’ve kept it. It is where I started, and the intimidation of painting started to fade into a excitement for the challenge: how could I manipulate the medium to create a new effect? 1

Here is my second attempt. In this case I painted the scene from another painting. I liked the distance of the horizon and the dominance of the tree. Now I was adding greens and browns and a bit of yellow to the palate. In the original, the tree was colored with flowers, but when I tried the flowers the tree looked polkadotted. It was hideous. So I grabbed a brush and worked the white into the green producing a very pleasing effect of lighter green to darker green with all the blending happening on the canvas. The lines from the brush left a sense of movement of the tree. I was also surprised that the paint strokes could create depth. The water and grasses moved toward the horizon. 2

I made the mistake of waiting until the tree was done to figure out how to make the clouds look like clouds. The clouds were okay looking, but they hover around the tree—none are behind it.

I was pleasantly surprised at how the white can draw the eye to an area of the canvas and realized that I have to be purposeful about where I leave bright areas on the canvas.