"Connecticut Flower Farm"Like most 21st century artists, I find myself so often perusing the internet as a means of keeping up with the happenings of the art world today. Between social networks like Facebook (my socializing tool of choice), and the personal sites of most modern working-artists, I can conveniently see what everyone is up to with just a few clicks of my trusty "mouse". I really do love it.
And why not? It's inspiring, educational, and yes even entertaining, all at the same time. In fact, I credit much of my “art-education” to the sites of artists that have made their work available for viewing over the years via the internet.
I'm labeled as "self-taught" -which is certainly what seems to be the most befitting term for it- and, while first beginning to explore painting techniques, my main sources of information were the sites I visited just about every day. I spent untold hours each and every week just staring at the images of masterful works that literally glowed on the screen before me. Not being able to afford the more expensive teaching tools available at the time -books, DVDs, workshops, etc.- I made the most of these moments by going over every inch of each painting... despite the pixelated images, poor color reproduction, or the eye discomfort that comes from sitting in front of a monitor for extended periods of time.
While exploring the virtual-art-universe in the only way that I could at the time, I found just one thing to be inadequate: Very few, if any, detailed *close-ups* of the artworks were ever posted for public viewing. (This isn't a criticism of course - how were the artists to know that a young kid in a small town was desperately searching for the information necessary to grow as quickly and efficiently as possible [albeit by whatever means were the least expensive]?) I could fairly clearly discern the drawing, color temperature, edges, and composition, of each piece in their respective photographs, but the actual brushwork escaped me. I had no way of knowing how the "look" of the painting that was on screen before me was actually achieved.
So, I struggled along, having some successes, and even more failures, until I was ultimately able to see in person the works that I had admired so much. Things truly became clear to me after this point. Seeing paintings by the likes of my now friends, Mr. Richard (Schmid) and Miss Nancy (Guzik), and others, for the first time, was undoubtedly one of the most inspiring experiences of my artistic life, and I felt as though I had read an entire library of books shortly afterward. And the best part: Being able to get as close as possible! I could literally see each brush-stroke, and each one told me how the piece was painted!
Here is a selection of "close-ups" of some recent works that I'd like to share with whoever takes the time to read this. I do hope you'll take the time in fact, not just to admire, but also study, dissect, and mentally absorb them. There's an unlimited number of ways to apply paint, onto whatever surface you chose (I prefer canvas), and I love to think that I can still learn with each stroke...
I LOVE the scratchy surface that was created here, behind the teacup. The canvas itself is quite smooth, so I had to employ several techniques to achieve this impressionistic look.
First of all, I applied my block-in colors -thinned with medium- and loosely wiped off the excess with a stiff paper-towel. This created a variety of tones, even with minimal color on the canvas (only two or three colors initially). Many of those scratches and striations created by the paper-towel were left in the finished product.
On top of that block-in -as I was delving into thicker paint and more detailed brushwork- I was able to maintain the original "looseness" by using a brush that was very well-worn and frayed. I like some of my brushes kept that way because they create texture when applying paint and force me to push the paint around in a way that doesn't look too "controlled". In some instances I even rolled the brush hairs up and down the canvas surface!
Applying the Paint Thickly
Wow! There's so much going on in these detail-shots of a recent self-portrait. First, notice that even though most of the paint is applied thickly, I still manage to keep my shadows transparent-looking. I do this with a very stiff bristle brush that makes striations with each stroke, and therefore gives the appearance of transparency - even where the paint is opaque.
Second, the lightest regions are also the thickest, and tend to draw the most attention. Even if most of the painting is going to be thickly painted, I usually save my thickest brushstrokes for those lighter areas, and complete those strokes last. I use a softer brush, typically a mongoose, because they'll hold and transfer larger amounts of paint at a time.
Lastly, notice the edge-work. The softened edges are created by simply taking a brush and dragging one color into the next, in as few strokes as possible. I don't mess with what are often labeled "blending-brushes", because over-blending can cause the paint to become "over-worked" looking and I'll lose the effect I was reaching for in the first place.
Applying the Paint Thinly
In the example above (a detail shot of "Roses and Hydrangeas"), you can see areas of the painting -particularly in the leaves- where a single color is applied thinly. By thinning the paint and quickly applying it in a back-and-forth motion, I can achieve the look of several colors even though only one has actually been spread on. This is because the thinner the paint, the more transparent it will appear, and as I go back-and-forth with my brush (sort of like coloring with crayons - my favorite!) some areas are covered more than once and receive more paint, therefore appearing darker. Also the thinner paint tends to give the impression of being warmer, so I can get a variety of subtle temperature changes with a single color - depending on how much of the canvas is showing through.
I love the dry-brush technique, and often wonder why I don't use it more often in my paintings- especially in fabric. It's done by taking a brush (usually something stiff, such as bristle) that's completely dry (there's a surprise) -void of any solvent or liquid of any kind- dipping it into the paint, and applying it by dragging the brush across the canvas, usually in just a few strokes (so as not to completely cover the canvas surface). This causes the paint to adhere to the highest points of the canvas-weave, leaving the deeper grooves untouched, and accentuating the natural texture. In the image above, you can clearly see an example of the dry-brush technique in the multicolored fabric beneath the yellow crayon.
As I've said, there are so many more ways to apply paint -and I'd be remiss if I didn't admit to not knowing them all- but I hope this will give you a good foundation for your own endeavors. And please don't stop with just what you've read here... visit museums, attend gallery openings, and take time to see your favorite paintings in person whenever you can. Don't just admire from afar, get up close and personal if possible. Each brushstroke holds a key to understanding how every painting was painted, and we can learn something from them all!
(Detail) "Silver & Orchids"
(Detail) "Dolls, Books, & Crayons"