Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Jungle Fire (Finished!)

Jungle Fire,  Watercolor on Arches 140# Cold Press Paper, 8"h x 10"w, 2013 #40


Just a very quick update on this piece which I have dragged along for almost a year, and finally finished during this weekend. No, I have actually not procrastinated on it -- some pieces come easier than the others, but this is not one of them. I would layer another wash on it every now and then, and look at it after a couple of days, feeling it still needed something -- slight adjustment of color temperatures, a little detail to modify the jagged edges left by masking fluid, etc. And finally, when I am looking at it today, I realized IT IS DONE. 

When I first started painting I never thought finish a piece is this much work and involves this much pondering -- I would select a good reference photo and when the painting looks quite like the photo I know it is done. But the more I paint, the more I realize it is the artist's aesthetics instead of the snap of a camera should dictate when and how a particular painting is finished. It can be as sketch or realistically detailed as you, the artist, is happy for it to be. The line between a finished painting and one not quite yet suddenly becomes much more blurred.

Sometimes I only realized a painting has passed its finishing point after I have put a couple more strokes and realized I just overworked it. ("An artist knows an awful lot -- but he only knows it afterwards", says the all-wise Paul Klee.) Sometimes I think it is done and frame the painting, only to take it out later for further adjustments. There is not an iron-cast standard, but more of a feeling that different layers and strokes are finally coming together into a beautiful, coherent whole, a melody instead of a collection of music notes.

Hopefully, as I continue working, one day the blurred line would become clear again...

How do you, my artist friends, decide that a painting you have labored over is done?

You can now buy high quality Giclee prints of many of my sold paintings, both on paper and canvas, as well as some note cards with my paintings here:

Monday, April 22, 2013

When in Doubt, Take a Workshop... (Really?!...)

Recently I had the chance to take a workshop with master artist Barbara Nechis, whose work I greatly admire, and whose style could not be more different from that of my own. The long commute daily across the wine countries of California provided scene upon scene of beautiful rolling great hills of pasture land and foggy estuaries, decorated with old, gnarly valley oak tress with personality of their own; it also gave me some quiet reflection time for the directions of my own artistic growth -- first and foremost, why do I take workshops, and what do I expect to accomplish in them?

Barbara Nechis Workshop Day 1, 
Watercolor on Arches #140 Cold Press Paper, 11"h x 15"w, WIP 1

As beginner artists we all take workshops in one form or another, -- physically in the classroom with a master artist, or watch a dvd/video tutorials. We all yearn to learn. I used to be a workshop junkie and take a dozen each year, yet never reserve time in between to really digest, practice and incorporate what I have learned in each workshop. Sometimes I would not even have time to paint in between workshops, and as a result my improvement is sporadic to say the best. I would jump from trying to imitate one style I learned from artist A to another I saw in another workshop conducted by artist B, and the only thing I have picked up in this haphazard process is a variety of pallets filled with different brand watercolors, and some specialty, name-brand brushes of all odd shapes that I never use again after the workshop. (Sound familiar?... I guess this is the growing pains for beginning artists...)

Barbara Nechis Workshop Day 2, 
Watercolor on Arches #140 Cold Press Paper, 11"h x 15"w, WIP 1

As I paint more regularly after leaving my day job, and most importantly, after I started attending the classical drawing and painting atelier last year, I gradually come to the realization that one's growth as an artist is not dependent on how many workshops one manage to attend, but on how much one tries to practice the important things learned in such experiences. Every minute spent in a workshop under the tutorage of a master artist must be accompanied by fifty, or a hundred times of working-alone-in-your-studio hours thinking, digesting, and practicing the things learned, otherwise the time in workshop are more than likely to be totally wasted. Long hours spent in one's studio working out the problems exposed under the guidance of a teacher, comparing your own work with the example of the master, reflecting on what is successful and what leaves more to be desired is a must for any taught material to be absorbed as one's own...

Barbara Nechis Workshop Day 3, 
Watercolor on Arches #140 Cold Press Paper, 11"h x 15"w, WIP 1

The motivation to take a workshop could be many different ones, but largely they can be summarized into three different categories: to study the specific technique an artist use for his or her work, that you would like to utilize -- how to do the wet-in-wet blending? How to paint negatively around shapes? How to achieve rough texture on the barn? In Barbara's workshop I have learned how to paint shapes with clear water then drop in liquid color to create extraordinarily fluid shapes that has a life of their own, as well as paint from one section to another to assemble the painting, or paint with very stiff paints on soaking wet paper to achieve soft but more definite shapes that suggest flowers and foliage. I learned how to rewet the entire painting without disturbing pigments already on the surface, as well as glazing over thick pigments with big brushes. These are techniques I will be practicing in the coming days. Then there are concerns of interpretation of reference materials, and the question of how the master artist sees the same reference in their minds' eye differently from us, how they would translate a mundane photo or object into a poetic interpretation. What they would add to the picture, and what they would leave out, or take liberty to alter, and why they make those decisions. In the case of Barbara, she so often would just absorb the various color and shapes of the photos or other people's artwork that she finds inspirational, and then paint her own work with such influence in mind but without literal reference at all. Last and most difficultly, one could learn from a master about the design of one's work -- what are the utter most concerns regarding making a picture? How does a master artist go about tackle the problems of shape, value, color and what do they emphasize at each stage of the painting's development? Often in a successful workshop one would realize there is a definite reason for each artistic decision to be made -- the reason a curving petal is inserted here is to create a please curvlinear shape to echo another shape put down previously, and a leaflet is painted behind it not because it is accompanying the flower in the reference photo, but because a dark shape is needed to create the sense of luminosity of the light petal just painted... One decision leads to another and the painting energies from white paper based on such decisions -- the biggest mystery is hidden behind them. A good teacher does not only explain the "how"s of doing it but also the "why"s, and it is from these "why"s that we can learn how to not just paint things, but to compose a painting.

Sunkissed, Watercolor on Fabriano Artistico #140 Cold Press Paper, 5"h x 7"w, WIP 1

I've absorbed as much as I could like a sponge in the three-day workshop and realized that I probably need to return next year to gain a better understanding of some of the design concepts taught in the class -- one can only absorb as much as one's currently level allows. I never thought myself to be an abstract painter, but after this workshop, I am starting to realize that all paintings are essentially abstract paintings, and what makes a realistic painting successful in the end, is not the painter's skill to copy the blue water or pink petals as vividly and intricately as they appear in nature, but in his/her ability to assemble the abstract shapes of color and value into a pleasant design. Applying such principles in my own project, I have noticed that I became much more liberal with the usage of color, getting more concerned with how the interaction of various colors on the paper and less with how accurately they reflect the color in the reference photo. I am also getting more comfortable painting wet on dry, knowing difference shapes put down can be modified by the shapes put next to them and glazed on top of them, thus if they are not immediately successful, it is not an absolute disaster...

It will take many months for me to finally evaluate whether I have gained as much as I should from this workshop, but for now, I will say, it is an great inspirational experience that has brought much needed sense of jubilation into my art life... 

You can now buy high quality Giclee prints of many of my sold paintings, both on paper and canvas, as well as some note cards with my paintings here:

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