Think, Plan, Do and Reflect

I am reading an article and interview about Ward Schell. I like big canvases too but this is a little crazy. It’s the background for a diorama. There are two things in the article that jump out at me. The first is ‘think, plan, do and reflect’. I believe I have the ‘think, plan, do’ part covered, it’s ‘reflect’ that snags me. I can reflect for a very long time and it’s often not helpful. This doesn’t mean I shouldn’t do it. This is where his other statement applies, stop (or at least consider stopping) when the work is 80% done. I’ve often found that I estimate that I have another weeks work to do on a painting (remember that I am slow) but two days later I am finished. Finished means that I can’t see anything else to do on the painting or I don’t think that doing more will add anything. Deciding when a painting is finished has been a problem for me for many years. If I sit and ‘reflect’ for an hour or so and I can’t see anything to add, change or enhance that will add to the painting, then I am finished.

Stopping at 80% is important. I don’t interpret this to mean leaving a painting unfinished, I could continue work on a painting until it is almost photorealistic but that is not what I want. I think the painting should still look like a painting but generate an illusion of reality. Many artists overwork their paintings. If a painting portrays the scene adequately then it is finished. Perhaps this advice should say ‘Reflect at 80%’.

Why Paint?

I was watching a documentary about the Barnes collection, I’m intrigued that he arranged his collection based on what he liked in a room filled with other things in the collection, rather than by year or style. The Frick collection is arranged similarly. This says more about the collector than the artist but perhaps they saw meaning in the art that I don’t. He obviously loved art in all its forms. I paint because I enjoy painting. I also find it very frustrating but ultimately enjoy it. Some art critics talk at great length about the meaning of a given piece of art, who did it and when. My art has no underlying meaning that I’m aware of. I just liked the scene and wanted to paint it, it’s interesting to experiment with the best way to render the scene, and it’s interesting when it starts to appear real.

Nina Simone said in an interview that an artist’s job is to reflect the times. If you feel strongly about ‘the times’ then I don’t think that’s wrong, I just don’t feel that way. Many art critics seem to feel that good art must say something about the human condition, and they will go to great lengths to describe what they think an artist is trying to say and what ‘the human condition’ is exactly. I simply like or am intrigued by what I see so I want to paint it. Luckily I don’t have to paint to eat because I would surely starve. As a graphic designer I have used my artistic capabilities to eat but I’ve always kept my painting separate. I wonder how Barns and Frick would have done if they were struggling artists?

So why paint? I paint because I can and I enjoy it. When the painting is done I’m flattered if someone likes it. Since I’m going for the reality illusion it’s gratifying if it starts to look real. I’m interested in just how detailed or impressionistic my painting can be and still create an illusion of reality.

I Like Small Brushes

I sometimes think of small brushes as the bane of my existence. Unfortunately I like them and continue to use them. I have been trying for years to make my work more impressionistic and one way is to use larger brushes. I have recently given this up and wrote a post about it. I’ve given up trying to make my work more impressionistic but that has no effect on my penchant for small brushes. Small brushes make painting slow and they presume detail which slows down the work. It’s not that I want to be blistering fast, I just get impatient if the painting doesn’t start to resolve itself. I’ve talked a lot about the reality illusion. That’s just my term for the impression of reality I get as I’m working on a painting. I get impatient if the illusion doesn’t start to happen about half way through the painting. Curiously it’s not a good thing if it happens too early. The best results happen if the illusion doesn’t start until the very last moment with the use of small brushes. This is hugely frustrating.

Absolute Colour Values

I’ve trained myself to look for colours. I think of colours as having an absolute value. So flesh has an absolute value. Water has an absolute value. Metal an absolute value. To me absolute indicates solid, so the entire object is a single colour. Although that value may be present, most objects are comprised of a number of colours and reflections. If I look carefully at an object I see lots of colour gradations and colour reflections. I still tend to paint the object with a single colour initially, but that works to keep the object separated from other areas of the painting. Later I go back and add other transient and reflected colours.

At first I thought of this as being complex but it’s not it’s just the way our eyes and reality work and it really is just a couple of brush strokes. As I’m progressing on the painting I don’t try to mix exactly the same colour for each painting session. Minor variations and a few judicious brush strokes add to the reality illusion. I think that everything must have a basic colour. It translates the light hitting it into that colour and that light colour is what illuminates and reflects on other close objects. I think I got this pretty early when I was learning to paint and I still paint an object then look around for other places to add the same colour. This has the benefit of pulling the painting together and adding to the reality illusion.

An Old Art Book

I was looking at an old book about Pen Drawing. The thing I find interesting is how little needs to be drawn to represent the scene. Of course with pen drawing only the darkest areas need to be shown, so the image is being represented only by shadows. I have more to work with painting and the reality illusion sometimes starts very early. I don’t think I ever got a reality illusion with pen although I certainly liked some better than others. I remember drawing my wife’s pet dog many years ago. Wonderful dog. I finished the eyes, nose and ears before deciding that it was a bust and just wouldn’t work. It was for my wife’s birthday and it was that day, so I finished the rest very quickly. My Wife came home and loved it so it’s hanging on our wall today. There is no reality illusion but it looks like my wife’s dog. For me the reality illusion doesn’t appear without colour.

Art Book

So I’ve been building an art book. I had a bunch of these posts sitting in a file and decided to make use of them so I’ve put some of them in a book. I use InDesign and it has the capability to export all sorts of formats including PDF and EPUB. There is a new kind of EPUB called fixed layout that should be perfect for an art book, however I’ve tried several times to export it in that format with no luck. As a result I’ve made it available in PDF. If you are following the Blog then there is likely nothing new in it, although some parts have been rewritten.

The link is on my Website

I’ve been asked why I would do such a thing if I’m not going to charge for it. I’m on disability so I can’t work, however this is fun. Painting is fun and the Web is fun.


I often use a colour wash on my paintings. The question I’ve been grappling with is “Why”. If I want the painting to be warm I use a warm wash and if I want a cold look, a cold wash. I know that the colour does show through a little. Acrylics tend to be more transparent so I would think the wash would show through more thus giving the work a warmer or cooler cast, but I don’t believe this is the major reason to do a wash. There are two reasons that I can see, the first is that it gives a solid colour that will show my sketching but the same is true if I sketched on the raw canvas or board. The second and I believe more important, is that it will influence all my colour choices throughout the painting process.