Well, to be more precise: my first TRADITIONAL (as opposed to digital) painting of 2023.
And to be perfectly honest, this one was a real wake-up call. I realized – too late! – that I’d become too reliant on digital painting. Sure, digital painting is an art form in itself and requires its own skill set, but at the end of the day, it is not Real Paint. Real paint comes in only a set amount of colours. Real paint doesn’t have an “Undo” button. And like it or not, most people want to see an actual thing that exists out there in the world, a unique, one-of-a-kind object that has the mark of the artist’s hands all over it (metaphorically speaking).
Or maybe they don’t really care and it’s just my own insecurities talking. I have a lot of those. When I’m feeling up for it, I can ramble on about my doubts about water-miscible oils vs. REAL oil paints, and then we can watch the fur REALLY fly!
Anyways, I felt compelled to put some paint to canvas, and let me assure you that diving back into traditional art-making was a painful experience. My first painting was larger with a full selection of colours, but it had to be temporarily set aside because I realized that I had bitten off more than I could chew. This smaller, monochromatic self-portrait is actually my “rebound” painting. Still, whenever I lost control of my brush, I did, in fact, automatically move my hand in the general direction of the “Undo” button like I was still sitting in front of my keyboard (busted!).
I will say this about WMOs: just because you can mix them with water doesn’t necessarily mean that you should. Looking at this painting now, it’s obvious that I treat oil paints like glorified acrylics, and the results and not always the best. In fact, if I compare this painting to a much earlier acrylic piece (below, left), I think that the acrylic is far more successful in that the brush strokes are smoother and more confident. My signature, I’m happy to say, remains as blockish as ever. 😉
The best thing about doing multiple versions of a piece is that you can try different methods and approaches with each iteration. I’ve been working up the gumption to explore non-realistic colour, and I thought that a tiny work on paper was the best place to start. Boy, was I in for a surprise! It turns out that imaginative colour is a LOT harder for me to wrap my mind around than I’d bargained for. I aimed for a flat, cell-shaded look, but in the end, I couldn’t resist putting in all kinds of detail in the face.
To be honest, I’m a bit disappointed in myself because the “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” sequence from the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” movie is something that my 4 year-old brain latched onto as a Life-Altering-Work-Of-Art, and it’s an aesthetic that I want to incorporate into my current work. I honestly thought that mimicking that look in my own art would be a cinch, but alas, it looks like I’ve got a ways to go before I unlock my inner Heinz Edelmann. Let us consider this a First Draft, and as Neil Gaiman says: “Your first draft doesn’t count”. All it has to do is exist.
For this piece, I decided to keep things simple and low-concept: just a roughly painted self-portrait, using a reference photo taken with my computer camera (note the tell-tale glowing blue neck). I kept the brushwork loose, and even cheated a little by sometimes relying on the eye dropper tool to help me get the right colour. There have to be some advantages to working digitally, right?
This piece was also an opportunity to better understand the newest addition to my digital painting arsenal: Escape Motion’s Rebelle 5. It’s early days still, but this might turn out to be one of my favourite softwares. Photoshop will always reign supreme for the sheer number of tools at one’s disposal, but Rebelle 5 has a much better “surface texture” feeling. Many digital painting programs claim that they can mimic the sensation of pushing paint around, but this one comes closest of all, in my opinion. And if nothing else, how can you not like the ripped edges of the canvas? Talk about a perfect little detail that I never knew I wanted!
Here is another contender for the title of “Painting That Has Sat For The Longest Amount Of Time On My Easel While I Contemplate How Best To Approach It”. I believe it clocked in at about one full year. While I’m not completely sure why I lost my courage for so long, I suspect that I hesitated partly because I worried that the whole “portrait of the back of a woman’s head” thing had already been done to death. To me, it seemed like a cheap and easy way to add some mystery to an otherwise very pedestrian image. But artists steal ideas from each other all the time, and when you get right down to it, how many of us can say that our work is 100% original? We are all influenced by each other, and if you’re waiting for a truly original idea before putting paint to canvas, you’ll be waiting a long, long time. Life’s too short!
I also wavered quite a bit on what medium to use. Acrylics are odor-free but difficult to blend, while oils (even water-miscible oils!) give me a headache. In the end, most of the painting is acrylic, with only the hair and certain details on the clothing are oils.
This piece also went through a few digital iterations prior to – and even during – the painting process. You might remember this earlier post where I played around with various background colours on a first pass of digital painting.
Once I’d decided on the background colour, I put down a first layer of acrylics then painted a second digital pass on top – just to reassure myself that I was going in the right direction after all.
And finally, here are some more process shots as I moved from acrylics to oils.
And now this painting sits on my piano – which I also haven’t touched in forever, btw – where I can see it every day, and it fills me with a sense of enormous well-being, and also a healthy dose of “Took you long enough!”
With all the enthusiasm of a New year’s diet, at the start of January, I vowed to throw myself into judgement-free artmaking. The plan was (and still is!) to produce like nobody’s business, and at the end of the year – HOPEFULLY – end up with a massive output of art from which I will be able to detect certain patterns, like “what subject matter do I gravitate towards?”, “what colours do I use most often?”, and most importantly “what am I trying to say with my art?”. I know, I know… the pressure to have the Big Questions answered kinda short-circuits the whole “judgment-free” thing, but “Quantity Leads to Quality” and all that jazz…
Part of my plan also involves experimenting with different artistic approaches. My Pinterest account has an Inspiration page filled to the brim with figurative art, and quite a lot of it is done with large areas of flat colour, something I find completely fascinating but have never really attempted to do myself. And that’s how this portrait came to be! Going against my detail-oriented ways was both scary and exhilarating, but ultimately, I’m undecided about the success of this piece. On the one hand, it got me out of my comfort zone (which was the point), but on the other hand, doing it made me feel like I was wearing someone else’s identity. So maybe… I should do this more often? 😉