Monday, January 14, 2008

The Quest for the Perfect Shape

It's been almost a year since the last time I took a workshop.

Interesting thing, workshops. Some artists attend every workshop available, some hardly ever take any. I am closer to the second kind. In my short time as an artist, I have found that technique-related workshops confuse the hell out of me. I guess I am a self-taught kinda gal, as I learn best from my own experience, exploring what appeals to me at the time.

I also learned to stay away from instructors who teach their technique and style, rather than help you grow. Which is why am limiting myself to those who are more about providing you with the infrastructure of design, composition and color. Those are hard to come by, but they do exist. One exquisite example is Mike Bailey's Watercolor Beyond The Obvious class (yup, the one in which you paint 20 paintings of the same thing and curse the day you started...). That is, by far, the best thing an artist can go through, as it changes forever the way you approach painting! Another one is WackieM's class, where she pushes you to explore and experiment without trying to make you paint like her (Ha! if I only could!!!).

And this week, I am taking what seems like another such workshop, with
John Salminen - an incredible artist whose work I admire. He does a lot of urban scapes and some figurative work, and as he attests, he is somewhere in between obsessive compulsive and anal retentive painter. Y'see, you don't just look at his paintings - you get mesmerized by them, as they are a wealth of interesting tiny shapes and little surprises and colors that pop up unexpectedly for your eyes to feast on. You just wanna to stand there and savor it forever.

His paintings have such strong design to them, that I decided I just have to take this workshop and bask in his greatness. Maybe some of that would rub off. There's always hope, eh?

At the very beginning of the workshop, he said is going to have us do only one painting during the first 3 days, and I thought it would be neat to post the stages and share the wisdom I am getting, so you see how something that starts from what-the-hell-is-that gradually becomes a masterpiece - or a complete disaster: we'll know in 3 days.

The process he is taking us through is as far as can be from the way I paint, and I keep fighting my inclination to rebel against it with all my might - which is a good sign, as it means I'm gonna learn a lot. Today was the first day. He gave a short talk (while I kept taking photos of him - he has a great face!) and then had us begin the labor. First, we did simple drawings of four objects he that chose:
1. Empty paper bag
2. Head of a spray bottle
3. Tape dispenser
4. Piece of plastic with a clip.

Yeah, I know... v-e-r-y inspiring.

Then, we took a tracing paper, and started tracing the four drawings on top of each other, so the objects got totally lost and became one big random jumble of shapes. Oh yeah, it looked like a terrible mess!

Next thing was to transfer this grand drawing to a full-sheet of watercolor paper. Aghast, we looked at each other and at him... I mean, this is one complicated arbitrary drawing! But, with a blue-eyed smile, he suggested that we fold the tracing paper to get 16 rectangles, then draw 16 rectangles on the sheet of watercolor paper, and transfer the bits of that jigsaw puzzle, one rectangle at a time. Well, that was perhaps the most boring thing I did since I started painting. Excruciating would be an understatement... hour or so later, when we all looked 10 years older, we were then sent on a quest to find "one big white shape" in our drawing. Not just a shape, mind you, but a good one. What's a good shape? Ah - it should be irregular, unpredictable, oblique, connected - and touch the edges of the paper (at least 3 times). And it needs to occupy a third of the space. How do we find it? by connecting lines from the shapes galore on our paper. Oh, and make sure it has a dominance of either geometric or curvilinear lines.

We each worked on finding our big white shape and went to get it critiqued by him (I got mine approved without any corrections - yay!). I went for a curvalinear dominance (not a big surprise for a figurative painter) and proceeded to the next step: surround my shape by painting a light value in the negative spaces around it.

Finally - color gets in the picture!!! we get to use our brushes!! But wait - we have to consider temperature dominance: do we want the painting to be cool or warm?

And right then and there I stopped whining, as I saw where he was going with this torture. Y'see, it's one thing for an instructor to lecture about design and have the students sit and nod with glazy eyes. But - when the students are forced to work hard and incorporate all the design considerations into the process, in a way that is laborious and annoying, well, that makes sure it will stick! A similar method to Mike Bailey with his 20 paintings: they make you suffer and curse and bitch and moan - and from that comes greater art, as MembieK told me (would have been more convincing if she was not so totally gloating about the fact that I am the one taking this workshop and not her!).

From that also comes significant exhaustion, especially after a week of last-minute arrangements for our annual party and the grand event on Saturday, which has left me highly adrenalized but tired beyond belief.

Time to get some sleep - another workshop day awaits tomorrow!


Mike said...

Pay attention, Nava . . .don't sleep. You will learn PLENTY making this ONE painting. He is the master of design. Wish I was there too!

Anonymous said...


I enjoy that I can share this
workshop with you in a
painless way. Can't wait
to see the result.


RHCarpenter said...

Oooo, you are going to learn so much!!

Valerie said...

You’re following Rule Number 803 (or so!): Go beyond your comfort zone to reach the heights!! Good on you, gal!!

My Wordsmith site had a good relevant quote today: “Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility.”
-St. Augustine (354-430)
– yes, I know, he wasn’t a painter!!! :-D