Friday, March 13, 2009

Of Values and Emotional Value

I know I've made this statement about quite a few paintings, and then got distracted by another image that excited me. But here I go again: this may be the beginning of a new series.

My sister has been going though our parents apartment, and sent me batches of scanned family photos that awash me with waves of nostalgia. One photo in particular had a special compelling effect on me. A photo of my grandfather. It was taken by my father about 50 years ago, which means no Photoshop or any form of cropping was applied. Still, it has a close-to-perfect composition, brilliant division of space, interesting big shapes - and beyond that, it captures a quiet moment of self-indulgent. I fell in love with this photo, and it haunted me for weeks. Being a photo of my grandfather whom I've never met (he passed away before I was born) taken by my father who's also gone, doubles its emotional value, converting trying to turn it into a painting into a daunting task.

And yet, I just had to...

Needless to say, it's caused me to put aside other images I was working on, but - I've decided to stop fighting it. I guess I'm not falling into the disciplined artists category. I'm rather an urge-driven impulsive painter. I paint what excites me, what pushes me to take the brush out and dip it in purple paint (gotta be purple to begin with).

I started with a very quick capturing I did a couple of months ago, responding to the composition of the photo that's impressed me so. I simply went for a wet-into-wet wash of the continuous dark shape, adding some trapped shapes to hint the features. Took me 10 minutes or less and still, I managed to screw up the wash as it dried up on me. Ah well, working on low-grade paper cannot lead to great results. One day I may actually abide by this rule.

Christmas came and went, a visit to the cold north interfered with my painting inertia, but a month ago I sat myself in my studio and went for it again.

Since I haven't really painting for such a long time, I went for the most forgiving surface: Yupo.

In the first version, everything but the face was a disaster: the cup was way too big, the hand holding it seemed awfully tiny and deformed, the coat turned to be a big lumpy blue shape, and the walking cane became so dominant it looked as if it's trying to take a sip from the HUGE cup of tea.

Apparently, during these many months of not painting, I forgot the first rule of "step away from the painting and evaluate it from far away".

And so it happened that the first time I did that step-away-from-the-painting was when I showed it to a group of fellow artists... Ahhh, the shame!

In such cases, it's very tempting to give up and toss the brush aside. That's the easy way. And since I never go for easy, I decided I can - and have to - do better than that.

Back to the drawing table, I said a short blessing on the kindness of Yupo that enables you to erase undesired areas with a damp paper towel. Following that step, I put a few more hours into it, fixing proportions, improving the drawing, adding color, variety, unity, balance, rhythm - hmm... actually thinking. Oh, and I have learned so much about hands from this painting!

It's finally at a postable stage; still needs some tweaking (I know, I know, the hands...), but I am starting to be quite pleased with it. Only now I think it's too much on the realistic side. Typical for the first of a series, which is usually a representational rendering of the reference - be it a photo or a live model. Now that I got that out of my system I want to move on and take it beyond, towards abstraction.

That is, unless another image comes along and captures my heart.


Holly Van Hart said...

Nava, so glad you went 'back to the drawing table' on this. it's wonderful!!! Holly

jane ferguson said...

Very Cool Nava good to see you painting again.I saw you and john on Stevens Creek this evening,I was on my new bike guess you missed me .It was just opp deanza at the Oaks.Have a great weekend.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I think you are on to something quite wonderful here! As I read the post I only saw the initial sketch so when I got to the end, I said, "O, my, look at that!"

As you know I'm not a painter but I am awash on a daily basis with that nostalgic feeling that a photo taken by a dead father of a never seen grandfather would fit nicely in.

I agree that the realism now might benefit from the looseness of the wash stage but I trust you are going to find the way.

As others have said, I am glad you are back!

Vicki Greene said...

Welcome back Nava. This has a wonderful "feel" to it and I love the colors.

RHCarpenter said...

Love the way the lights are tied together, the window, the face in light, the beard, the cup...and do you know, dear one, how HARD it is to paint a portrait on yupo?? And you did it - and did it so well. Yes, it is realistic. So now go wild and do another. What a wonderful thing to have - your own painting of your grandfather from a photo taken by your father, both men gone now but their blood still in your veins, creating your history, your past. Wonderful!!!

Nava said...

Holly, I think I still need to go back to the drawing table on this one, but yeah, it's improving.

Jane, welcome to my blog.

Pat, oh yeah, I was awash in nostalgia with every brush stroke on this painting. I am yet to see whether I can loosen up on it, or whether I'm too bound by the contents.

Vicki, the colors were introduced after I got a comment that "it's a big blue lump". There's nothing like an honest critique to kick you towards improvement.

Rhonda, I really tried to tie the lights together. I have to say that I find Yupo easier than regular paper - it enables you to "undo". Of course, you can also undo parts that are successful, but that's another story...

And - THANK YOU, all!

Carol King said...

I love the way you use watercolor. Your images are beautiful

Anonymous said...

You know, I really felt it all in the first washy version.
The light, the lost edges, the vintage remnants of older generations.
Doing it twice must have been like feeling someones' face by Braille- until you know it really well.

Wonderful and very moving.

Nava said...

Carol, Thank You! I keep looking for non-traditional ways of using watercolors, so it feels good that some of them appeal to some of you :-)

Bonnie, Looking at the washy version, I think it's got something that was lost in the (overly?) painterly one. Maybe I should reverse a bit.