“It’s not what you paint. It’s how you paint it.” -Helen Van Wyk
There’s truth in that statement. Van Gogh transformed worn leather and scruffy boot laces into swirling masses of sensual paint, playful silhouettes backlit by a golden field. Pop artist, Wayne Thiebaud, chose pastry as his motif, laying down luscious impasto, thick as frosting. Mark Rothko gave us fields of pure color, an invitation to contemplate the infinite.
So anything goes. That’s all well and good, but an artist still needs to decide. Subject matter matters.
I’m at work all the time, in search of subject. At the grocery store, coffee shop, market, mall, and gas station, peering down alleyways, up stairwells, into windows. I can’t seem to turn it off, and quite frankly, wouldn’t want to. Waiting in line at the bank provides an opportunity to study anatomy. Machines are fascinating forms, food on the plate: color, texture, shape. The neighborhood recycling center becomes a study in turning visual chaos into order.
But there are only so many hours in a day and canvases to fill. I can draw everything but painting represents a bigger commitment. What subjects are truly worth the effort?
I’ve made lists, came to the conclusion that I am a storyteller. Only I don’t deliver the whole narrative, just a snapshot, a fixed point, a suggestion. The images say, “Look at this. Does it mean anything to you? Do you see something you recognize? Someone?” Maybe the paintings ask a question, beg an interpretation. Common themes emerge, the overlooked, the back side of things, an unseen point of view, an unusual perspective.
A solitary dress hangs from the bedpost, a casino towers above a ramshackle house, seamstresses peddle away on an old machine, alleyways lead you to a vertical slice of culture. The ordinary becomes extraordinary, transformed by art. Old boots and pastry.
And we’ve come full circle. “It’s not what you paint. It’s how you paint it.”
Painting Lesson: neutral gray
Start your “clean up” well before it’s time to leave the studio. This can be a very productive time. You’re warmed up and there is an array of unused paint on your palette. Mix it all up. The result is often an amazing gray you couldn’t possibly make intentionally. Look around the studio at your paintings (you should have more than one going), and think about where to use the gorgeous gray.
Neutrals are necessary to balance high-key or intense colors. Metaphor for life.
Next week: Inspiration is Overrated
Art Lesson: saving precious paint
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