Secrets of A Modern Painter
Secrets of A Modern Painter

What to Leave Out

Passing through a rainy cityscape, oncoming cars, rushing lights, wet streets
City Lights, 24 x 30, Acrylic
I began painting at a relatively late age, 27, and somehow I got it into my head that I would not stop trying, no matter how many times I failed.

I had a sense of the types of paintings I liked and what I wanted to do, but I liked and appreciated so many different styles that I constantly moved from one to another and was always frustrated by what I thought was a lack of focus.  

Over time I realized that by delving deep into the various styles and methodologies behind the choices those artists made I was learning a vocabulary, both technical and referential that I could apply to my paintings to both craft my meaning and provide context for my direction.

I have never strayed too far from representation and always feel a pull toward realism, there are voices in my head, both naive and conservative that contend that in some way things must look something like something else, that just pure color, form, and abstraction are not enough - though I see all the time extreme works of abstraction and minimalism that speak to me, they are not what I would say - they are not my language.

One aspect of painting that I have struggled with as I am suspended between the two extremes of abstraction and realism is how much information is needed to convey the feeling or idea of what I am trying to express.

What to Leave Out

How much detail or information is really necessary in your painting? And for that matter, what really constitutes detail? 

At every stage in the development of form and shape, sense of foreground and background, choices are being made to reveal the image. Throughout the history of painting, choices have been made to either emphasize or minimize aspects of form and light to imply a sense of reality or implied reality.

In the end it is always up to you, what to leave in and what to leave out - this is how you develop an authentic voice. Very often you will be painting scenes that are so far away you can't see any detail, but as your eyes drift from your immediate surroundings to the distant view a realist part of your mind might say what appears to you close up has to be in the painting. Always ask yourself, is what is actually on the canvas enough of a trigger for the viewer to see or engage with the image in their own imagination. Then your own personal taste comes in, maybe you really like highly realistic and detailed paintings - besides accurate color and form, many of the details come in the later stages and you can continually step back and decide what is really necessary.

Sometimes, driving through the city in the rain, all you really see is passing lights and a blur of color.

Get Emotional

Dusk Light, 30 x 30, Acrylic on Canvas
You must feel what you are creating, the physicality of the work,  pour yourself into the container. What is on the surface is an illusion; it is within the vibration of color, the bending of space and time - your fluctuation of anxiety and calm - that will resonate with others. It is the energy of a creator, or channel of creative energies - whatever your preference is.

Great musicians memorize the music and spend their time interpreting it on their instrument - but they have already played the piece hundreds of times in their mind. The experience of performance is an emotional experience - that is what we hear and feel - it is not a struggle with their instruments or medium, it is not a questioning and hesitant series of statements.

Engage in a sense of mastery by making strong and deliberate marks on your canvas -  be bold and decisive, even if that mark will be painted over, get in the habit of saying each thing with such confidence and commitment as to convince us that it is that mark and only that mark that you wish to make.

But above and beyond the technical choices, tap into your feelings and allow them to impress themselves into the paint, do not hold back and be caught up in the hard cold world of facts and rules.

Use any means to get at your emotions - don't think you need to just face the canvas and call them forth on your own.

Movies, television, music, poetry, fiction, looking through old photos, riding the bus, people watching, whatever you have at your disposal - sometimes they are great for inspiring a new subject, but any of these can trigger emotions, some stronger than others. Whether they make you laugh or cry, get angry or peaceful, ride the wave and get your emotions flowing - forget about technique when you step up to paint, don't make choices, allow the choices to be made as a consequence of your emotional state and creative flow.

That's not to say that if you watched a tragic scene from a movie then you would paint a tragic painting - that isn't the point - the point is to feel deeply and experience that and other deep emotions while you are painting. The push and pull of light and dark forces will reveal an honest beauty through their struggle on the canvas and be far more profound than a one dimensional single statement piece.

Don't just play the notes - play the music.
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