Spirit, Materials, & Technique in a Nutshell

An old glass palette surface.  Few colors can create a myriad of possibilities.  

An old glass palette surface.  Few colors can create a myriad of possibilities.  

Last, I talked about my painting demonstration  at the famed Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa.  What I didn’t talk about was my process as a painter and offered to touch on this in my next log.  So,  today I’ll attempt to shed light on how I approach painting. 

Painting is multi faceted.  First, and foremost, there is the feeling and spirit of the image to paint.  Then there are the materials and surface to use for the painting and, finally, the technique one uses to convey the image onto canvas with the original feeling and spirit.  What seems to happen with me is that I will start a painting and, in its levels of construction, finally reach what I call the “crossover” moment into that ethereal, magical place that provokes emotion.  This place is what it’s all about.  It’s taking how landscapes make me feel and, after building the skeleton of composition, color notes, values, and contrasts,  reframing that feeling into a painting.  Essentially, this crossover moment is a spiritual dimension, a place where experience becomes deeply felt and healing in a visceral and vibrant way.  Words are hard to use to describe this phenomenon. 

My materials are rather basic: limited palette of primary colors, warm and cool of each (Alizarin Crimson, Naphol Red, Yellow Lite, Yellow med, Yelllow Deep, Ochre, Ultramarine Blue, and Titanium White), a few sturdy palette knives, a large mixing surface (an old double pane window has served the purpose just fine), various sizes of brushes (Fans and Brights are favorites), and two mediums, Linseed  and alkyd Walnut oil.  Surfaces vary from canvas with some tooth to linen when I want less texture and I also paint on panel when I want to highlight detail and nuance. 

My technique is a mix of speed at first and a more relaxed approach when I near completion.  The beginning is kinetic, involving larger brushes, the palette knife ,and quick application of paint which I mix with linseed oil for better flow.  I initially go for “blocks” of color that I later blend with the knife and brush and which produces the interaction of color notes I like.  If I’m successful, the colors can almost vibrate giving the feeling of aliveness on the canvas (originally static) surface.  This effect is very important in the “crossover” moment.

The images come from two places: either from my own creation ( memory sometimes) or a photograph that is often cropped to a workable composition. I take several trips a year for study such as to the Tallgrass Prairie in OK with my trusty Nikon and come back with lots of material.  I do get out with an easel, but I am mainly a studio painter since I work with larger sizes and have more control in the studio.   That may change, however,  because I recently bought a handmade Pochade Box, basically a very portable and smaller easel.  My older French easel just was too heavy to lug into the hills.  

In the end, no matter how good the materials or technique or initial inspiration, the land continues to hold deeper mysteries.  Like lessons in life repeating again and again until we catch a glimmer of the solution, so is the process of painting how the land moves me.  I will always be learning.