I've recently been painting a lot of watercolors and one of the many things it has taught me is that it is very difficult to paint watercolors. I was long under the spell of how easy some artists make it look (particularly Sargent and Sorolla). But the truth that I'm discovering is that painting and drawing requires tremendous effort. By the end of a painting my palette (and mind) is usually a chaotic mess as I have pushed paint around to get everything juuuuuust right.
Now the problem is that I don't want my paintings to look overworked and tortured, but I've learned that I need to keep pushing and pushing until the painting looks as good as I expect it to. I was looking for something to paint today and decided to step up my game and see if I could paint two liquor bottles on this red table cloth that I've been liking recently. One of the bottles is a round glass with a golden sort of cage around it and the other is a bottle of Jack Daniels Honey Whiskey (my favorite drink on the rocks). I've been painting a lot of these liquor bottles recently because I find the play of color and reflections to be quite fascinating and challenging.
The painting required a lot of pushing until I finally got it to a level where it almost painted itself. I think of it like pushing a car up a hill until you reach an apex and then the hardest part is done and you can guide the car back down the other side of the hill. The downslope is usually enjoyable, but the pushing can be hellish at times.
Painting, to me, is like alchemy or magic because I'm trying to turn one substance (the paint) into other substances (bottles, whiskey, shadows, reflections) using only some brushes and medium. On a deeper level, I'm trying to tell a story and have some emotionality in my work. All of this is under my control based on my skill level. The thing that I also realized is that the difficulty is what fascinates me. I've always loved fixing things and solving problems and I see no greater challenge than creating an accurate visual chronicle of my reality on white paper with some paint and a brush.
Sharing some images from the INCREDIBLE Morgan Library Sargent exhibition which is on display until January 2020. If you can get over to NYC to see it, then I really encourage you to. The portraits were outstanding. In person, the charcoals are softer and somewhat more diffused than they appear in photos. I really learned a lot from observing them today. Awesome day.
I had my watercolor class tonight and I brought in some of my paintings for my students to see. One of my students really liked the watercolor that's pictured below. I told him that I set up a christmas cactus in some sunlight because the cactus had just bloomed and I only got to work on it for about 10 - 15 minutes before the sunlight disappeared. I started the painting boldly and by squinting and it actually came out really well.
I like to work free from "techniques", but I have tested the value of squinting at the beginning of the painting process and I find it extremely valuable in my own practice. Squinting enables a certain boldness and freshness that acts as a great base for further detail.
I'll be painting a bunch more and sharing more thoughts soon.