This weeks painting is called “By the Road” and is dated August 17, 2010. I’m not sure if this is the first large (46 x 28 inches) acrylic paintings that I made but it’s among the early ones. I remember that for this painting I bought a new brush. A kind that I had never used before. Over the years I’ve bought most of my brushes for either my oil painting or my watercolor (gouache) painting. That means larger (mostly flats and brights) bristle brushes or smaller (numbers two to five) sable hair pointed brushes. I used those same brushes for my small 8×10 inch acrylic paintings but wanted something I could make larger gestures with for my larger acrylics. I ended up getting a number five da Vinci spin brush. It looks sort of like a small watercolor sable brush but is much bigger. The synthetic bristles are about two inches long and half an inch wide and come to a point. Not a sharp sable brush point but a point none the less.

The first thing I notice about this painting is the orange. It’s a Windsor Newton orange of some kind that’s now discontinued. Ain’t that the way. I really liked that orange and the one they made to replace it is pretty good but I like this one better. That the discontinued one is better might all be in my head though because I use the new one all the time. The orange has a strong glow to it because it is put on thinly over a white ground and the orange pigment is strong. A lot of light bounces off the white ground and passes through the orange paint on the way to the eye. The orange is so transparent so that if you step up and look at the painting closely you can see the pencil grid that I drew on the canvas in order to help transfer the drawing to the canvas that’s underneath the orange. The rest of the painting is opaque and the grid can’t be seen. I like that little visual hint into the process.

The second thing that strikes me is the image. Usually that is the first thing I notice about any painting of mine but here the orange is so strong and the image a bit unusual that it takes a second look to see what it is. And what is it? I’m not absolutely sure. It’s the profile of some sort of character walking by. It’s odd because it has all the indications of being a cartoon character, big eyes, big nose, wild hair, without those features actually being there. The “Eye” is a shield shape with no pupil, the “Nose” is a dome, and the “Hair” is made up of horn shapes. I like the image but it’s different than my usual ones. Normally I love to paint and draw weird faces. Here I took the weirdness a step further by obscuring the face. Plus it is not looking at the viewer as the people are in a lot of my paintings. Different.

I also made the color work differently than it usually does. In most cases blue, being a cool color, recedes and orange, being a warm color, comes forward. That doesn’t happen here. The blue is in the front and it stays there for a number of reasons. The blue is opaque and has more “Objectness”. That is it looks solid on the canvas. The orange is thin and in the sky. In out minds the sky is not an object and so it sits in the background while the solid heavy blue looks like an object and we see it in the foreground. And, of course, there is overlap. A teacher of mine once said, “Forget cool recedes and warm comes forward it’s overlap that is best at creating a sense of space”. I’ve found that to be true over the years. The brown shapes that act like a fence behind the figure plus the building on the right add more layers of overlap to the space of the painting. All that makes the orange recede into the background a bit. But it’s still strong enough to be the dominant force of the painting.

The new brush I bought for my large acrylics comes into play with the lines of color that are on the top layer of the painting. I originally wanted to do some of the main drawing with the brush but found that I couldn’t use the brush in that way with the flourish that I wanted to. I needed the precision of my usual bristle brushes for most of the line drawing in this painting. The flourishes were saved for the end. The wavy green motion lines, the light purple and orange swooshes on the top of the fence, and the yellow and green outlines around the body were all done with that new spin brush. It was able to give me the action I needed for this painting. That type of mark was missing from my previous paintings. I found it a little limiting though and it hasn’t shown up in a lot of paintings after this. But I like it here. I was trying to bring a little more spontaneity into these large paintings of mine. That’s why I started making some in acrylic rather than oil paint. But they still take a lot of planning.

One final note on this one. That blue box in the upper left corner defines the space of the rest of this painting. Everything else behaves but that blue box doesn’t. The dark blue is almost like a deep hole. It fights the rest of the colors. At the same time it wants to sit up in the foreground and move to the background. I like playing with space that way. The yellow fake writing is also key to the behavior of the blue box. That may have been the final thing I painted. It’s actually the yellow lettering that brings that box forward. The blue by itself wants to be a hole and sit back in space but the yellow letters make it go from a hole to an object like a piece of paper. It’s sort of like that old positive and negative space “Is it a face or a vase?” picture. The use of positive and negative space to bend things has always been interesting to me. Here you can see it in action.