Since I went all the way back to my student days (the mid to late 1980s) to describe how I first learned to paint now I’m going to move forward in time until May of 2010 and the last oil painting that I made. It won’t be the last oil painting I ever make but for the last few years I’ve been trying my hand at painting in acrylic paints. They’ll be some of those to come but first this one to show you where I went after twenty years of painting. I took some twists and turns before getting here but those are also for another day.

This painting in titled “Weeping Strings”. The title has no particular meaning except I’m in the habit of naming my drawings after I make them with whatever title pops into my head. I found this to be necessary if I want to find things. I scan in all my drawings and sketches as I do them and sometimes I look through the scans and other times I look through my drawings on paper so I need a name on things to keep them organized and find things. I also like titles in general and it’s fun to make them up. And who likes to see a painting named “Untitled No. 54”? Not me. That always make me think the artist was lazy. C’mon, just put a name on it!

This painting is forty eight inches wide by thirty nine inches tall. If I remember correctly the stretchers (the wooden frame the canvas is attached to) are actually from an old painting that I made back in my school days. It was a terrible painting that I didn’t have the space to keep but the stretchers were good (I built them all from scratch in those days) so I stretched a new piece of canvas over them. I only did that with a couple of paintings so it’s an odd little coincidence that this one happens to be one of them. It ties my last two blogs in with this one in some strange time travel-ly way. Or maybe it’s just that I want a time machine. That would be fun.

The first thing to notice that is different from my student work is the color. There are no vast areas of white paint anymore. My student days are long gone and there was no longer a need to limit myself as I did while I was learning to paint. Here I know how to paint. The type of composition I used is different in this later work as it is mainly a face rather than a figure. Faces have developed into one of my favorite things to draw. Not from life or from photographs but drawing faces out of basic shapes and lines and then adding markings and colors. I once had a teacher remark that my paintings were looking at the viewer harder than the viewer was looking at the painting and I agreed with that. I liked the idea. I like when a drawing or painting of a face is so alive that it seems like it’s looking out at the world. I enjoy finding that life.

The stage-like composition of my early paintings is gone too. There is a landscape space behind the face rather than a blank room. It defines distance in the painting in a different way than when I used to use just negative space for the background. Gone also are the odd little creatures that I used as interesting tidbits but also to clarify the space of the painting. In this painting the composition is defined by the geometry of the face and his clothing. It has much more positive space than my old student paintings but the negative space still has an important roll to play.

My composition still involves a lot of positive and negative space fighting with one and other. In this painting I have the background fighting with the foreground. But it’s the positive shapes in the background. Those pyramids keep wanting to move to the front of the painting. This is accomplished by closing down the negative space between the face and mountains and keeping the color of the negative space close to the color of the face and far away in value from the color of the mountains. The eye wants to join up the sky with the face and push the mountains forward. This is where the main action of the painting is happening and the rest of the painting swirls around this focal point.

Gone from my student days are the brush strokes going in only one direction. In this painting I’m following, defining, or fighting against the form or shapes as defined by the black lines with my application of the paint. I swept the brush across the top of the neck (in blue) but went top to bottom with it on the part of the neck in the shirt (in green). In the face I was following the flattened form of the cheek, the chin, and the lips. The hair is made up of swirls. That’s what I like to do these days with my brush strokes. Use them to make the light dance around the canvas. It takes a lot order to do that.

The next thing that’s easy to notice is the colored brush strokes that are on top of it all. No more boxes of color but a similar function is served by the lines of color. They have much less of a geometric element to them but they still define the space. Plus they add an element of action to the painting. I like flat space in my paintings but that doesn’t mean there can’t be depth and things can’t move around. These brush strokes of color are the final things I add to my painting to make the eye move around. They are also the most spontaneous part. Everything else has a fairly high level of planning involved but with these final stokes I fly by the seat of my pants. That and experience.