Monday, September 21, 2009

The Simple is Complex

funny pictures of cats with captions

YOW! It's noon! I got up at noon today -- I didn't mean to do that! I have things to do! And apparently I can put all that off so I can share my shock with you....

I have a real problem sleeping when my brain is going a million miles an hour, and it has been with The Boat, the head article, contemplating my Christmas ornament for this year, and finishing up a very old painting commission for a very patient -- of saintly proportions -- customer. So I took an over-the-counter sleeping pill, which apparently knocked me out! Geez! I still feel a little blurry despite my coffee.

Anyway, I finally have all the "bits" down on paper for the head article -- that was a task unto itself. But now I have to sort them by sequence as they'll be sculpted, from deep layers to superficial layers, which on the surface sounds easy. However, the equine head is a complex structure of subcutaneous bone and an interlaced network of "stuff," and figuring out what should be deep or superficial almost is an arbitrary decision in many cases. Plus, I have to account for the actual process of sculpting, which can demand a sequence all its own. So I figure I'll put them in a logical order, but expect to tweak that in the dry run of the process. We'll see. I may cook my very last braincell in the process, but 'tis a small price.

Speaking of interlacing, I've been finishing up an old commission in between frying my brain with head anatomy, and I'm rather excited about it (about both finishing the commission and frying my brain, just to be clear). I admit that I'm far more enamored of sculpting than painting. However, I have to say that figuring out how to make this particular paint job "work" has been an interesting challenge. I keep hearing one of my personal existential
sensei, Tim Gunn, saying in my head, "Carry on." And so I'm "carrying on" with whatever means that creates the effect I need...and discovering some interesting things along the way. The primary thing I've discovered is that there is no cold-painting "process" of painting a realistic color. You do what you have to and use what you have to -- that's it. It's as simple -- and as complex -- as that.

Similarly, this particular horse color, sooty dapple dun, may seem easy, but like the equine head, it's remarkably complex. Its complicated network of dapples and sooty factors, its tones and particular brand of "luminosity," and above all, its "look," which is grainy, splotchy and "random," all amalgamate into one big steaming wad of, "How the heck am I going to paint that?" I've tackled this color before, as seen here, (on Sarah Rose's lovely resin-cast sculpture, Khan) which was inspired by this reference photo of the gorgeous Akhal-Teke stallion, Singapur, (as per request) here. But I'm easily bored by replication and so I'm tackling another version of sooty dapple dun (thankfully, this color is highly diverse, so I have a smorgasborg of options).

But what strikes me now, as I'm painting this guy, is how I've come full circle after twenty years in this biz. I started out painting entirely with a dry-brush, grinding the "un-wetted" acrylic pigment into the previous layer. This was an arduous, time-consuming and tedious process that was killing my hands (and going through brushes by the metric ton). So I switched to an airbrush to do most of the "grunt" work. But what this did was to eliminate certain effects only dry-brushing can create with my media and method, but which are essential for certain coats. However, I didn't realize this at the time because creating realistic art is a continual process of increasing awareness of what life presents to our eyes. In other words, it's not enough to approximate the tones and patterning of a coat -- I have to approximate its "visual signature," too -- and a large component of that is the color's "visual texture." Not the texture of the hair of the hide, but how those hair shafts interact with each other because of the color. And so I've learned that most of what our brains recognize as a horse color is in equal measure "texture" as it is tone and color placement. Sootys, classic silvers, greys and roans, for example, depend on their texture to be truly convincing.

So the airbrush has become used less and less lately and now I've come back to dry-brushing to regain that level of strategic texture.
Only now this technique is interlaced with several others, such as color pencils, stippling (indeed, the beat-up stencil brush has become an indispensable companion in the studio), airbrushing, hand-painting, sponging, etc. In other words, what may seem simple actually is a remarkably complex process. And so...

"Make it work." ~ Tim Gunn

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