Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Obsession and Proportion

That I tend to obsess on what are probably unimportant details in painting is no secret to me. It happens frequently. And until I have somehow exorcised it from my mind, an unresolved question can be a long detour, one where very little painting can get done. I also know, that questions beget questions, and that questions that appear to be simple at the beginning, tend to snowball with ramifications and alternatives. It's a rare question that gets satisfactorily answered- I suppose in art or in any endeavor. When I look around, I don't always feel that others are weighted down by this same tendency to obsession, and they get a lot more done, but I can't help it, I feel the necessity to at least try to follow each thread.

Examples are endless. In the past six months I have been obsessed, on and off, by the following:
  • The earth red colors. Which are most useful? There is Indian Red, Venetian Red, Light Oxide Red, Terra Rosa, Burnt Sienna. They are all similar in their full density, but different as they tint. As this is a fundamental color in painting skin, and a lot of white goes into it, it matters. So I've painted charts, and compared brands, and tried to use just one color, then another, and still... totally unresolved. And alizarin crimson? What's with that color? It never dries and I have the same patch on my paletter that I've had for years. For lips?
  • The palette in general is an obsession. I beleive in a simple one, and have used the same 10-15 colors for years. But I've never really taken the time to find out what each color can do, or can do with other colors. Numerous times I have started color charts, and made chips that I lay out, and purchased the Munsell Student set of colors, and even modeled in a CAD program the entire 3-D space of color in an attempt to understand its shape and limits. And sent the model to the Munsell COmpany and to Gamblin Paints. And the palette board itself- I like the brown of my old palettes, but now paint them white with shellac and titanium white pigment. And spent part of last weekend glueing a thing extension to an old pallete that was somehow short, and then painting it white. So I gained an inch in a palette space and wasted half a day. But still, after all this not-to-studious self study, I still guess when I reach for a color, and I hope it works out when I use it. Hit or miss, for all that mucking about.
  • Anatomy. I don't know if there are any worthwhile anatomy books that I don't own. I've tracked them all down. I've studied them. I've tried to figure out simple ways to make encorche out of clay. I've researched the cheapest skeletons for hours and hours until i finally bought one off Craigslist. I've cast my hand numerous times with the idea that i could learn how to master drawing it if i had enough casts. I've tried to figure out ways to model the muscles on the skeleton using paper, using colored yarn, anything. I've sat down with a stack of anatomy books at least ten times with the purpose of memorizing every significant muscle by drawing it out. I've found the information almost useless when i actually draw. Or almost so. I've spend 30 0r 40 hours scanning Richer's skeleton and stitching it together in photoshop, and overlaying a CAD grid, and publishing it, even getting the original publisher's permission to use the drawing. I've tried to memorize the lengths of bones and how to draw the skeleton from memory (I still can't). Its endless. Though I must have read it 10x, I can't really say where the brachialis inserts or where it's origin is or what it does. Am I too old to memorize this sort of thing?
  • I've priced and compared every bristle brush there is on every art website with the idea of finding an affordable favorite. I've used hundreds in my life, and I still don't know what I like or what to look for.
  • I've laid out every pastel that Rembrandt makes and made color charts on slips of paper, which i've laminated and organize in different ways so i can understand better how the pastel colors work. I still don't have a "system'. Though I know what's there and what isn't and have some ideas about how to proceed.
  • Two weeks ago I spent hours and hours trying to figure out how to make cheap nice frames. I drew out ideas a hundred times. I priced materials. I built prototypes. I bought a stack of 1x3. I bought more tools and equipment. I built a set with mixed results. Still working on this one.
  • I decided I did not have a decent background in art history. Though i own hundreds of books on the subject, I've never actually read one end to end. So I started this process, starting with Gombrich. Hoping to learn some subtleties, some "threads" that would make sense of what I try to do. I read many others, or dipped into them, and its true, I have a better understanding then i did a year ago, but its still frail. The obsession became buying every cheap art book that looked like it might be interesting that I could, until they stack up around here by the hundreds. I couldn't read them all even if i tried.
  • This past week I've been obsessed with trying to understand how I can make or purchase linen panels. THere's the linen, or canvas. First I made spreadsheets comparing prices, trying to understand the differences, and what I could get cheaply. Linen of course, if 10x more expensive, and so although I want to paint on it, I don't want to make it an obsession, which would be expensive. On the other hand, it is what I do-paint- so why not try it. So I price it, and then there is the panel itself, and I cost those- and tonight I cut different types of panels into various sizes on a table saw, and then returned to the great puzzle of what glue to use, and of course the internet is an obsessed persons heaven, or hell, as the threads and ignorant opinions are endless, everyone asking the same questions, dwelling on idiotic detail in comparing PH and archivalness, just as I do (which makes me think I am far from alone, and somehow the computer feeds into this with its vast information and endless roads to follow). And of course, there's the folding of the corner, and how this is done, and what sort of sizing/gesso to use.
  • My favorite surfaces are the cheapest ones. I love cheap newsprint, and not nice drawing paper. I love cheap canvas panels mounted on cardboard, and not perfect ones, and I love roughly gessoed hardboard, and cheap 2 for 1 canvases. So when it comes time to upgrade, as i think about actu ally selling work, then i panic, and realize that i can't use cheap materials. So the search begins.
  • Then there is the proportion of the panel. I decided tonight to just cut them in standard sizes. Like 11x14, 12x16, 16x20. Those are standards. Then I looked up all the standard sizes in a Dick Blick catalog, and mapped them out on graph paper, wondering why they were these sized. The formula isn't proportional, its just the narrow dimension plus 4" (except 11x14). I said to hell with it, just cut the pieces. But when I did and picked up a 12x16, i thought, I'd like this better at 12x14. More solid. And then I thought, what is a good proportion? I love a square, but outside of that? And why stick to standard sizes if you make your own.
  • So I cut the panels and went back inside and emailed the Miracle Muck people as their website is so lame that you can't figure out how to order anything.
That's how it works for me. That's far from a comprehensive list, and doesn't even begin to include all the non-art things that I get off track on. I know the clock is ticking, I am pushing 50, and that if I was sent here to do art, I am not doing very much of it. But then I think, why do it anyways? What possible difference can it make? Maybe the path for me is truly these sidepaths. That doesn't seem like it could be right, but maybe.

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