Saturday, December 13, 2008


As an artist who's spent most of his adult career teaching on a university campus, I've never before had the luxury of spending so much time in the studio. It's giving me a very different experience of my own work and allowing me to notice patterns in the process that I've never focused on before. As I mentioned in a previous posting, the method I use to begin a painting has a long tradition. Like Rembrandt and his contemporaries, I begin all my paintings with thin layers of paint with very little oil in them. It's a process that offers many advantages. It allows a painter to block out simple shapes quickly and get a sense of how they might relate to one another. It could be compared to the process of outlining a writer might use, and it forces the painter to work from general to particular. There's also a very practical advantage, in that oil paint layers are very stable when the "fattest" layers (the ones with the most oil in them) are on top of the "leanest" layers.

Unlike Rembrandt, my underpaintings don't focus on value, or light/dark contrast, but rather on hue contrast. I don't give any thought to value as I begin a painting, but instead try to pick an underpainting color that will be complementary (in the color theory sense, meaning "opposite") to the color I expect will go on top later. That much I've always been aware of, but my increased time in the studio has shown me that my preference for an emphasis on hue early on in the paintings tends to encourage a relationship between hue and value that is parallel to a chord progression and melody in music. I set the pattern of hue relationships early on and they are like the chords. Value contrast comes later in my work and functions like the melody.

This relationship is reversed in the work of many other artists. In fact, I often present students with an assignment in which they are required to use three basic values as a chord progression and fit hues into that structure. It's an interesting process and one that dominated pictorial organization until artists like Monet, Matisse and Andre Derain came along.

I'm photographing my work at various stages in order to document this process. I've got an idea at the back of my mind that I might be able to apply this in my painting classes when I get back to the grind at Utah State. The paintings I'm showing in this posting aren't complete, so I can't show you the results yet, but when they are finished, I'll be posting them on my "gallery" site, VITRINE, as I will do with all the work I'm doing during this sabbatical year.

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