Inner Vision: “Rediscovery”

Inner Vision: “Rediscovery”

Rediscovery_AC_65x50

“Rediscovery” – Acrylic on canvas/linen, 25.6×19.7″/65x50cm

“Rediscovery” – Acrylic on canvas/linen
25.6×19.7″/65x50cm

Your great-grandfather had told of how our ancestors had wandered the great southern mountains whose summits gleamed with snow even in the summer. Unlike most people, you and I did not laugh at the old man.

The night before he died, he gave you his favorite book. He called it history. Everyone else called it hogwash.

In the weeks that followed the old man’s passing, we studied the book assiduously. Every page spoke of amazing people, their journeys, their sorrows and joys. Some of the tales we recognized from your great-grandfather’s telling.

In the very center of the book, we found the map he had hidden between the pages. The parchment was yellowed and frayed, but the markings were readable in good light. They showed our village, the southern road out of town, and six or seven routes through the mountains. Beyond that, it was a bit sketchy.

No one had ventured into the southern mountains for as long as anyone could remember. The reasons given were unconvincing to us. Too barren, they said, trackless and treacherous. There was no food or game and the water was probably poisoned. We knew all the answers.

By dawn the next day, we were long gone. We had told no one; what would be the point? A week later, we sent my father’s faithful horse back home and continued onward, following the long-disused track that led beyond the foothills.

It was our turn.

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These imaginary scenes (my “inner visions”) are getting clearer. I’m refining the process as I go. Further down, you can see the original rough sketch and get all the geeky details about how this painting came together.

Process:

I put an 18×24″ sheet of white paper up on the board and drew whatever came into my head. Once I’d captured a basic idea that I liked, I laid another sheet over the first to trace and refine the drawing. I spent quite a bit of time on the refinements, but when I was done, I decided I preferred the original unrefined sketch (below).

Rediscovery_Sketch_HiRes

Then I did some heavy shading with a soft pencil on the backside of the original sketch, following the lines of the drawing. After taping the sketch to the canvas, I drew over it with a pen, pressing the graphite on the back onto the canvas, kind of like using carbon paper. The pen’s colored ink helps me see which lines I haven’t traced yet. The end result is a thin outline of the main shapes on the canvas. I used a harder pencil directly on the canvas for the final outlines. I kept it loose and sketchy as much as possible.

Mixing Dioxazine Purple, Cobalt Blue, and Raw Umber in first more blue-weighted proportions and then more umber and purple-weighted proportions, I very roughly painted in the basic shapes from back to front. The result was rather heavy and dark, but I expected that since acrylic always dries darker. The important thing was that I had some subtle color variations, the proper cold/warm ratio from the background to the foreground, and some nice textures.

I wanted to “knock back” the stuff in the distance, so I lightly dipped a bristly old brush into some white primer and started scumbling a thin, semi-opaque layer over the far distance area. Whoa! With the very first strokes, I put down WAY more than I intended, but…I LIKED IT! I’ve always liked the look of new snow on bare rock with new snow, and this looked like that, so I went for it, scumbling as fast and loosely as I could. Improvised snowfields and avalanche chutes materialized as I painted.

Once I had the basic values and atmosphere set, I went over everything with Titanium White. In fact, for the entire second session, I painted with nothing but white. I had all kinds of fun playing off the textures, refining the snowfields, defining cliffs, crags and boulders, and adding mist and swirling snow. In the last session, I finished the snow and then improvised the design of the two apparent “openings” on the left and right. Again, I used only white to bring out the shapes.

Once that was done, some of the foreground rocks still needed some stronger definition, so made a watery mix of my original underpainting colors and fixed a few edges. Finally, I added the two figures (you saw those, did you?), letting them dry completely before adding more white to put them in proper context. I also added a bit of white to the darker rocks that had dried too dark again.

So there you have all the technical details for this painting. Thanks for reading! If you have questions, let me know in the comments. I’ll answer as many as I can!

The Portal

The Portal

Ruined_Portal_1_Duotone_297x210_Web“Ruined Portal” – 297x210mm
Graphite and white charcoal on colored paper

The approach was long and difficult. Once we got to the rope-up point, we decided to take a rest day before starting the climb. We were prepared, but that didn’t make it any easier. Some of the pitches were 5.11-5.12, so it was pretty much at the limit of my skills. I could hardly imagine how the ancients ever made it up here without decent climbing gear.

It was even harder to imagine how they had crafted the stairs we found once we reached the saddle that led to the ridge. The entire spine was set with stone steps, some of which probably weighed a thousand pounds, fitted together perfectly without mortar. The traverse of that exposed, jagged spine turned out to be the easiest part of the climb. The steps ended unexpectedly. A notch 100 feet deep and 40 feet wide separated us from the main peak. We could rappel down and climb up the other side easily enough, but, again, we wondered how the ancients had managed it.

From here, though, we could see our objective clearly for the first time: a circular shape carved into the mountain.

“There’s the ruined portal we’ve been looking for,” I said.

James sat down and stared at it across the little chasm. “Sure looks like a portal, doesn’t it,” he said. “Strange design.”

“The stories say it’s reached by a bridge,” I said. “Guess that’s crumbled away by now.”

“Maybe,” said James; “but I bet if it was built by the same guys who laid these steps, it would still be standing.”

“We can make it,” I said, eyeing a possible route. “It’s just a scramble, really.”

“You hear that hum?” asked James.

“Yeah, when did that start?” I could feel it in my chest.

“It’s getting louder,” said James.

Definitely louder. The stones all around us seemed to be vibrating. Within a few seconds, we had to shout to hear each other.

“Sit tight!” hollered James. “No safer anywhere else!”

We hunkered down on hands and knees. The hum grew more intense every second. At first, it was a single low note. Then a second note joined it, a fifth above. Then a third note began, an octave above the first: the perfect power chord.

The rocks beneath us started to move! We scuttled further away from the notch, but we had nowhere to go.

As the chord grew stronger, the first three notes were joined by a series of complex harmonics, changing the tone and adding a richness unlike anything I had ever heard before. Everything in my body was vibrating with the same frequencies.

“Look!” yelled James.

The stones were arranging themselves on both sides of the notch, reaching across thin air toward the center. The sound seemed to be creating some sort of structure.

“The bridge!” I shouted.

By the time I’d said that, the two sides had connected. The sound did not diminish; it only became clearer.

James yelled something. I couldn’t hear him. He tied his harness to one end of the rope. Then he measured off 40 feet and looped that part a few times around the most secure looking spiky bit nearby. He handed the other end to me. I quickly got on belay. Then he started walking. He was crossing the bridge! I would have been crawling. James fairly ran it. In seconds, he was on the other side.

He secured a belay on his side and motioned to me to come over. I checked my knot twice and unwound the belay anchor on this side. It would be a 45′ fall if the bridge collapsed.

I didn’t crawl like I thought I would. Before I could change my mind, I was with James on the other side.

The humming shifted and the bridge disassembled itself, each stone going back to its original position. Now there was just a notch again. Everything stopped

“Maybe the portal isn’t ruined after all,” I said.

“Let’s find out,” said James.

Self-Evolving Portrait: Gareth

20170730_SEP_Gareth_Duotone_15x22Self-Evolving Portrait: “Gareth”
– Graphite and white charcoal on colored paper
– 5.9×8.3″/15×21 cm

He came from a long line of wanderers, each of whom had passed on this wanderlust to an only child. Gareth was the first to be born a male. His mother had been his greatest mentor. Half a century after her death, he still followed her example: he never stopped moving, and he told no one where he’d been. Unlike his forebears, however, he had brought no child of his own into this world. The little orphan girl he found huddled in the bole of a tree had rendered that unnecessary. Ten years on, she had grown strong, with her own ideas and a will of iron. Every day, she became more of a handful. Good, he thought. It will serve her well. He relished the certainty that she would one day go where he had not.

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Sitting in the hospital while waiting for my wife’s appointment number to come up is as good a time as any to do a self-evolving portrait. I put a sheet of colored paper in my sketch clipboard and started with the usual squiggly shading. After I covered about half the page, something suggested itself. More accurately, “someone suggested himself.”

From that point on, it was just a matter of accentuating and clarifying the image as it emerged on the paper. I used the kneaded eraser to fade out the lines on the lower right and to clear some key highlight areas on the nose and forehead before adding the white charcoal.

Lysistrata Returns

LysistrataReturns_AC_50x65“Lysistrata Returns”
– Acrylic on canvas/linen, 19.7×25.6″/50x65cm

I’ve been doing graphite drawings and duotones that seem to take on a life of their own. My imagination has always been vivid, but these drawings seem to take on a life of their own as I work on them. As the drawing progresses, I reach deeper, responding to what suggests itself on the page. All kinds of unintended elements somehow include themselves in the image.

This image introduces that same process to a new medium. It started as a partial figure in an 11×14″ sketchbook. I extended the original drawing to map out the whole figure and then transferred it to canvas. The entire background and much of the figure was improvised directly on the canvas.

As I brainstormed on a title for this painting, a name–or at least part of it–popped into my head. It sounded familiar. I did an online search and realized a sort of connection. When my wife heard the name, she immediately seized upon it, not knowing the story behind it.

So here we have it: “Lysistrata Returns.” Whatever the tale once was, from the look on her face, the tone has clearly changed.

Reclamation

Reclamation_CanvasesLeonardo did it, Van Gogh did it, and Picasso did it, too. All of them painted over previous works that they did not consider worth keeping. Practice makes perfect, but not all practice turns out perfectly. There’s no point in wasting a good painting surface.

Pastelist and colorist Casey Klahn takes no prisoners. He’ll paint a hundred landscapes (or florals or portraits), weed out the 25 he likes the least, wipe them off, and then paint over them to make it an even hundred again. “Dinotopia” artist James Gurney paints over his gouache or casein work in every sketchbook until he’s happy with the whole book.

Certain media aren’t conducive to reworking the surface, but almost every medium can serve as an underpainting for something else. I prefer to gesso over acrylic paintings that served their purpose but don’t need to be kept. Sometimes I don’t cover them completely, allowing the randomness of the half-hidden work to show through the white gesso.

Pastels are perfect for this sort of thing. I have often wiped off entire paintings and started the same subject over again on the same surface, with much better results. Something about the ghost image left behind allows me to move more freely the second/third/fourth time. Sometimes, the subject no longer appeals to me, so I paint something completely different over the ghost image.

In any case. Since Tuesday, I have reclaimed another six canvases that are now ready for new work. I have my eye on a few more, too, some of them big ones. Hmm…like that one there, for example…

Napa Backyard

NapaBackyard_InformalA friend has graciously invited us to stay in her house in California’s famed Napa Valley. Every morning, we awaken to a beautiful dawn. On any given day, we might see low clouds, patchy fog, or a bright blue sky. The clouds are usually long gone by noon, and the midday heat is a bit easier to take when one can sit inside where it’s cooler, and look out the large windows. Evenings can be brisk and breezy. A couple of times, we even built a fire in the fire pit so we could sit outside and watch the stars appear.

The backyard here is actually a small vineyard surrounded by classic Napa trees: pines, redwoods, oaks, maples and eucalyptus. I’m nursing a bad case of poison oak just now, but I can still paint, and I’m grateful for this marvelous view! This painting was a very quick study, focusing on shadows and capturing the various greens.

Derwent Inktense on Arches rough 100% rag paper
5.9×8.75”/15x22cm – plein air

The Epic Quest for the Monticello Rocks

 

MonticelloRocks_Img_Napa_Duotone

They didn’t look like this, really.

 

I saw the marking for the Monticello Rocks on Google Maps and traced the route from where we are staying. It just sounded cool. “Monticello Rocks.” Ever the adventurer, Ping was game. Thus, we set forth.

Anticipation gripped us like a cheap pair of shorts that had shrunk in the dryer. Every turn in the road brought us closer, closer, closer…WAIT! I think those are the rocks! YES! Rocks, they are! Ah, the excitement, the THRILL of seeing the Monticello Rocks for the very first time! I’ll never for-…

Hold on.

That’s it? It’s over? No, there are some more!

Oh, the ecstasy, the glory, the–! Okay, now it’s over.

We couldn’t get to them. We couldn’t even turn around on that road. There was nothing left but to continue forward. We did.

Neither of us saw any more rocks. Okay, that’s not entirely true, there was the “Old Man Rock” a bit later that did, indeed, have a nose larger than my own. So, that’s something.

We laughed and laughed about the Epic Quest for the Monticello Rocks.

“What did you do?”

“We SAW them.”

“Really?”

“YES!”