Thursday, July 28, 2011


Loose vs. Tight (the never ending saga)
So I started this 30"x40" painting on a birch panel with a 1-5/8 cradle, a while ago.  It was based on a photograph of the intersection at Sloat and 45th Avenue.  I drove around taking pictures from out of my windshield as the sun set.  I was looking for interesting shadows and things that break up the sky.  San Francisco is a beautiful place, but the things I am looking for are kind of mundane and everyday, and could be found in any city.  I like power lines, traffic lights, and odd silhouettes. I am looking for abstract views of the city. My thinking is I don't want to end up with a landscape painting (but of course that is exactly what I will end up with), however, that is not what draws my eye.  Like most painters, I am thinking about light, composition and space.  These are my favorite elements.
Also, as some people know, I have recently been toying with the idea of going looser and more abstract with my work.  Ha!  It is easier said than done for a compulsive person like me. I don’t even know what questions to ask, except for “when is it finished?”  I figure a painting like that could go on forever.  It would be fun, but really exhausting.  In any case, here I am showing my first efforts. 

The first day was a refinement of a sketch that was full of earth tones and very drippy.  I painted the sky my usual mixture of Naples yellow, flake white, raw umber, a little cerulean blue, dammar, linseed oil and safflower oil.  (The safflower oil was intended to slow the drying time, and was volunteered by my studio mate and paint mixologist Scott Inguito,  He is an expert in old master techniques and arcane solvents.  Want to know how Rembrandt did it?  Ask Scott.  He also does wonderful paintings of El Caminos with and without burnouts.)  I planned to hit the yellow the next day with a mixture of cerulean blue, flake white, and black, lightly applied with a long bristled, bristle brush.  The plan was that the firmed up yellow would show through the alternating grooves with the blue and create this iridescent shimmering sky.  The lamp posts and such needed to be wet so that their edges were not sharp against the sky, the two hues of paint lying on top of each other, but rather possessing a furred quality, as if the lamp posts were embedded in the sky.
Day two.  This is usually my favorite part of the painting, but I was a little short on time and the painting could not go another day.  It would be too dry.  I re-oiled the lamp posts and signal lights.  I mixed up the cerulean in a bit of a rush and when I put it over the yellow it came out too…blue.  The Naples yellow was drier than I wanted it to be, so maybe it wasn’t coming through the blue enough.  Maybe it was too much cerulean.  In any case I wanted a steelier, lighter feel and it was.. just… blue!  Crap!  I took a big soft nylon brush and blurred and smoothed out the entire surface.  I did not want any unrelated brush strokes left on the painting and I knew I was not going to get to it again when it was wet.  My window was gone.  I have to say it looked interesting, but too bad it was too early in the painting process and not what I was going for.

Day three, at this point a week had gone by.  At first I replaced some sign posts lost from using the nylon brush, and then added detail and color in the 45th Avenue sign and the red in the signal. (I am very judicious with my use of color.  I find color too easy, too seductive and I much prefer the color palette of Morandi to Matisse).  I tried repainting the sky.  Nothing helped, it was not working.  So I took my palette knife and scraped the whole thing off.  Crap!  I wasted 200 ml of paint.  I will have to continue this when I have a longer chunk of time.  My daughter Makiko says to stay positive or I will lose my audience.  She is 10 btw.  So looking forward, I might keep/add more drippy and blurry parts in the bottom part of the painting.  Maybe sharpen up the top part.  I don’t know if I can get a way with both things in one painting.  Philip Guston did this beautifully.  Gerhard Richter did it in a more dissonant way.  At this point I am not sure if I will get anything at all, but I am ever hopeful.  To be continued... 


  1. comment? wish these photos were bigger. like the discussion of technique. you are inspiring as usual.

  2. oh and I like the top part of #2 mixed with bottom of #3, but you're not supposed to let the audience influence the art! ever! so I didn't say anything.