Warm & Cool Colors: Friday Debrief

I worked mostly on one new painting this week. This painting of crepe myrtles measures 36 x 48 inches (the size of most the paintings I’ve been doing lately). It’s challenging to photograph. I know that I’ve got the warm/cool color harmonies marvelously balanced when I find that I cannot get all the colors to register accurately. So, it’s one for the collector and the in-person visitor. The predominant color is a rosy salmon color that’s very bright. The foreground is brilliant yellow. It has lots of blue highlights throughout, pale blue-violet clouds, and rich greens for the middle ground foliage.

I need to connect the far right crepe myrtle to the ground and maybe make a few subtle adjustments to this and that, here and there, and it will be complete.

I made some drawings this week too, but my pride and joy is this painting. It has lots of mark making in it.

I feel like Pere Bonnard has been hovering near by. If you like my painting, please share it with your friends. And thank you for reading and looking.


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When I began this little acrylic painting on panel (14 x 11 inches) it looked quite different.  I liked it but I knew I didn’t like it enough.  So I decided to rework it.  The still life table had changed totally so that meant incorporating it into the new still life stuff — hence parts of it had to be completely repainted. Had no idea how that would go, but I’ve been experimenting with acrylic, so I figured there’s no better way to find out than to just do it. Here’s how it looked before:

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Since I switched to using acrylic paint, I have had Matisse in the back of my mind.  For a long, long time I have wanted to experiment with the “fauvist” ideas that Matisse pursued in his very early career. There were certain still lifes that I have always really loved — especially certain dark and rather chaotic ones — that seem to hold such fertile material in them.  Matisse chose to take his art in a different direction, but I have wondered what his painting might have been like had he followed the murky fauvisme instead.  And it seemed to me as though he left that trail there for others to explore ….

These are just two examples, but both reveal the dramatic lighting, murky passages and rough manner that Matisse explored.

So I have some projects planned that will pursue darker tonality, rougher and broader kinds of drawing and exaggerated color, but even in a small work like this painting of the little black pitcher, I have been trying to get at a more instinctive handling.  I find that some sources of interest for me are all the myriad color changes to be observed on a small scale between objects, as in passages around the perimeter of the orange, or between the orange and the lemon, or in between anything and anything.  Such observations in realist painting aim to get at the true appearances — and oddly enough I am striving for a true effect also.  And yet my picture doesn’t become realist.  It’s an odd paradox that Matisse explained as a parallelism — that you are aware of always wanting to get at some truth of perception but it is nonetheless an image that is “parallel to nature.”

The details are really important and for me they’re where the real action is.

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I don’t know how much I’ll work on the painting, and I like all these passages, but they can be further developed as readily as the whole painting itself was open to reworking.

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Each section of a painting can become like an independent composition.  And as your attention focuses on different parts, it’s like these “independent compositions,” can merge and shift constantly.

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I am also developing more latitude for abstraction or accident in the paintings.  Some things happen that turn out to be interesting that were never planned.  I have always been aware of such passages as I paint, but I never completely let myself just leave them or let myself develop them ….

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A passage like the one above which depicts a bit of drapery can become a great place for observing small color differences.  I just painted this green part broadly to cover up what was there from the earlier version, but it’s definitely a passage to exploit going forward.

I am keeping the process fun because I have a tendency to freeze up at various junctures along the way. So in contrast to past habit, I am telling myself that I have permission to pile on as much paint as I please.  Also I know that I’ll never learn what this medium is like if I don’t try out lots of different approaches.  Painting lots of layers over others is just “one of the approaches.”

I like acrylic because its fast drying time makes experiment easy.  You can paint pretty much as fast as you can think.  It can wear you out.  You can paint as if you were digging ditches so it can be “hard work” if that appeals.  Or it can be very whimsical and free.  Certainly you can allow yourself great freedom regarding drawing since you can always immediately paint over anything that you perceive to be “a mistake.”



weird and arcane things I must ponder

The bars framing the flowers on either side are products of Pierre Bonnard’s painting that I’m emulating.  They have no other referent.  They’re part of the structure of the window in the Villa Castellamare so I either make stuff up (which may happen) or I follow Bonnard’s lead.  In his painting the two beams are different colors due to alterations in light.  For the present I’m doing what he did so that the left beam is ochre colored and the right is bluish.  (It’s been a long time since I saw the actual painting so I have no idea what the real colors are and book illustrations always exaggerate.)

Anyway it makes me wonder what Bonnard was thinking.  Because the foreground things in my painting are all different from his — especially the flowers — I’ll have to adapt all the Bonnard elements to go with my changes.  All that happens later.

For now I had to decide whether the ochre creeps up and the blue creeps down — and I decided that they do.

Here’s Bonnard’s –

the bonnard painting dining room with window etc

I like paint

I like paint.  I just do.  I love the smell of oil paint when I walk into the room.  I love looking at colors before they even become anything.  Colors evoke such rich thoughts and feelings.  And the textures of paint are so fabulous.  Everything about paint is wonderful.  Wow.  It’s just so neat, so superduperfabulouswonderful.

there are bright colors in the World

I like color.  Color is the thing that made me want to be an artist.  Just looking at colors cheers me.  Putting the still life objects on the table, choosing one color to be next to another — this arranging the colors before even beginning to paint.  The colors sitting on the palette.  The light that flows over all the objects.  Reflections, shadows.

And the in-between spaces of the still life really delight me.  Do people know how wonderful the world looks in that couple of inches between the marmelade jar and the Chinese rice bowl?  Or in that passage where the folds in the cloth float behind and near the chrysanthemum vase?

I paint to look at things.  And if my paintings say things, it is “look at this!” and “look at that!”  The world is so amazing to look at.  We ought to be looking at it all the time.

The Art of the Emotions

The artist who paints the emotions creates an enclosed world, the picture, which like a book, has the same interest no matter where it happens to be.  Such an artist, we may imagine, spends a great deal of time doing nothing but looking, both around him and inside him.  – Pierre Bonnard 

If you wanted to understand Bonnard’s paintings, and that might be a good place for a certain kind of artist to begin, well here you have it — straight from the horse’s mouth as it were — that his pictures should be understood not as images of out there – or at least not exclusively as a portrayal of “the world,” the out there  – but as pictures of a world first mediated through emotion.  Bonnard is an emotional painter.  And that confession raises the question of whether it is the intense color that manifests his emotion, or the loose and raw manner of drawing or is it the selection of things that he chooses to represent that gives way to his feeling? 

 It’s noteworthy too that if you decide to approach painting after the manner of Bonnard then you are in some measure becoming an author of things that carry the same interest no matter where they happen to be.

[At the top:  Pierre Bonnard’s “The Palm”  Phillips Collection, Washington DC]

Flowers past

Every once in a while I do something specifically in emulation of an artist I admire, and yet often I fail afterwards to see any connection between my picture and the other artist’s picture.  In this drawing I was searching for the strange beautiful color-relationship of Bonnard, and I didn’t think I found it.  But looking at the drawing again, I discover that I did get something after all.  A start. 

The first steps of a path are not to be underestimated.  Is a beginning after all …

and beginnings are wonderful!


My right brain must be working overtime.  I’ve been very productive with drawing lately.  Yet I find — at least lately — that the more I draw, the less I have to say about what I’ve drawn.  This does not bode well for my literary ambitions, I tell you, not one bit.  But there it is. 

The right brain likes to see.  The left brain likes to talk.  My right brain has effectively shut my left brain down this week.  Well, if “brevity is the soul of wit,” I’ll be witty indeed.

By the way, this picture has a lot of yellow in it.  So — I’m not totally inarticulate.  Yellow.  I’ll say it again.  Yellow.  Right there in the middle it’s very yellow.

Colored Surfaces


Quand on couvre une surface avec les couleurs, il faut pouvoir renouveler indefiniment son jeu, trouver sans cesse de nouvelles combinaisons de formes et de couleurs qui répondent aux exigences de l’émotion. — Pierre Bonnard

[When you cover a surface with colors, you must be able to renew its game indefinitely, tirelessly finding new combinations of forms and colors that respond to the urgency of the emotion.]

I made this drawing for the pure fun of drawing the colors and having my happy emotion.

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Thoughts up Close

When you look at the details of a picture, you see how its illusion is created.  The image above is a detail of one section of the flower bouquet.  It zooms in on the flower patterns of the cloth that’s piled up against the vase of flowers.  From this vantage, much of the expression of three dimensions is lost to sight.  The shadows and the lights appear to exist on the same plane.  In the detail, one realizes how much the third dimension of this particular drawing was created by the motif as a whole since without the whole motif we cannot see distinctions of figure and ground.

These “textile” flowers are as impressionistic as were the “real” flowers in the vase.  Both are abstractions: shapes that appear in masses whose details consist of lines, hatchings and scribbles.  So, for instance I began some of the flowers of the textile’s pattern as rough, smeared shapes of red crayon.  And afterwards I went back into that red with lighter or darker shades to begin the process of imitating the tonal differences within the flower.  The irony is that is so doing one makes a “picture of a picture” since another artist designed the textile that I use in my still life.

The character of the drawing materials is hard to conceal, and I made no effort to hide it.  The visibility of the drawing is what attracts me to the use of crayons.  But it makes the illusion of the subject harder to achieve.  The tonal qualities of light passing over objects — the light and shadow of the cloth and its folds, or the diffusion of light around the contours of the vase, or the contrasts of light and shade amid the masses of flowers and leaves — all these effects have to be created through either hatchings or smudges and are refined by careful positioning of light or dark or warm or cool tones.

The visual qualities that pass before your eyes, the numbers of choices available to sight, are staggering in potential complexity.  From among all these possibilities one chooses a path that is your rendering of the picture.

It’s as though you confront a vast field thick with flowers and wild plants.  You see a prospect you want to reach, and you ponder what direction to take through the brush to reach your destination.  If you follow something you learned from an old master, it’s as if you have found a path that you can walk for a distance.  And when that path wears away and returns to the full wilderness of the meadow, from that point onwards you must walk your own path.

And this fact is not a difficulty.  It is freedom.