Sunday, May 25, 2008

performing arts

Posting parts 1 and 2 of Nadine's House on Friday got me some interesting feedback. I was particularly interested in others' curiosity about my process, something I've always noticed but never thought about too carefully. It started early, when I was a child addicted to Archie comics. I'd draw Betty and Veronica-like characters for hours on end and my friends liked to watch. When it became interactive (we'd create comic stories together while I drew) they'd actually beg to come over and 'play' and knock each other out of the coveted spot to my left. (No, it wasn't my amazing magnetism. I think it was having the power to make Veronica into a victim of bad plastic surgery or Betty into a biker chick that was so seductive.) At school I was one of those precocious students who could finish an assignment in no time, leaving me plenty of time to doodle. My first awareness of the opposite sex was in Grade Five when another quick study would finish his work and then make a beeline for my desk so he could silently hover, watching me draw. I still have absolutely no idea how to harness that power; marketing and sexual/social politics are still as mystifying to me as quantum physics. (But I did discover at a high school reunion that said boy has had a very successful career as a commercial photographer. I like to think I contributed to his appreciation of the visual arts. :)

Apparently people love to watch art-making. That surprises me as I never thought of painting as a spectator sport. It sure doesn't work that way for me. I never attend workshops and as someone who can't learn to flush a toilet through observation it makes me crazy to watch and not do. I am a classic example of learning to do things the hard way. That may be why I draw and paint 'backwards'. I was never taught to use negative space the way I do, but when a perceptive friend first sent me some black paper and white pencil crayons it transformed the way I tackled my work. I have been keeping Nadine apprised of her painting's progress and she wrote this to me today: "It's so interesting to watch this evolve, because you have done it in the exact opposite direction from what I would have guessed. My money would have been on you working from the back to the front - that is, siding first and then porch posts/window frames etc, then stairs, grass, working your way forward." That is, of course, how most people paint, and if you use watercolour there's really no other way to do it. (I find watercolour completely frustrating and envy those who handle it well.)

I work front-to-back partly for stylistic reasons, but also because of the importance of the underpainting to my finished work. I always feel a little bad when people like the early stages of a painting like this because what appeals to them will soon be almost completely obliterated. Melody commented on my last post with this question: "The underpainting alone is pretty funky. May seem like a foolish question but why pink?" This is what I answered: "The colour is actually darker than it appears when flash photographed -- slightly more purple. The house is going to be yellow and there's lots of green surrounding it, so I chose that as a good complementary to both. Doing the underpainting in a complementary colour gives it a little more punch."

Belinda commented on this process when I posted my photos on Flickr. She wanted to know what would happen if I used a plain white canvas (like Normal People, right Belinda?). My response: "Surprisingly, doing it this way makes it way easier for me and the coloured background is almost a 'cheat' way of tying the painting together visually. It's sort of a negative space process, which ties in really well with the way my brain works. It's also why I like to draw on black paper. And the results of just doing it straight on white canvas are really quite different. so there *is* method to my laziness. This process lacks a degree of spontanaeity, which is too bad, but worth the sacrifice as I waste fewer supplies that way."

So, is this what you expected to see from the first photos? I'm not that good at delayed gratification, especially if I don't know if what I'm waiting for will be worth the wait (it's always a crap shoot), but I suppose being able to 'see into the future' is a prerequisite to working this way. Now if I could only do the same with my bank account!

PS/FYI: I don't measure proportions or use rulers so technically it's off a bit in a few places. Does that make me an artist or just lazy?


Blogger Ellen said...

Great painting! (lack of rulers adds to the charm). Toned canvasses are the way to go, I kick myself when I start out on white, it's so much harder to determine value, but I love the fact you seem to always use 'hot' colours as your base, it really makes a difference in the vibrancy.

'Can't flush a toilet through observation' - love that one.

25/5/08 8:29 p.m.  
Blogger dinahmow said...

Definitely NOT lazy! I know other artists who have a similar approach to spatial relationships, etc and it takes them longer to produce the "done" work.
And, not being a painter, I just guess at some things, but when I want a shadow for green I use the complementaries (red and green for non-artists) to get my grey.
I've said before, your work would move easily into printmaking.
If Nadine is disappointed, I'll buy it!

25/5/08 8:32 p.m.  
Blogger tlc illustration said...

I try to not use rulers any more than absolutely necessary (but since I really have a hard time drawing straight lines, it's more necessary than what one might think. I envy those who can do without!)

How much, if any, of your underpainting shows through the final layers?

25/5/08 9:57 p.m.  
Blogger Melody said...

Great piece and it was fascinating to see your progress. The pink/purple underpainting does make a lot of sense to me now.
p.s. I loved Archie comics too!

26/5/08 4:56 a.m.  
Blogger Caroline said...

You could easily make money out of being watched! Just try selling a session locally and see. They might want to buy the finished product too...

LOTS of people love art demos. Just because you don't like them doesn't mean you can't give them.

Make it clear its a demo, call it performance art maybe... and charge a decent admission fee.

26/5/08 5:59 a.m.  
Blogger andrea said...

Ellen: Sometimes the underpainting is just the right touch, sometimes I'm off and it's a struggle making it work. Not knowing is part of the 'adventure'.

Dinah: My favourite grey is made with pthalo green and alizarin crimson (and white). I mix up a bunch and keep it in a covered container.

Caroline: I didn't mean to insult anyone who 'likes to watch'. It's just part of the process of great journalism. (Yes, I'm kidding. Do you think anyone would pay to watch me write my blog, too? :)

Tara: Actually, quite a lot of the underpaintign shows through. You can see it in every element, though it's hard to see from a distance.

Melody: Yay! Another person who admits it. We're brave, aren't we? :)

26/5/08 6:49 a.m.  
Blogger Janvangogh said...

Archie was great.

I have wondered about the choice of underpainting colors and now it makes perfect sense.

The painting looks great.

26/5/08 7:58 a.m.  
Blogger nadine said...

I love it!
(Sorry Dinah, you'll have to commission your own :-)
It's like my house, only better. You know, more vibrant and full of character (and no signs of chipped paint, rotting porch boards, weeds in the lawn).
You are awesome!!!!

26/5/08 8:03 a.m.  
Blogger Cynthia said...

Very interesting process - I was definitely confused because you painted the intricate blooming tree before the background. I thought maybe you were going to leave the background the magenta color.

I used to devour Archie Comics - those little fat tomes that looked like a book when I was a kid. :D I always hated Veronica...

26/5/08 11:07 a.m.  
Blogger Peter said...

I find hearing about your process fascinating ... and the results are amazing!

26/5/08 11:42 a.m.  
Blogger andrea said...

Jan: yay! Another fesser upper.

Nadine: Just call me the plastic surgeon of houses. A little botox here, a tummy tuck there and voila!

Cynthia: Oh no -- my secrets are out!! :)

Peter: You are too kind. But don't stop. :)

26/5/08 4:41 p.m.  
Blogger Toni said...

Love love love the house my dear.
you are the queen of houses.

I am still amazed at your under paintings.

26/5/08 8:28 p.m.  
Blogger Jana Bouc said...

Thanks so much for sharing your underpainting process and your own personal "underpainting" history as well. I loved hearing about your drawing as a kid, working backwards and enjoying negative space. My sister and I used to do something similar to your comic book drawings. We spent hours on our bedroom floor with a stack of paper and a big box of crayons making Barbie-like paper dolls and their boyfriends and families and then designing clothes for them all which we cut out and stuck on them and then acted out naughty little stories.

27/5/08 10:14 p.m.  
Blogger AscenderRisesAbove said...

your proportions and perspectives always look right on to me. you have a very good sense of it.

28/5/08 8:51 a.m.  
Blogger Molly said...

This reminds me of the way some brains work backwards, in a way. I've been forming a post myself, about my interest in language and the link to the conceptual end, while considering my usual method of thinking broken down into a huge blob of ideas, pictures, not in any linear organization. It's not really backwards to those of us who do it, but completely messy to those who don't. It's also akin to reading a blog (or a book or article for some of us) where one starts at the middle or bottom, in the case of a blog, and read backwards. I literally did that with your blog just now when I checked in after being away for a bit, sentence by sentence. Blogs are perfect for this, actually, if you're not reading each new post as posted. Your method of painting seems to some to be starting at the end and ending at the beginning, but to me compares significantly to this way of thinking.

29/5/08 8:38 a.m.  
Blogger Hayden said...

Oh, I am SO Totally a WATCHER. When I was in college I had a friend who had painted daily since he was ten - I developed the habit of stopping by his apt. nearly every afternoon to talk and watch him paint. Didn't hurt that he was 6'4" and attractive, with a dry wit - but I genuinely looked forward to watching things take shape, be transformed - sometimes painted out - the entire process fascinated me.

31/5/08 11:23 a.m.  
Blogger ValGalArt said...

Love the house and seeing the process!

31/5/08 12:21 p.m.  

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