Reverence for the Elements

If you are ever in a position to put a record together, there is something unexpected that happens to your thinking, in my experience.  I don’t know if this is a universal experience, because I can only comment on what happens to me, but I suspect it might be.  It would be nice to think that it was.

If you choose to engineer, produce, mix, master and record your music, as well as arrange and write the songs, pen the lyrics, play the guitar parts, lay down the bass parts, create the grooves and rhythms, play the keyboards, write the harmonies, compose the melodies and sing the songs, you realise that each and every one of these fields is populated by people with a deep knowledge of what they’re doing, who have worked very hard to perfect their thing.  You can’t treat any one of these tasks disrespectfully, or dismissively.  There is a lot going on and if you want to participate, you’ve got a lot of learning to do, before you can do each thing competently.  There is some further distance to go to make it from competence to excellence.

We all think we know what a song “hook” is, but few know where the term originates.  The term came into currency because James Jamerson, of the legendary Motown Funk Brothers, played his bass with just one finger on his right hand – his index finger.  The nick name for his single finger style of picking out bass notes was “the hook”, because his single index finger resembled a hook, when he was playing.  He hooked the strings and released them, to sound the notes.   Every song that had a great James Jamerson “hook” was bound to be a hit, at that time.  There is a lot of this kind of long forgotten information that pertains to every part of making a record.  Knowing about each thing informs how you go about making music.  If you know what a hook originally was, you know where to start to create one.  You start with the bass part.

With your engineering hat on, you absolutely must understand the technical signal path, how to structure gain, how to fit the recording into the available head room, how to seek and destroy extraneous noise sources and where to put the microphones and which kinds of microphones to use.  There’s much more to it, but this is an example of what you have to care about, when you’re engineering.

As a producer, you’re looking for novel sounds, good effects, nice arrangements, outstanding performances and a pleasing blend of sounds.  You are the guardian of the feel and artistic unity of the record.  You care more about the aesthetic impression made by the music, than the technical quality, although both are interrelated.

When you are mastering, you have a different set of critical listening skills at play and a different set of engineering knowledge.  Once responsible for ensuring the music could be transferred to vinyl without asking for impossible excursions of the cutting needle, beyond the authority of the motion of the cutter, these days you care about how it’s going to sound on radio, television, on MP3 players and when heard in headphones.

Arrangement is all about writing the parts and instrumentation.  Choosing your timbres and how they interact, plus how the calls and responses are sculpted.  You care about the structure of the song.  So does the songwriter, who also employs the skills of putting melody and words together, in a way that remains interesting and emotionally affective, but which still respects the groove.

The musicians in the rhythm section and the backing singers are always the engine of the song.  They make it danceable and memorable.  They keep the song moving along and lay the foundation for the solo or lead performances.  They apply sheer technique and introduce the stylistic elements that take a mere arrangement and bring it to life.  What they can do with an outstanding arrangement is nobody’s business.

Not a single part of making a record can be done with contempt or disrespect for all that we have learned about each part.  You have to get into the mindset of the practitioners and to study each discipline with reverence for the depth of information available to learn.  You have to partition your approach to ensure that each element is being created with care.  Any single failing in any single element of the music can render it forgettable or mediocre.  To create something outstanding requires pouring heart, soul, sincerity and expertise into each of the component elements of the music.  You cannot scrimp on a thing.

For some people, who are very rounded musicians, it appears to come easily, but the reality is that a lifetime of listening and understanding are brought to bear, the moment the creation of a piece of music commences.  Nobody arrives in the studio like they were just born or with a cavalier, casual attitude to their field of expertise, as much as they may try to put on that affectation.  Serious musicians care about what they contribute to the music – a lot.  Everybody brings their love and passion into the room.  If you are creating music solo, completely on your own, there’s a lot of caring to be done.  There’s a lot of knowledge to know.  There are a lot of skills to master.  You can’t treat anything with contempt, if you want to get a great result.

My advice to anybody making music is to learn as much as you can about every element in the music making chain.  It will serve you well.  Even if you leave the tasks to others, you’ll be able to speak their language, you’ll know what they care about most and you’ll be able to collaborate with more respect and have a better interchange of ideas.  You’ll leave your ego and your arrogance at the door and get on with the collective enterprise.  You won’t be ignorant.

If you, on the other hand, are trying to do it all, then you have to take each element seriously and study each with diligence.  Above all, you must listen.  You must listen to how the greats did it and then move beyond that and work out how you will improve upon what was done before.  It’s a challenge.

Once you get to the point of reverence for each element, you’ll be free to enjoy the music making.  Ultimately, music making is all about joy and enjoyment.  You create it and you share it, to give joy to every listener.  To do that effectively, you need to be having a good time too.

Respect it all, with reverence, but don’t take it too seriously either.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Living in the Subjunctive Mode

I came across a phrase that I hadn’t heard before.  It was uttered by guitarist Joe Satriani, who was crediting a former guitar teacher of his with discouraging him from “living in the subjunctive mode”.  I had to look it up.

The subjunctive mode (or mood) is something that comes to us from the study of English grammar.  It describes speech patterns of wishful thinking, in the sense of “wishing I were a famous artist”, for example.  It’s that state of mind where you think things would be different, if only things had been different.  The subjunctive mode is all about the expression of a hypothetical, wishful or imaginary thought.

In the modern dialect, subjunctive mode is often summarised by the phrase, “Shoulda, coulda, woulda”.  There is no point focusing on the past (which cannot be changed) while providing no solution to a present problem.

The subjunctive mode is wistful as well as wishful, but also dismissive of possibilities that might actually be realisable.  If you say you wish you were a famous artist, it passivates you.  You are implicitly saying that you are not now a famous artist and probably never will be one.  Well why not?  Are you using the subjunctive mode as a reason to never strive to become one?

The subjunctive mode is essentially a linguistic method of offering barriers and excuses.  It’s a way of saying that the ideal imagined has not been met, because the conditions casually asserted as being necessary for that ideal to come into being have not been met either.  No responsibility is taken for the outcome or the starting conditions.  It’s all in the lap of the Gods, as it were, or subject to the hand of fate.

Living your life in the subjunctive mode refers to the habit of wishing things were different, but doing nothing about making them so.  The time and energy spent imagining a better future could be better used actually creating a future you imagine.  Why live in virtual reality, when you can participate in actual reality?  Phrases cast in the subjunctive mode refer to action that has not occurred yet.  An alternative to living in the subjunctive mode, then, is to take that action, immediately and consistently.

As a musician, avoid the suburban disease of worrying about what you should, would or could have played, while never playing the music you want to play.  Your job is to play your music, not to decide whether or not people should or will like what you play.  So play your bloody music.

The same applies to all forms of art.  The doing is much more important than musing about how good it would be, if only it had been done.  There should be no latent regret in a lifetime spent in art.  If you spent your time actually getting on with it, then who could ask for more?  If, on the other hand, you spent a lot of the time you had dreaming about a result you were not prepared to put the work in to create, that truly is regrettable.  It’s a lost opportunity.  Clearly, you knew enough about the art to dream it up, but you didn’t apply what you knew to making it real.  It was all just a dream you had and one that was never reached.

So, discouraging yourself and others from living in a permanent subjunctive mode seems to be pretty good advice, to me.  Get on with it, instead.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Distraction Really Is the Enemy

If you read this post at all, you will believe it.  Every word of it.  At least initially.  You will only come to doubt it, or critically evaluate it, if you have time for quiet reflection on what it has to say, or are presented with strong evidence to the contrary, at some later time.

It turns out we’re programmed to believe what we read, hear or see, by default.  This is an adaptation that prevents us from disbelieving things that happen to be true, which would, if believed, prevent us from being killed.  Statements like, “watch out for cars, when you cross the road”, or “Duck!”, turn out to be things you must accept immediately, at face value, rather than evaluate for yourself by experiment, because you won’t get a second experiment if you initially disbelieve the proposition as presented.

We take all our information in this way.  We believe it as soon as we understand it.

The problem is that believing what you are told, immediately, makes you endlessly manipulable.  People with a mind to deceive you, for their own advantage, have a readymade and highly effective way to do so.

The research is interesting and it’s described in these links:

What the research concludes is that the more distracted you are when you take a piece of deceptive information in, the more likely you are to believe it.  The more you have time for quiet reflection, the less likely you are to take the lie at face value.

Think about the modern world.  What’s being valued?  We have the cult of busy, where people are boastful about their continual, perpetual motion and not having a moment to think, in the service of their business, whatever that happens to be.  We have people that brag about multi-tasking.  There are even advertisements for mobile devices that promise to help you multitask more efficiently, as if that was the goal.  You’ll believe it’s the goal, because you have had no time to weigh the idea, during a period of quiet contemplation.  Everybody is competing aggressively for our attention.  They even call it the attention economy.  We’re told to work harder, go faster, be more productive, read more email, take in more information and to eschew downtime or thinking time.

Social media provides an endless fire hose of distraction.  Television programmes and films are edited at such a pace, that you are accustomed to expecting to be distracted and unfocussed.  Computer games are paced similarly.  We have twenty four hour rolling news, where there can be no greater allocation of time to debate and evaluate the important issues, yet every studio debate seems to be cut short, because they have “run out of time”.  We’re being distracted professionally and deliberately.  We’re being taught to not evaluate critically.  People wear their wilful ignorance as a badge of pride and put great store in not thinking about things in depth.  We’re proud of our supreme gullibility.

In short, we’re being spoon fed ideas, many of which are lies, and taught to never consider whether or not they are true.  Consequently, we believe the most absurd ideas.

To amplify our natural proclivity to believe things at face value, we’re actually being taught and conditioned to believe lies.

Does this matter?  If you have to even ask the question, you’ve definitely not been paying attention to the real world and the distraction techniques have worked on you.  It matters immeasurably.  Our very existence is threatened by profiteers and evil doers that can easily implant ideas and views, against our own interests but in line with theirs, which we will enthusiastically support and disseminate.  That’s how nations go to war to disarm countries that actually don’t have any weapons of mass destruction, in fact.  That’s how Afghanistan is equated with Al Qaeda.  That’s how we come to believe that evil masterminds can bring down buildings in the world’s most heavily defended nation, by spending per capita, from their cave in the mountains, remotely.  It’s how we, as a nation, panic buy and stockpile half a billion pounds worth of a flu drug that doesn’t even work.  This is how we come to believe that a relatively tiny number of illegal immigrants do more damage to the economy than corporate tax avoiders.

We can be told any old tripe and be expected to reliably act upon it.  It takes us into wars.  It causes us to allow grannies to freeze, in the name of austerity.  It allows our wealth to be siphoned off by the 1% and we respond with the fervent belief that there is no alternative.  It lets us become farm animals, preyed upon and used, as if we were sheep and cows.  It prevents us from coming up with dissenting ideas, creative solutions, disobeying, stopping the endless flow of wealth to the top and saving our planet from destruction.  It means we live an existence full of ideas that are not our own, which are wrong and which do us all great harm.  Our credulity is our own worst enemy.

The solution, though, is relatively simple and it’s something that everyone can do: silence the distractions.

Silence the distractions.

Take time to contemplate, to evaluate and to find evidence.  Overcome your own biases.  A responsible, sentient being takes the time to weed out the auto-suggested rubbish.  They slow their lives down for long enough to mull it all over.  Focusing on working out if something you immediately believed is actually true is a valuable thing to do.  Of course, everything you read about the matter, in an attempt to sort the truth from the lies will be immediately believed as well – especially the lies that confirm your bias toward believing the lies you already believe.  It’s not an easy thing to do.  Time for reflection is precious.

Understanding how it is that our minds take information in and how our belief systems are constructed should be something taught to everybody at a young age.  We’re not the objective judges of truth we think we are.  We ingest everything, right and wrong, without distinction and only work out which ideas are lies later on, if at all.

What we must assiduously resist is the tendency to become so pre-occupied with the intake that we never do the filtering.  Distraction will kill us.  It’s not a flippant matter to be too busy to really weigh the evidence and sort out the deceptions from the essential truths.  Ignorance is not bliss.

Do us all a favour and think hard and long about what you believe.  Most of what you believe could be and probably is wrong.  You’re a menace to everybody if you never take the time to weed out the untruths.

I think we should all go away, now and think about what has been written here.



Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Organising Your Palette

Some art books advise that you should always lay your colours out on your palette, in the same order and at the same positions.  The rationale appears to be so that you can mix your colours on your palette instinctively, without having to search for them.

I never do this.  Deliberately.  Here’s why:

In the first place, the colour scheme of every one of my paintings is a choice I make.  I do not, as a rule, paint in the same colours, from painting to painting.

This allows me to follow my instincts and be spontaneous about the colours I will put out on my palette, before I paint.  It’s freeing and challenging at the same time to choose your colours seconds before committing to the painting.  You also get to try out different colour combinations and to choose whether you will go with a three colour balance, a four colour, or some other colour harmony.  The colours you choose to put out on your palette are like musical chords.  They all have their own distinct character and flavour and the choice greatly influences the vibe of the piece you paint.  People won’t be aware of it, but they sure will notice.

Secondly, having all the colours you always use laid out in the same place on your palette is wasteful.  You just aren’t going to use green and crimson in everything you paint.

Thirdly, some of my paintings use a reduced selection of colours in the palette and some use a wide range.  On some occasions, I deliberately organise my palette by tonality, irrespective of hue and at other times, I will use a tonal series in related hues, placed in a line of colours on the palette.  Sometimes, I need lots of white and sometimes I don’t use any.  Sometimes the white needs to be near the colour I will mix it with, other times somewhere else on the palette.  I’ve painted paintings with just a strong colour (say Prussian Blue or Dioxazine Purple) and white, to get an interesting monochrome effect.

When I am painting a large area in a single colour or combination of colours, the blobs of paint for those colours will take up more palette real estate than the other colours.  It has to be that way.  There is more paint that will have to be used and applied, for those colours.  If you don’t put out enough paint to cover the predicted area you will need to cover, you’ll run into colour mixing issues and also interrupt your flow to refill your palette.

When I have left over paint from a previous session, sometimes I will augment the palette for my current painting with left over paint from the previous, so that I get some serendipitous mixings and so that there is continuity, in my body of work, from the previous work to the current, even if hidden.  It might give something to do for future art historians! :)

If I were to lay out my palette in every colour I have, iridescent, fluorescent and micaceous media included, I would need a very large palette and that would be cumbersome.  I’d also never touch some of the colours.  I cannot imagine painting with a huge palette on my arm.  It would be tiring and ridiculous.

I don’t believe in sticking to the same palette every time, in my work.  I think it’s rather limiting to use the same seven or eight shades every time.  You should at least experiment with a few different reds and blues.  Ochres and browns are more limited in selection, but even still, you can make browns in so many different and interesting ways, that it seems lazy to always place some burnt and raw sienna on the palette.  Why would you do that, if you could mix transparent orange, white and sap green to get into the same territory?  That might tie in better with the background shades you choose, anyway.

In my view, laying out your palette with the same colours, in the same positions, is fine if every one of your paintings uses the same colour space and that works for you, but for me, that’s like refusing to play with anything other than minor seventh chords and prohibiting chord inversions.

Lay your palette out with forethought and design.  That’s better advice.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Sobering Thought

The people that need to change most, to become possibility thinkers and to bring creativity into their daily decisions and structures of power, will never read these blog posts (or any other material out there that covers similar subject matter).

Think on that.

The people that most need to become more artistic in their approach will never even see these articles.

Why?  Because they’re not interested in creativity.  They don’t care about art.  They have the idea that it doesn’t matter.  To their way of thinking, it’s optional, not essential.  They have no internal, gut instinct for what it even means conceptually.  They are about as divorced from the world of creative ideas, innovations, pure possibilities and “what ifs” as it is possible to be and they’re unconcerned about it.

And they’re running things.  While we identify the importance of the creative mind set in all things human, they’re busy destroying, in the name of “sensible rationality”, as if their claim was not a lie.

We elect them.  We promote them.  We hand them control over our lives.  We support their uncreative approach and their “yeah but” dampeners on all new ideas.  We let them run amok at our expense.  We enable and empower them.

Why do we do that?

They are fond of telling us there is no alternative.  We know better.  Isn’t it time we began to assert it?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Let’s Just Pretend Everything is OK

There used to be a lot of respect for open debate, speaking your mind, holding opinions, debating them and having a point of view.  It was never more important than in the arts, where artists were often social commentators and opened the eyes of their audiences to alternative ideas and ways of looking at things.  The ability to say what you truly felt was thought to be essential to a functioning democracy and to living a tolerable life.  It was how things were kept in check.  Public opinion mattered.

Lately, I see things being shut down.  People are afraid to express their opinions in public, because they think the spies are recording everything (they are).  Your calls, emails, browsing history, contacts, associations, posts and the pattern of people and agencies you communicate with are being kept, for who knows what purpose, for who knows how long.  It stifles freedom of speech.

There are repressive governments that go to extreme lengths to censor what appears on the browsers of people in their country and what they say online.  In Australia, the social media policy being applied in the public service is preventing government employees from posting anything critical of their government, anywhere, at any time and the policy is likely to be enforced zealously.  It was reported that the UK government attempted to block access to petition web sites calling for the resignation of a government minister as recently as yesterday.

Companies constantly try to hijack their employees’ social media activity to promote the products and services of the company.  It seems like taking a salary for working eight hours a day now entitles an employer, private or public, to control your every public utterance, no matter what time of day.

This is profoundly unhealthy.  It leads to a situation where everybody is contractually obliged to pretend that everything is ok, up to and until the point where society simply collapses because things are not, in fact, ok.

Dissent, protest, debate, discussion, opinion and public unity are all prohibited.  We must all act as though we are singular units, frightened to death of stepping on the toes of a powerful force.  We must comply with the prevailing view, no matter what that view happens to be, so long as the view is held by those in power.  We may not question.  We may not confront.  We cannot blow the whistle. We must stay silent, even while witnessing atrocities, injustices and crimes.

Worse than that, when there is no debate permitted, there are no alternative ideas that surface.  We begin to believe that there are no alternatives possible and hope dies.  There is no way to change the government, because no opposition is brooked.  We cannot remove those that abuse their power, because alternative candidates or ways of being are not discussable.  If those ideas cannot be discussed, they cannot exist.

We’re entering an era of extreme mono-culture, where there can be only one idea about every matter of importance and where to speak out is to be seen as criminally insane.  Compliance and conformance are favoured over the health and vitality of the society and a diversity of ideas, simply because it suits those currently in power, who are able to institute legislation to keep it that way.  We’re literally losing our language and limiting the scope of our ideas and imaginations to only those orthodox notions approved officially by the authorities.

Without dissent and alternative ideas, progress is not possible.  Art is not possible.  In succumbing to the current trend of thought and mind control, where the powerful seek to limit the range of ideas made public, we’re giving up a tremendous amount.  Yet nobody cares.  We’re content to fall into line and keep our heads down.  We don’t care about the world we’re building for our children.  It’s appalling.

As T.S. Elliott said, the world will end not with a bang, but with a whimper.  Meanwhile, let’s all pretend that everything is ok.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Getting a Likeness

As a life painter, one of the things I struggle with most is getting a likeness of the model.  I’m getting better at finding the form of the body and limbs and at getting the proportions closer to right, but a likeness, as with getting the hands and feet right, is a bit hit and miss with me.  I’ve been thinking about some ways to improve on both aspects of my work.

Firstly, I think the important thing to realise is that the scale of a face (or the hands and feet) is different to that of the rest of the figure.  In other words, you sort of have to mentally “zoom in” and notice things on a smaller scale.  That also means you need to use smaller brushes, I think.  You just can’t get the same level of detail on the hands, feet and face, with the same brushes you use to delineate the body and limbs.

Secondly, there may be some merit in placing the eyes, nose and mouth first, before you shape the face, chin, neck, hair and ears.  I think this might work because these are the things we gaze upon first, when we recognise a person (in general).  The way we tell one person from another has a lot to do with recognising their eyes, the line of their mouth and how the mouth and eyes relate to the shape and location of their nose.  I’ve always painted the head shape first, then the ears and hair.  That gives reasonable results, but it can leave you with unwanted compromises, when placing the eyes and mouth into that already defined framework, in particular.  Sometimes, the way you have defined the face shape means you just cannot get the eyes, nose and mouth to fit convincingly.  It might be better to work the other way around, placing the features first, then framing them with the rest of the face.  Again, you need to be working in a zoomed in way of looking, with finer line work.

Thirdly, even with smaller brushes, you have to learn how to make fine lines by pushing one colour of paint against another, on the canvas, until the transition between them is a fine roll of paint.  In other words, your brush is much larger than the line you want to arrive at, but by painting a first stroke, then another of a different shade, you can work the paint, while wet on the canvas, pushing it against the first brush stroke, until what remains is a fine line between them.  You’ll need this technique for lip lines and for eyelids, in particular and it’s hard to master.  Go too far and you simply mix the first paint with the other.  That’s not the desired result at all.

Fourthly, lip lines have to be almost exactly right, or you lose the likeness rapidly.  More than anything else, I think, the lip line (that line made where the upper and lower lips meet) can make or break a portrait.  Eye shape and placement also make a big difference.  The shape of the nose, particularly around the nostrils, also needs to be just right.  If you can get those elements right, then you need to concentrate on the delicate gradations of shade to sculpt the cheek bones and smile lines, around the mouth.  I find the transition from eye socket to cheek to side of the nose is particularly hard to get just right.

Another thing that seems to be critical in getting the face to look right, in a portrait, is facial symmetry.  Many faces are asymmetrical, in fact.  However, if you exaggerate the asymmetry or if you correct it, to make the face more symmetrical, you’ll lose the likeness.  It’s a very delicate balance to achieve.

Finally, it’s amazing how if you paint the neck too long or too short, too thick or too thin, offset wrongly or too symmetrical, you can destroy a likeness.  A badly rendered neck can ruin a portrait.

Here are some useful pictures I found on the Internet.  They point out the main features of the face, which most people (self included) don’t even know the names of:

Likeness - facial_terminology Likeness 2 Likeness 3 Likeness 4

With hands and feet, what seems to work best is to imagine the skeletal bones beneath and place those.  You have to imagine, because you cannot observe them (they’re covered in flesh), but it’s the schematic layout of the digits or toes that makes all the difference.  Also, imagining block geometric shapes, instead of the individual appendages, helps you place the overall shape of the hands and feet correctly, in relation to the arms or legs.  It’s almost worth painting them as blocks first, then picking out the individual fingers or toes, as appropriate.  This also applies to the bones of the wrist.  You need to get those lumps right and in correct relation to the hand and fingers.  Knowing where the fingers end, relative to each other, is critical, as is getting the details of the shadows on a folded palm, if the hand is held that way.  Rendering the shadows made by fingers curled toward the palm or of the concave palm itself, accurately, can really help make the hand look convincing. Deliberate placement of the knuckles and joints also helps paint a realistic hand.

I always find hands and feet a challenge, because they require detailed observation and fine line rendition.  When painting wet on wet, in a hurry, because of limited time in front of the model, this is a hard thing to do, especially when you also have to finish the rest of the canvas as well.  What you need, to get a very good likeness and to render the hands and feet convincingly, is time.  You also sometimes need to let the paint you’ve already applied dry, so that it doesn’t mix or move with paint applied over it.  Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to get a muddy sludge, on the canvas, instead of crisp transitions from tone to tone.

My life class is on a break, over Easter, so it will be a few weeks before I can try out some of the improvements I want to make to my faces, hands and feet.  To earn the time to really get those right, I have to find a way to paint faster before the mid-lesson coffee break, so that I have the bulk of the background and the figure substantially placed and the hands, feet, eyes and mouth in the right place, allowing ten or fifteen minutes of drying time during the break, before I get down to the fine details after coffee.  With acrylics, using a medium that speeds up the drying might be the way to go.  The acrylics I use have controllable open time (within some limits, but you can vary it).  There isn’t a lot of time available, before the break, so that’s going to be the real challenge.

My approach will be to still keep the flow and freshness of the brush strokes that my work usually has, but to use them in the service of maintaining the likeness.  In other words, it still won’t be a photo-realistic, precise, camera-like rendition of the face, but the suggestion of the facial features, due to where the strokes are placed and how the tones transition, will be the things to capture and preserve, even when using wild, false colours, or extravagant brush gestures.

Placing wild, flamboyant brush strokes is, in fact, a very precise art.  You only get to make the stroke once, but it has to sit on the canvas in exactly the right place to keep the viewer convinced of the likeness.  It resembles target practice, more than painting.  More than anything, you have to place each stroke with confidence, so that you are not tempted to play with it, overwork it and merge your colours into a uniform, muddy sludge, thereby losing all facial definition.  It is far better to place the stroke and walk away, than to fiddle about with it, even if it is wrong.  If the paint dries in time, you can have another stab at correcting the stroke, but if time does not permit, you’re stuck with it.

You can, with care, push the already applied wet paint around on the canvas, especially using those silicone colour shapers or with the wooden end of your brush or even with a small palette knife, but I find these destroy the freshness and texture of the original brush stroke.  In correcting the position of the mark, you change its character and that impinges on the overall finish and style of your work, so it’s a compromise.  Sometimes, it’s better to scrape the paint back off the canvas with a palette knife, give the surface a minute or two to dry a bit and start again.

Anyway, there you have it.  A catalogue of everything I have ever done wrong, when painting faces, hands and feet, so far.  I’m sure I’ll make more mistakes, even as I work to develop my technique to correct the mistakes I’ve already made.  In every case, painting against the clock places extra demands on your technique and your overall schedule or work plan, when creating a painting.  I like to finish a painting in a single session, so that constrains a lot of what I can actually get done in the time, while the paint is still wet.  The trade-off I make, for getting a fresh, vibrant work in a single sitting, is a lack of detail and definition.

The trick, for me, is to place the right strokes in the right places, very quickly, so that I still capture the essence of the model and produce a convincing likeness.  More importantly, once placed, I have to be careful not to wreck the effect by overworking the features.  I do this a lot.  The key to solving this is in placing the brush stroke in just the right place, initially, instead of trying to fix it on the canvas.  That way, I won’t be tempted to mess it up.

I’m still learning.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment