Sunday, November 05, 2006

Where I'm going

Sven made me realize that I haven't really explained why I'm doing the Fafhrd painting project, so I thought I'd try to give it a shot here.

To start with, there are 3 things I've always wanted to be able to do when I grow up.... stopmotion, sculpture, and oil painting. And like the Bauhaus artists, I believe each form of art strengthens the others... in other words, what I learn about sculpture helps me in my animation AND my painting, etc. I've been drawing for as long as I can remember, and got serious about it in the beginning of the '90's when I took art classes at the local community college. I gotta say though, I learned a lot more on my own than I did in class. The classroom environment was nice because i was surrounded by other art students and encouraged to push myself, and just having assignments that needed to be finished on time makes you work. But most of the learning I did there (aside from some good art philosophy I absorbed from my instructor Dale Threlkeld) was on my own, after class, in the library. I also bought myself a bookcase that I nicknamed the U of Me (or the University of Myself) and started filling with books. That actually was a fairly comprehensive university (the U of Me that is) with a curriculum in the Humanities.... literature, psychology, philosophy, a little poetry, as well as art instruction.

In art my main focus was always on the human figure. For time I wanted to be a comic book artist in fact. I've bought (and studied) a lot of anatomy books, my favorites being the Burne Hogarth Dynamic Anatomy series and the Robert Beverly Hale books, which are the most advanced anatomy books I've been able to find. I believe the human figure is the measure of all things, at least in our humancentric world. Studying anatomy and figure drawing is the way to develop your artistic skills and to guage your progress. The reason I say this is... obviously anybody can sling paint around and say "I'm an abstract artist".... but where's the skill? Where's the knowledge? I was doing that with fingerpaints when I was 3! I believe to call youirself an artist you need to have some skills. And in art, the human figure is probably the most difficult thing there is, and at the same time the most recognizable. We all know what people look like, so we can tell if they're painted 'right' or not. And I'm not referring only to photorealism here.... personally I prefer art with some degree of distortion and expressionism. But before you start to distort or get expressive, it pays to do your homework (which is learning anatomy as well as you can). In learning to paint (or draw or sculpt) the human figure you learn all you need to know to do anything else.... the subtlety, the color control, the balance of large smooth curves coordinated against complex forms..... the dynamic tension of a body in athletic action and the expressiveness of a face. It takes a long time and a lot of learnin' to get good at it, and by the time you are, you can call yourself an artist. The skills you develop along the way will apply even if you're just painting park benches or abstract designs.

Ok, so much for my philosophy of art. Now on to the particulars of what I hope to accomplish in the near future. I've done SOME painting in the past... a little watercolor, and I've dabbled in oils and acrylics and casiens and gouaches and a few other things. But I wouldn't say I'm good at any of them yet. I've always used drawing media in the past, which handle differently, and I guess that's what I'm used to. With a pencil, if you want something darker you press harder... simple as pie. It doesn't work that way in painting. If you want an area darker you have to use darker paint, and then you're delving into the whole area of color theory, as well as brush handling (brush strokes are very different from pencil strokes) and the whole slew of problems associated with the physical and chemical properties of the various paints. Some are thick like frosting or toothpaste, some are very runny, some are more transparent or opaque than others, some will have weird reactions with certain other pigments... it's a lot to deal with. And as if that's not ENOUGH..... what kind of painting technique to use? They udon't teach technique in schools anymore, except at certain very select private ateliers and possibly some of the most expensive art schools. When I was in painting class the teacher just walked through all the time saying "you learn to paint by painting". This is apparenty the legacy of Postmodern Art, in which it's been declared that "painting is dead" and all that counts is finding innovative new ways to shock an audience (that generally involve no skill whatsoever, like immersing a plastic crucifix in a jar of urine). I was actually pretty pissed off that, after spending so much money on tuition, I wasn't taught a damn thing about how to paint! I mean geeze.... I could have "learned to paint by painting" at home!

Well, so I bought books on painting techniques. Impressionist, post-expressionist, baroque, renaissance, etc. etc. ad infinitum. They all have their own theories and approaches. I've tried a few of them and haven't found an approach that seems straightforward and intuitive enough to me yet. I couldn't understand what to do with the pencil drawing on the canvas... do you try to hide it completely, let it show through, or what? Do you paint opaquely, transparently, a little of both? What? Paint thick, paint thin..... I was so confused!!!

So I decided to get back to basics.... to try to paint in a 'classical' style (rather than some expressionist technique). At one time Kent Williams painted very much like Jeffrey Jones, who was his mentor. So I figure, why not start out by learning to paint like the classic '60s and '70s fantasy artists I grew up with? Frazetta and Jeff Jones being my favorites. Then from there I have a solid basis to branch off from into more experimental territory. In emulating artists like Frazetta and Jones I learn about composition, multiple figures interacting in a solid environment, anatomy, powerful colors, the whole nine yards!

And then the Bud Plant catalog came in a few weeks ago and I saw a DVD called The Secrets of Fantasy Painting by Mike Hoffman. This guy paints a lot like Frazetta (some say too much like him) but that's perfect! Exactly what I was looking for in fact. And watching somebody actuially paint on a DVD is a lot more informative than seeing pictures in a book. You can see exactly how he moves the brush, how fast he works, how careful he is, etc.

Ok, this has gone on long enough. I could go on and on, but I wouldn't be saying anything important, so it's time to stop now.

No comments: