Painting with Confidence

I am teaching a class at the Cedarburg Cultural Center right now on Alla Prima painting.  Alla Prima means, “at first attempt”.  This is a direct style of painting done in one sitting, where paint mixes with wet paint on the canvas.  This style of painting is recognized by a feeling of spontaneity, looseness, and confidence.  This class reminds me that confidence in painting is the hardest part to teach as well as the hardest part to learn.

In class we are doing exercises to help build confidence, but there is no substitute to repetition and practice.  The most seasoned artists likely still struggle with confidence at times.  Confidence (or lack of confidence) will come through in a painting.  The brushstrokes feel either labored or effortless.  The less afraid we are of painting, the better we paint.

I reflected today in my studio about my own work, asking myself which paintings felt more confident and which felt less confident.  Then, I painted.  Early in the painting I fell into a habit of over controlling the paint and meticulously trying to perfect every mark.  When this failed and I began to become frustrated, I took a large knife and smeared out all the paint.  Then I began again, already having decided the painting was a loss I though I might as well play a bit before cleaning up.  Within minutes, something began to happen.  Colors and marks magically fell into place.  It was only after giving up on the painting that I was able to enjoy painting it and paint it with confidence.

Little Paintings

Today I am beginning a series of small 5″ x 7″ paintings.  I am doing this for a few reasons.  First and most importantly I feel great artistic freedom in making these smaller works as simple but provocative color abstracts.  I envision this as being a possible wall at my next solo show coming up this September.  With the Mount Mary Starving Artist show also in September I need some smaller inventory.  Finally, my recent 20+ Paintings Class in Fish Creek has inspired me to return to small for a while.  Working small allows me to figure a lot of things out.  There is a sensitivity and a simplicity to the landscape when broken down to be contained at this size.

These are the first round of prepared panels.  I work on masonite.  I begin by gently sanding the surface.  Then I apply 2-3 coats of gesso.  Finally I apply a base color.  Here I have used red, orange, and yellow.

Head in the Clouds

Lately I have been painting and drawing clouds.  I thought it would offer a different perspective and fun change.  However, it has proven to be more challenging in oil paint using my knife.  The hard, rough, and aggressive surface created with the painting knife contrasts with the assumed feeling of soft fluffy clouds.  I am going to try to work with this conflict and see what I can make of it.  I also suspect I will be pulling out the brushes soon.  The pastels, on the other hand, are quite easy.  As seen in this recent pastel drawing, the pastels blend and soften easily into representational forms.  Is direct representation my intent?  I would still argue that it is not – though I enjoy making the more representational pastels before taking liberties in the oil painting.  This also give me a clearer sense of what I am doing when I manipulate, simplify, or translate in oil.