Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Making History: Leaving Marks

"Angel 8"  by Jim Carpenter, 6.5" x 4.5"

The Process Of Aging: Leaving Marks

This painting which I am titling "Angel 8" for the time being, is small. That is, it is small by comparison to what it was a few hours ago.

You may have noticed I've skipped from Day 16 of Leslie Saeta's 30 Day Painting Challenge to Day 21. That's how long it took for this painting to arrive. The original start had  been around for several years, painted blue and 11" x 22." I scrubbed it back and cut it in half weeks ago. In the last five days I must have painted it and then taken the painting back down to the raw paper at least 4 times. This is how my paintings get that aged look that I like so much. Each time I remove paint some elements are left behind - the scratches, the lines, the most stubborn layers of paint embed a history into the paper. 

I don't set out to do this - that is, I don't say, "Ok, I'll paint this and then destroy it 5 times and then finish it." Each pass I am hoping will release the painting. But sometimes that's what it takes.  That and an "ah ha" moment. 

Ah Ha: History Repeats Itself

For me this time the "ah ha" moment came when I realized that maybe the part of the painting I was really focused on was the essence of the painting and that the rest of the painting, though nice, was a distraction. Did I learn nothing from my own blog post on Day 15? All it took was finding mat corners to frame the area and I could see that I needed (once again) to crop the painting and that (once again) the image was exactly 6.5" x 4.5." What's that all about?  

I still like what is left behind of the 11" square. I may be able to use what's left for the next few paintings in the challenge. But what I'm learning from this process - two paintings in a row now - is that when the painting isn't working as a whole and I really like two different sections of the painting that maybe I have more than one painting going on in one space. It is a matter of composition. Sometimes I may be playing with composition and wanting to split the viewer's focus, but it didn't feel right today, and I sensed a need to zero the focus in on one grouping.  

Friday, January 16, 2015

Finding The Painting: The Challenge Day 16

"Angel 7" by Jim Carpenter, 6.5" x 4.5," Acrylic on Paper

Re-Turning To What I Never Left, Right?

It has been one week since I submitted anything for Leslie Saeta's 30 Day Challenge.  I did spend time in the studio painting, but I seemed to be getting nowhere fast. I am not really a "daily painter" - although I hope to paint every day, my process is one that does not generally lead to a completed painting in one day. My process is also full of surprises for me, but that is to be expected when one approaches things from the perspective of "not knowing," which is how I approach my paintings.  

I did not see "Angel 7" until 7 p.m. tonight although it was actually right in front of my face and at the end of my brush for the last 48 hours. I had been working on the same 9" square sheet of paper for a week - painting and lifting and painting and lifting, and obliterating. A couple of days ago this sheet of paper was a proper painting  and then I decided it was really just dreadful and so I rubbed it out and started again. 

I delineated the figure in "Angel 7" two or three days ago and was quite happy with it but because it was settled in the left side of the 9" square I spent much of my time trying to make the other half of the painting work. I saw the figure on the left side of the paper as a secondary figure. I really don't know why I thought that way about it, but my hunch is that it was because it was on the left side of the paper and there was nothing on the right to balance it. The composition demanded something on the right and as I worked on bringing out a vague figure on the right side of the paper I also worked on solidifying the figure on the left, never actually thinking it was more than a secondary point of focus. 

Step Away From The Painting and Carry the Moon

I was determined to post a painting tonight so when it was time for me to leave my studio to go to the Wellness Center to teach my qigong class, I promised myself that when I got back I would get back to painting right away.  "Carrying The Moon" is the qigong pattern we did tonight. I never underestimate the cleansing power of my qigong practice and the clarity of mind it produces. I think it no coincidence that the moment I got home after class and went to the painting I saw that the painting wasn't working; I saw that I had a figure on the left and a big vague empty space on the right.  I said "It's not a painting yet." And then it hit me, "But if I crop this, maybe I'll have a painting." I took some mat corners and cropped it to exactly the same size as the paintings in the angel series, 4.5" x 6.5." How weird is that?  

Trust Your Creative Process

It may seem like an immediate no brainer to some of my artist buddies. Are you all saying, "Well, big DUH, Jim!" I don't blame you. I'm saying it too. Why I didn't see it sooner I don't know.  I was holding out for something bigger? Yes, like twice as big, actually - 9" instead of 4.5!  "Just crop it, Jim!" 

If this teaches me anything it teaches me that my creative process is always working, even when I think it is not. Painting paintings that I decide are all wrong, spending hours trying to make one part of the painting work when the actual painting is already there just waiting for me to notice it - that's all part of my creative process.  And to me, the most intriguing aspect of this is that this painting is exactly what I set out to do on day one of this challenge - a series of "angel" paintings - 4.5" x 6.5" - and here I "thought" that I had given up on that idea.  Ha!  

Sometimes I think my creative spirit has a mind of its own.  

Friday, January 9, 2015

The Risk Of Dinner Theatre: Challenge Day 9

"Dinner Theatre" by Jim Carpenter, Acrylic on Paper, 11' x 30" 

My Challenge: Dare I Follow This Image?

I paint along side hundreds of artists from all over the world partaking in Day 9 of Leslie Saeta's 30 day painting and blogging challenge. That there are so many artists participating lends the challenge a certain camaraderie (not unlike what we experience in the collaborative art of theatre) as well as adding a certain amount of pressure (if you allow it), because so many artists are posting their paintings every day. Gotta keep up! 

I welcome the pressure to produce. It creates an interesting tension between my desire "to be idle," to paint for the joy of it, and the desire to please that turns painting into work.  So today when I decided to pick up this odd-sized start with a lot of bright paint on it, I immediately thought "what the heck am I going to do with this!" 

So often my first thought was to wipe out the color and to look for a scene. But before I got to obliterating the start, I took time to see the half circle in the middle of the page - and looking inside it I began to see a scene unfolding, not just in the center but on either side. 

The Start for Dinner Theatre

Theatre is a great metaphor for life and I immediately recognized the setting for the characters in this painting as a theatrical one.  The title became apparent to me early in the process when I was looking for an explanation for the character just left of center that is drawing attention from the two central figures. I immediately thought, "this is dinner theater!" And thus, early on I had my title.  

 I did not let the title or reason stand in the way. I was going to risk having some fun.  I immediately allowed for other characters to appear on the right and left, leading to the possibility of multiple plays taking place at the same time - or perhaps 3 different views of drama/life being played out simultaneously.  

I could have wiped the entire painting out at any time - there was some neat stuff under that paint - I did rub out on section on the left to reveal the mystery melodrama taking place on the left side of the paper!  But I decided not to second guess myself.  I decided to enjoy the return to the theatre. The truth is I've been looking for some of the more playful paintings to re-appear.  And now one has! 

In case you are wondering about me and dinner theatre... stay tuned. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Once Upon A Time: The Perfect Start

 "Places" by Jim Carpenter, Acrylic on Paper, 13.5" x 11" 

Once Upon A Time, Long Long Ago...

Five years ago I painted a start that I thought was the cat's meow! I loved it. But I didn't know what to do with it, and I was afraid I'd ruin it if I pushed ahead with it. So I put it in a folder and put it aside.  I would pull it out over the years hoping that I would see it and know where to go next with it. But that never happened. And when I looked at it today I had pretty much lost that loving feeling - that is, I still liked it but I thought it wasn't all that precious and it was time that I tried to do something with it or let it go. So, for Day 8 of the 30 Day Challenge I decided to finally do something with this 'ancient' start. 

Originally I wanted it to be a non-objective abstract, and that was one of the main reasons why it remained in the folder.  I know now how "non-objective" turns out for me - inevitably, save for a few rare occasions, an image begins to emerge and I'm off to carving out figures.  Why didn't I do that 5 years ago?  

Places: Story Time

I titled the painting "Places" because I get the sense that the figures are each from different stories - living in different environments - each with a tale to tell - but they are all in the same framework.  The title also alludes to theatre, an apt metaphor for story telling: when the stage manager gives the cue "Places!" the actors move to their "place" on stage to begin or to continue telling their story.  

It occurred to me only as I was preparing to write the blog post that this painting might be the cover of a great storybook - full of tales that resonate through the ages. If I decide to pursue that notion I will let you know. Maybe tomorrow!  

Here is the start I painted 5 years ago.  

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Tricky Path To The Sages

"Sages" by Jim Carpenter, Acrylic on Paper, 9" x 9" 

Challenge Day 6: Trust In "Not Knowing"

It seems a bit ironic to title a painting "Sages" and then to blog about "not knowing." But, that is how I operate when I start a painting. I do "not know" what I will find at the end of the painting journey. And even when I start out with the idea that I'm going to paint a certain something, I often end up with something altogether different. Today I had planned - I should say "hoped" - to paint something joyful and full of color - and I ended up with a monochromatic image of two mysterious figures with a spiral behind them. I didn't know that was what I really wanted to say until I started to see it - then I knew what the painting was about. I use "not knowing" to get to "knowing." 

Here are the images of my "Start" and my "All The World's A Stage" mid process painting.

Even as I tried to accept it as "finished" I knew the painting with the 3 figures wasn't right. I felt the pull to obliterate it and find the real painting as well as the pull in the opposite direction - to resist the risk of obliteration and to preserve what was there. Ever been caught in that tension? 

I felt I had to go for something more authentic. I sprayed a paper towel with rubbing alcohol and scrubbed. 

The search for wisdom is a constant. Perhaps the figures I identify as "Sages" are a metaphor - a  representation of an old notion knocking around in my head that there are "keepers of the knowledge" - that there are "those who know" - and the path to them is tricky, risky, and full of false starts.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Message: Just Do It

"Angel 7" by Jim Carpenter, Acrylic on Paper, 22" x 11" 

Challenge Day 4: Get A Move On

Taking on Leslie Saeta's 30 Day Challenge once again moves me to finish up some of my "starts" and I imagine the figure in this painting is relieved to finally be released from "painting limbo" where everything is either "just almost" or "not nearly" or simply "I'll get to you later so just chill." 

This is what I started with today.
 The painting was in this stage for many months. I think that the previous 30 day challenge and the card painting binge were all necessary steps in the creative process that led to my willingness to "just do it."  Here is a photo of what I thought might be the finished painting. 
I stopped long enough to consider it "done" but soon I felt that all of the business in the robe and the background was detracting from what I really wanted to emphasize, the iconic nature of the figure, its antiquity, its ethereal and in some way "sacred" nature. 

I had to risk covering up that which I thought was pretty - and I was not sure whether I was doing "the right thing" - whatever that is. Who gets to decide what's right in this case? I had the feeling that in this instance "less is more." It was only after I finished that I saw what it was that I had been after all along. Once I removed the trappings I recognized the figure which is present in many of my paintings.  

Friday, January 2, 2015

Be Fearless: Wear The Halo Proudly

"Angel 6" by Jim Carpenter, Acrylic on Paper, 6.5" x 4.5" 

Day 2: Accept the Corona 

I'm not talking about the beer here, I'm talking about the halo. If I'm going to express myself, be idle, enjoy, and search for meaning then several of my figures will undoubtedly have to support a halo. 

The word "halo" traces back to the Greek, 'halos' meaning "the disc of the sun or moon' later to suggest the "light around the head of a holy person or diety."  Painting angels at Christmas time gives me a good reason to have at the haloes. It's all part of my plan to be idle, that is to enjoy painting, and to give myself over to these figures that I find so mysterious, and so wonderful. 

For those who are disturbed by halos one could argue that the two figures in this painting are ordinary men, looking at the sun- or the moon - the disc (halos) just happens to be surrounding their heads. Why not? After all the original Latin and Greek roots "angelus" and "angelos" meant "messenger, envoy, one who announces." 

I wonder what their message is. I think they see something wonderful ahead.  


Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Angel Sang: "Keep it Real"

"Angel 1" by Jim Carpenter, Acrylic on Paper, 6.5" x 4.5"

The Nature of Challenge Day One: One Begets Another

Usually I do one painting for my Christmas cards, photograph it, take it to the printer and have copies made, and then fix them to card stock and off they go. This year (who knows what possessed me) I decided to paint individual cards. I had been through a great 30 day Challenge with Leslie Saeta in September and maybe that fed the notion that I could paint 84 paintings for cards this year. My rationale went something like this:
1) It will take the pressure off of having to come up with ONE perfect painting in a few days
2) It will save me $80 in printing costs
3) I will get to paint a lot 
4) After they are mailed all of the paintings will be gone
5) Some people will think I am crazy and that is good for my image

It was all good. But nothing is perfect, and by Dec. 22 I was in a crunch.  

The Problem With The Process: The Product

I was very focused in the painting. It never quite resembled a production line but I had a number of themes going. 1) Red and Green Joy - 2) Snowflakes - and 3) Angels.  My main theme for all of them was Joy - but at some point I knocked out 5 angels - the first of the 5 is shown here. The painting was fun. Laying all the paintings out and counting them was fun. Trying different things in each painting was fun. I was being idle in the most enjoyable way. And when the painting was done and there was nothing left to do but actually attach the painting to the card stock and put it in an envelope I turned into a disinterested loafer. 

Once again I am reminded that it is the creative process that draws me to painting. It is the opportunity to use paint for self expression that drives the art making - not the final product.  

I was up until about 3 a.m. on Dec. 23 putting the cards into the envelopes. And at that time I hatched a plan for 2015 - paint the cards all year long - don't wait until December to start. Have the envelopes addressed by August, and maybe in 2015 there will be time to put up a tree.  

 2015 Challenge: Paint Your Heart Out

So probably you are wondering what any of this has to do with the current 30 day challenge I am taking on. Well, first of all, I'm pretty busy this month and I know there will be days when I cannot paint. I was going to paint today but needed some way of easing into it - like figuring out how I was going to connect the 30 days to my practice.  

As usual, I have a number of unfinished paintings waiting to be "done" - and hopefully the challenge of painting everyday will lead to working on finishing some of the more demanding pieces I have in progress. On the other hand, I want to celebrate, to practice some joyfulness, to experiment with some abstracts, experiment with some pigments - and would like the 30 days to be the jumping off place for a year of painting whatever my heart desires - or thinks it desires. 

I decided to post the angel for day one because I just came off a challenge of my own making - 84 paintings. It's sort of cheating by not doing a painting today - I'm borrowing from last week. But reviewing my card paintings today served as an inspiration for the January challenge -  I know I can do a 4.5" x 6.5" painting a day.  Here is a small sample created on PicMonkey (cropped images) of some of the paintings I did in December.
In this 30 day challenge I will continue my series of 4.5" x 6.5" paintings, and more. My focus will be on keeping it real - painting from the heart - being fearless in my quest for meaning and self-expression.