Friday, July 18, 2008

A Thirty Year Old Mushroom

Actually it’s a thirty-one year old mushroom . . .

I’ve been cleaning out my house. I mean, cleaning out my house. Up in the attic I found two old paintings I made when I was seventeen years old. One was too large for me to scan. The other just barely fit on the flatbed of the scanner I use.

Over the years, I’ve posted drawings and colored drawings I’ve made. But I’ve never posted a painting. Partly that’s because although I’ve done some painted sketches in the last few years, I haven’t actually painting a real canvas for a long time. Also it’s because I think of Impossible Kisses as a literary blog and while drawings can complement prose, paintings—in my mind—deserve to be the center of attention. (When they’re painted by real painters, I mean, not by animation-wannabes like me.)

But a blast from my past—one from the vaults—is a different story. I don’t mind posting a painting I did when I was a teenager. Plus, it’s sort of a Goblin Universe kind of image.

This is an acrylic painting on a 9" by 12" canvas board. On the back, I signed it and dated it November 10, 1977. I remember painting this—and some others very similar—but I have no specific memories of my thought process. I remember quite a bit about the techniques behind this image, but almost nothing at all about the thinking behind the image. I’ve never assigned titles to my paintings, but I’m guessing this would be something like, ‘Mushroom on a Dark and Stormy Night:’

First I’m going to talk about what I don’t remember.

I don’t remember why I painted the mushroom dead center on the panel. As a teenager I’d been interested in photography for a long time so I knew that, compositionally, centering a subject was not a good thing to do.

I don’t remember why I painted the foreground and the background as completely separate planes, disconnected.

I don’t remember why I painted the mushroom green. So far as I remember, I’ve never seen a green mushroom. And so far as I know, mushrooms don’t even grow green—green is chlorophyll for turning sunlight to energy but mushrooms grow in the dark.

And I don’t remember why I painted a mushroom at all. I don’t have any particular mushroom jones, but at that point in my life I did paint quite a few mushrooms in some odd settings . . .

I do remember quite a bit about the techniques I used to make this painting.

When I was a teenager, I was a very big fan of the techniques of Nancy Kominsky. I didn’t—then—think much of her realistic, kind of sappy images, but I very much liked the way she created a wide range of paintings using only one or two palette knives and a very straightforward methodology.

I followed her general procedure almost religiously. (Come to think of it, now—thirty-one years later, when I paint, I still follow her procedure almost religiously and I still very much like using only one or two palette knives and a very straightforward methodology. Nancy Kominsky has colonized my brain!)

I would have used a brush to cover the canvas with an umber wash. I would have divided the canvas into thirds vertically and fifths horizontally. Then I would have used a brush and thicker umber paint to sketch the background and foreground. Then I would have used a palette knife to mix up three values for each local color in the painting—three values for the background, three for the stem, three for the cap and three for the underside of the cap. Then I would have used one or two painting knives to apply the paint, making an effort to get dynamic with the application—just strokes, dabbles, stipples and scratches—but to keep the application itself simple and unobtrusive at the same time.

Back then I used only Liquitex acrylics. [Liquitex has a very cool 50th Anniversary site.] I still like Liquitex paints. I believe they’re still the only paints that include full Munsell color information on every tube of paint. The conscious part of my brain likes having those numbers available. Nowadays I would paint with water soluble oils as a first choice because you get the same color intensity as acrylics but much longer drying time, more time to fix mistakes—or take advantage of ‘happy accidents.’ And if I were going to use acrylics I’d first reach for Winsor & Newton acrylics. Their paints have a unique texture—and smell!—that I like a little better than Liquitex. But I still like Liquitex!

It’s been fun looking back at this old painting. It’s made me miss the whole process of painting the Nancy Kominsky way. If I were going to create backgrounds for animation, I’d consider doing paintings in this fashion.

And I’ll be honest: Part of me would very much like to sit down (actually, back then I painted standing up) and do up a few more paintings like this right now. There are a couple of ‘cloud-scapes’ I’ve been wanting to paint. I’ve been wanting to paint a scene of the container of zinnias next to my house. And one or two other things. But I don’t think I can reasonably budget any of my time right now to puttering away painting. It’s one of those things with—so far as I can see—no hope for ROI (return-on-investment) of any kind. I think I have to be sensible, right now, and budget my time very thoughtfully.

But, you know, in my deepest secret soul I’d like to be painting . . .

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