What is it to learn as an Artist? How does it manifest itself visually and viscerally? These are the questions that started my monthly on location paintings (en plein air) of spot 13 at the Shipley Nature Center in 2011 , and then spend 2012 creating work from that learned experience. (see series ‘A Year (2011) at the Shipley Center’ http://reekersart.com/wordpress/?page_id=29)
My first attempt at extracting from the studies was to repaint all twelve of the en plein air paintings done at the spot. This reintroduced me to the previous year of painting on location and helped me recall a sense of what is most dynamic about the scene: how the foliage changed over time, and how I felt while doing the work. (see gallery ‘Shipley Nature Center 2011’ http://reekersart.com/wordpress/?page_id=20)
To start this journey I began working on the larger oil painting, 36” X 48”, beginning by drawing out the basic shapes. The familiarity of the plants was a surprise during this drawing stage; it seemed as though my hand, mind and body were thoroughly familiar with the marks being made by my brush. I could draw in the basic impressions of a sage, or put down brushstrokes representing pine candles, or constructing a background of deciduous tree limbs; it was a very satisfying. I then began to lay out the basic tonal values of the scene, recognizing that the winter months cast the best light through the bare background trees. The color scheme was from memory of the en plein air paintings, taking note that the spring months had the best variety of cool greens against warm shadows. Once the painting was completed I presented it to our critique group and there were some very good suggestions that help me further define the space and saturate the colors (see critique post) . The final painting is something that I am very happy with.
Such great control sometimes warrants a process where the control is dubious, so in haste I did a quick monotype that I was doomed to be unhappy with. This process requires that you paint a glass plate and then place the paper over the plate, run it through a press and voilà see what you get! This is actually a good thing since it forced me to look at the scene in a new way, but at the same time I thought it was important not to lose the intuition that was gained from the previous year’s work. I couldn’t seem to capture the motif using the monotype process, though I tried using inks, oils and even drawing into the plate. I had to move to another medium if I was to move forward in the series.
I have a series of landscape woodcuts from trips my wife and I took that I thought would lend itself to the Spot 13 motif. The technique is a relief technique in which one carves into a wood panel and inks the panel using a rubber roller; the surface of the panel get inked, not the area that has been cut away. The result is a print where only the uncut areas of the panel print; called a wood block print. The type of image this makes is more in line with the painting since it requires defining the foliage accurately enough to give an impression of the plants and trees. I was happy with the results since it captured the essence of the natural scene yet gave it energy much like what I was feeling out there month after month.
The final process was to create monoprints from the woodcut by coloring the individual prints (Note a monotype is one of a kind and a monoprint is a print that has been altered). This was first done by using watercolors. The color choice was an interesting exercise since I had developed some wood blocks from my travels to Europe yet I painting them in colors unique to Japanese wood block prints, but then again having spent all that time en plein air painting, to in part specifically capture the colors in front of me, I was presupposed to use those colors for the print; from these two genre’s I believe I captured the “true” SoCal light while enhancing the print with a more saturated oriental color. From this established color scheme, I went back to the monotype method of painting the motif. This would have worked out great if I had not reverse the image; the result was a weird juxtaposition of colors and shapes that is exciting to look at, and good enough to keep, but it also encouraged me to correct the reversal. I finished the work as a monoprint using oilpaint brushed on Plexiglas, and then secondarily printing the wood block over it.
In truth, I had other projects that took up a lot of time in 2012, and I didn’t want to start on a new series until January 2013, so the artwork created above was sufficient enough to satisfy my exploration of what it looked like and meant to learn from the phenomenal experience of Spot 13 at the Shipley Center in Huntington Beach in the year 2011.