The face divided (IVAN: Weeks 3-4)

Watch in cigar box. Watercolor on 9″x12″ paper

Word of the Week: PRECISE

During the Vietnam War, my father bought his-and-her Rolex watches at the PX. Before he died, he gave the “his” to my brother and mailed the “hers” to me. The watch was packed in an empty jar of face cream inside of a cigar box stuffed with crushed newspaper.

GF: Too busy. Too many textures. No smooth surfaces.

The watch didn’t fit. And it would have cost thousands to buy a new bracelet watch band, plus the ongoing expense of periodically overhauling the watch with aftermarket parts. And so I passed this memento along to my sister. But I should have kept the cigar box, that’s a keepsake for the ages.


Gimlet, or The Citrus Ship, or Le Bateau Ivre. In the original setup, I had garbage bags as the background, with various props underneath each of the the items to convey a sense of twisting and turning on a dark sea. I envisioned it on the wall of a poorly-lit dive, a barfly’s companion, or reflection.

GF: “You’ve taken on an ambitious subject.” “You have about three problem areas. One is the fabric [the garbage bag], which is just crazy complicated, one is the sails, which are less complicated, and one is the bottle.”

“I never do a painting without a thumbnail — it’s not about doing this precise drawing of your subject matter, it’s zooming in on the skeleton of your picture, what’s going to make that picture work. The point is you want to know where you’re going.”

“The background is making it hard to see everything else. It’s a never-never land, with no value or color, it’s not setting off the objects in a way that’s helping you render. Make a decision about the background as the next step. You’re going to find your objects are going to read much more dramatically when they have a background.”

I added a background, a tilted horizon line to retain the unbalanced sense, straightened out the bottle relative to the ship, and redrew the ship several times. I never quite finished it to my satisfaction.

I liked the first version better.

Word of the Week: DISSOLVE

Playing with the idea of dissolve-solvent. First layer in acrylic, a still life of a plaster cast skull on a platter. Second layer, self-portrait in oil. And then, using a paper towel dipped in solvent to wipe away portions of the oil to reveal parts of the the acrylic painting underneath.

GF: “The Met has an ivory carving from the medieval period that’s exactly like your image, the face divided. But your execution has something to be desired. You didn’t do yourself justice with the self-portrait. Try it again a couple years from now when you have more fluency with the flesh tones and the head structure and so on.”

“Artists in the late 20th and early 21st century are monsters for inventing techniques. I lose track of the number of shows where the artist had some complicated way of layering or pasting or removing to get an effect that you wouldn’t have expected. I have no patience for doing that kind of stuff, but the upside is you can get an image that nobody’s seen before.”

Next time, I’ll use an erasing shield to get more control over what gets taken away.

Rosary, ca. 1500–1525. Metropolitan Museum of Art.


2 replies on “The face divided (IVAN: Weeks 3-4)”

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