Flashlight (IVAN: Weeks 7-8)

“When you’re in a class, give the instructor the benefit of the doubt. Do it their way. But I see it as bad teaching if ten years later the student is still painting like the teacher.” – Gary Faigin

By late October 2020, it was too cold to socialize outside for very long, and nor were we spending time indoors with anyone, including our good friends in the building. I even wore a mask while petting a best friend’s dog.

My hours were constrained by work, but I painted in the garage when I could, using a small space heater to stay warm.

My last still-life setup in the garage depicted a flashlight with a bunch of CDs arranged to resemble a bouquet of flowers. These were placed on the rear side of a blank canvas. An intended companion piece was to show a lush floral display on the other, “right” side of the canvas. The depiction of a sonic flashlight on the reverse was to represent the secret behind the painted illusion, that whether digital or analog, it’s all tricks of the light.

As a compositional guide, I created an armature and brought out the compass to calculate a golden ratio.

I started with a charcoal value study and then did a small panel as a thumbnail.

GF: “There’s a big difference between a cool concept that’s an intellectual idea and a cool concept that makes a strong visual statement. Since we’re in the visual statement business, the concept is only as successful as this visual statement that goes with it. If it’s a great idea but a weak visual statement, the idea isn’t worth anything. This one happens to read strongly on the canvas.”

“I’m dubious about the back of the painting as something you want to preserve. You have a central element which is really interesting, and then this secondary element which doesn’t add to your concept.”

I took the maestro’s advice and simplified the overall concept, but not before assaulting the thumbnail with a palette knife and the remaining paint on my palette, changing the delicate CDs into meaningless textured squiggles cutting into a muddy dark background. Instead of being something to ponder with sustained pleasure, it became the physical record of an emotional encounter with an artifact of painting, still containing the traces of reluctantly abandoned ideas.

Restarting on a larger canvas, I flipped the setup on its axis.

GF: “Put in more contrast on the flashlight, and a darker shadow. There’s always an advantage in having a bigger value range. With darks in the shadow, it gives us enough room to put down some deep reds for the flashlight. We can get a stronger statement of color for that flashlight. The only problem is that it’s such a big change that you’d have to redo the whole picture, go through the CDs and find all the darks where they’re lying on each other. In this case, a change in one part requires you to adjust everything else.”

GF: “That’s the wrong paint texture. CDs are smooth. The point of our paint is to help express the physical quality of what we’re painting. And in this case, using that really gnarly tree-bark texture is contradictory to CDs. It’s a common fault with people who have been painting for a short amount of time.”

Sun in an Empty Room

My 98-year-old father had fallen ill. In early November, while pondering absence and death, I did a value study of a late-period Edward Hopper painting. The view through the window is almost completely blocked out, leaving only only a small curve of sky at the top. And yet the low light still illuminates the room.

Value study of Edward Hopper, Sun in an Empty Room

Link: Edward Hopper | Late Work | The Art Institute of Chicago

GF: Use charcoal going forward. Pencil doesn’t read the light as well as I would like. It’s all about the light and the brightness. So charcoal, ink wash, acrylic, so that we can go for the light effects. Leave the pencils out of these tonal studies.

Leon H Schneider died on November 7, 2020 [Obituary].

Read his adventures growing up during the Great Depression, his wartime service as a WWII-era Merchant Mariner, his travels as a ship’s officer, and finding love in LEON: A LIFE (Old Convincer Publishing, 2019).


2 replies on “Flashlight (IVAN: Weeks 7-8)”

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