Mixing It Up
Philip Koch, The Sentinel, oil on panel, 28 x 42", 2010
I wanted to show you a little of my working process. Above and just below are two paintings I was working on just this morning. The Sentinel was begun a number of years ago from direct observation out in the town of Tomball, Texas (you may think I'm joking but I actually chose the location based on its name when I was looking at a map of the state. I confess my love of cats, including males, swayed me). I've moved back into the studio to finish the painting.
These days most of my moves come either from memory or my imagination. What I'm aiming at is a kind of painting that exists just a bit beyond the ordinary, as if perhaps I'm showing you the landscape as it might appear in one of your dreams.
Philip Koch, Northern Sky, oil on panel, 7 x 10 1/2", 2010
You'll notice the two paintings are radically different sizes. Northern Sky was completely invented in the studio with me imaging the a reverie of the day coming to a close. Painting from direct observation is hard I know well from the thirty plus years I worked that way exclusively. But inventing one's forms and colors out of one's head I find to be an even greater challenge. I only do it because I know no other way to get the results I desire.
It helps me enormously to work on one painting for a while and then set it aside to let my mind rest from all its strenuous imagining of how a scene might look. Instead I go and work on another painting for a length of time, and then set it aside as well.
Even when working on something else, in the back of our minds we keep chewing on the bone we started with the original painting. Our unconscious side needs time to mull things over. The advice to "sleep on it" contains a certain brilliance. When I return to a painting after a day or two, or even better longer, my hand seems to have a few good new ideas of its own.
Here's my studio late this afternoon, with Northern Sky up on the easel at the left with The Sentinel below it. At the right is another work in progress that has been part of my active rotation. It's 72 inches wide and employs a quite different palette than the other two paintings.
Switching from one to the other, and then to a third canvas keeps me going. I've never understood artists who insist on working on only one piece at a time. For me that would mean a less fertile frame of mind and would lead to painting a dull painting. Maybe for others it works, but an artist's job is to find how to play to his or her strengths. "Put it aside" is a watch phrase in my studio. It has served me well and I recommend it to others.