A Tender Cradle

One thing that's little understood by the public is how artists grow their paintings. I often tell my students that when a good idea first comes to you it tip toes into your consciousness. Even for your
best ideas it's more likely to whisper to you than shout.

The trick is to give the idea water, nurturing, and patience until it's grown enough to stand on its own and let you work with it. The whole idea of drawing as a fine art in the Western tradition came from the artists of old gently rocking their ideas in the cradle. They made working drawings. The great masters made drawings, usually lots of them, to figure out where they wanted to go before they did a painting. Drawing, a medium where one can more quickly erase and adjust than with oil pigments, was a perfect bridge between the great masters' imaginations and their finished paintings. 

Above is my painting Equinox, oil on panel, 30 x 45". It came about from the fusion of several images I had been kicking about in my mind. One was thinking back to my boyhood amazement at the flocks of migrating birds I'd watched coming back from Canada each fall. The would stop along the shore of Lake Ontario by my home near Rochester, New York. Another was a fleeting glimpse I saw of the monumental San Francisco Peaks in a snow storm in Flagstaff, Arizona. Somehow I knew I wanted to pull these two disparate images together to make a painting. Sort of like cautiously feeling your way forward in a dark room when you're looking for the light switch, I at first tried out some compositions in vine charcoal.

Some pastel color studies followed...and as the color is added you can also see the shapes being maneuvered into better positions and firmer contours.

Ramsay Barnes, an MFA former grad student at MICA who a while back had helped me teach one of my classes, is now on the Faculty at Friends School of Baltimore. He invited me to have an exhibition there next month. One of the themes he is particularly eager to demonstrate with the show is the process an artist uses to make his/her work. Thinking about this, we are planning on showing some of the preparatory drawings alongside some of their related  finished paintings.  I like that idea very much. Equinox is a likely candidate for that show.

Below is Eye of the Sea, oil on panel, 14 x 28" which is headed up to New York this week for the show at George Billis Gallery, Earth's Shadow: Landscapes by Philip Koch (Dec. 11 - Jan. 19).

The piece has a roundabout history. It was begun in the Texas Hill Country outside of Austin. I loved the unusual reddish tint to the dry soil out there. But I felt I needed a different background than the locale provided. After trying out several alternatives in oil, I decided to invite the Atlantic Ocean to flood the far valley. To flesh out this imaginary marriage I made the vine charcoal drawing below to help guide my insertion of a new background into the world of the foreground.

You can see I didn't follow the drawing exactly in the final version. Rather it was a guide to get me heading in the right direction. 


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