Art, Design, and the Long Conversation: Day Two of the White House Painting

In writing, there’s the adage never to share a work in progress. One could say it’s because everyone’s a critic, and the idea is to insulate the sensitive creative mind from undue outside influence. It’s the artist as genius argument. Another way to look at it is the more cynical view of the writer hiding the influence of the editor. Take Raymond Carver for example. When the true role of his friend and editor, Gordon Lish, came out, something shocking became apparent. That brilliantly stark, concise, potent style of his was the result of significant editing, sometimes up to 70%. This laid bare something that I see regularly in my day job: creativity is often best realized through collaboration. In a sense, it is a conversation with an output in mind.

Graphic designer Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich in his Design Matters interview, distinguishes art and design sort of along those lines: art is something done for yourself by yourself, while design is done with others for others. But how different are they really? I have come to think of art as a long beautiful conversation that spans generations and civilizations. Wouldn’t it be nice to some day be able to move that conversation, even slightly?

All of that was a way for me to lead into saying it is both awkward and exciting to share something in progress. It’s a micro-level engagement in the long conversation with friends.

I have a better feeling about this painting today. I had a realization this morning that allowed me to get more comfortable with it: I was approaching a big project with the tools and techniques fit for a small one. That reads like an after the fact justification for me buying a new brush today–a Princeton Neptune #6 quill. It takes a lot of water and flops around while still holding a point, which allows for both large but controllable washes and some nice foliage shapes for some under painting. I used it for this evening’s work, which included:

1. Adding Prussian Blue over the Phthalo blue in the sky to give it more character.
2. Adding a wet haphazard mix of Pthalo Green (PG7), Primary Red Magenta, and Permanent Yellow Deep to the foliage in front, then salting it.
3. Masking out the fence and window panes, as well as some while I wanted to retain in the trees.
4. Washing in the lawn, and blotting out a place for the tree on the right.
5. Fixing the drawing in a few places. I decided not to get too carried away, and just let whatever happens happen when I paint.
6. Splattering and dabbing in the base layer for more pronounced leaves.

That’s it for tonight as I let things dry. I think I will save the house details for last, so tomorrow is likely to be defining the trunks, branches, and leaves more fully.

Thanks for reading.



The Birdhouse of Doctor Caligari

I heard a charming and insightful interview recently on the Design Matters podcast. The guest was the man with the coolest name in history: graphic designer Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich. “Graphic design will save you!” is his mantra. There is a lot of good stuff about the importance of design as something that makes people feel happy and intelligent, and in so doing can bring together varied parties represented by the design, and bring together an audience. He also tells a few good stories. In a lead-in for why he wrote his alphabet book Bembo’s Zoo, he tells about how on his wife’s side of the family, the adults only exchange hand made gifts at Christmas. That sounds great in theory, but he and his wife are the only ones who have the tools or the talent to pull it off. One year they received what they called “the Birdhouse of Doctor Caligari.” Nothing lined up and it just looked like a wonderful artifact of German Expressionism.

The only connection between that story and what follows is the presence of a birdhouse, but any chance to say or write Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich is a chance worth taking. Also I like the image of Doctor Caligari as a backyard tweety bird.

The weather is finally turning towards a real spring in the DC area, and I got some plein air practice yesterday while visiting my parents. My dad designed and planted a beautiful shade garden in the back of their house, and I’ve wanted to paint back there for a while. Much of the attention grabbing plants haven’t come in yet, so I picked a birdhouse to focus on and filled in some background foliage to structure the composition. Doing so probably made this look more like a summer painting. I haven’t done much plein air painting, but I enjoyed it and learned a lot from this attempt about patience and trusting myself. While the bird house was interesting in and of itself, I wonder if it draws enough attention. As I look at the painting, I find my eye drawn to the light and shadow on the pole, not the birdhouse. Maybe a little more light on the roof and some darker areas in the foliage would help focus things a but better. That being said, I will feel more confident next time knowing that it came out all right and Doctor Caligari wouldn’t have a great interest in this birdhouse.

Thanks for reading.