Thursday, October 29, 2015

Bringing An Idea To Canvas

Living in the St Croix Valley of Minnesota, I spend a lot of time hiking our State Parks.  Although, I certainly do lug my gear to these same places, it's often times I see something I  need to paint when my paints are not at hand.  So, I take a quick photograph and make some mental notes of the color harmony and the emotion I get while looking at the scene.  This is an interesting way to start a painting.  For me, it makes the painting process more conceptual than just reacting and attempting to capture the scene at hand when painting en plein air.  The series of studies below, is my way of working out my 'problems' on canvas before actually hitting the larger canvas.  

The idea or inspiration was first introduced to me when coming in from a hike at dusk in William O'brien State Park in the fall.  I only had my iPhone along, so quick took a shot with my phone and stood making mental notes to myself of the impression at hand.  What struck me most was the strong abstract shape of the water jetting through the land and how the land seemed to dissolve away.  These memories are important to retain in order to hopefully translate this vision with paint in the studio.  

I thought I'd share how I bring my ideas or 'concepts' to canvas.  As much as I'd love to just start painting this concept out on my larger piece, I find it seriously helpful to work out my ideas and problems in small studies first.  This is not reinventing the wheel here, but to some this is might be a new way of working out their painting problems.  I first learned a similar method or approach years back from Marc Hanson.  It was really helpful and still is!  Now this is the format in which I teach my plein air to landscape classes.  

1.  The first study in value, is for me to work out my larger simple more abstract shapes.
2.  Next, I take the value study and work up the painting with 1/2 tones, playing with variety in texture and edges.
3.  The third study is when I start working out my values as color.  I'm very deliberate to only paint in the average colors of each shape.  No place to hide this way!
4.  And lastly, I put all the pieces together practicing 'working out my problems'.  It's freeing because these are just 'studies'.  No stress, no fears, just painting out my ideas.  

At this point in the process, I'm feeling pretty confident in moving ahead to my larger painting.  The physical act of painting is easy, it's the BRAIN work that's hard!  :)   

studies painted on a 16x20 board
"Evening Whisper"
14x18 oil on canvas panel
© Kami Mendlik 2015

Friday, October 23, 2015

Broke, but with dignity!

"Autumn's Light"
18x24 oil on stretched linen
©Kami Mendlik

"Autumn's Light" is my latest piece from the studio inspired by the property right outside my studio window. Also, my own backyard! This is a very common scene here in the midwest, a mix of deciduous trees, along with a mix of pines; native grasses; and in this case, goldenrod which had just turned subtle shades of gray after it's intense couple weeks of warm yellows. And also not uncommon, a pasture divided by a dirt road, lined perfectly with telephone wires. 

I don't know what it is with me, but there's almost nothing that stokes me more than loading up the palette knife with paint and laying in telephone wires! I remember one time years ago as a younger artist, I was commissioned to do this incredible large scene of the St Croix from the balcony of my clients home. The vista view, nothing short of remarkable for sure. However, what interested me most was the break in the horizontal landscape of the dynamic telephones poles running across the river and up into the sky, then the droopy tension of the wires connecting from pole to pole! So, I finish the painting, show the collectors, they say "we love it, except we want you to take out the ugly telephone poles". . . Say what?! I did not. That was the day I went home with a painting of a beautiful vista river scene with telephone wires in the back of my car, broke but with dignity. 

At the time, I had no idea how often in years to come I would reflect on that moment of strength. There are so many times I think of the courage I had as a young painter, and wonder, where did that come from?? Logically, I had no business turning down that commission, I had no money, and for sure needed it. But I remember thinking, if I'm going to do this thing, I am going to do this thing honestly! I've now painted the river more times than I could possibly tell you, but that time, my curiosity was driven by the juxtaposition of those lines. The painting happened because of that curiosity, which has lead me here today. What if the curiosity was not driving the force, or was taken away because someone else didn't want it that way? I wonder then, what part would be the art? Would I still be the same painter I am today? I believe moments like that, are the moments that make us the artists we are, and are going to be. 

Now, would it have mattered to anyone else if I would have put them in or taken them out? Probably not. It mattered to no one else but me, just like most of the things I'm driven to paint. But if I'M not interested in what I'm painting, NO one will be interested in my paintings. It's not what we paint, it's how we paint it. Like Hawthorne stated "make much out of little, not little out of much!". I love that, and think of him and his inspiring words daily. Which leads me to the theme of the painting above! "Make much out of little, not little out of much!"