Friday, August 4, 2017

Through a Glass Darkly thesis show, March 2017

Where were we?

Here are some photos from my thesis reception at Carroll Gallery at Tulane University in New Orleans. Thanks everyone for coming out!

The show was titled Through a Glass Darkly. Since I had primarily been a plein air painter before starting grad school at Tulane, I wanted to address the use of photographs in my new painting process.  Below is an excerpt of my artist statement for this show:
The title of the exhibition, Through a Glass Darkly, refers to the use of a camera lens that first captured these images as reference photographs before human hands abstracted them into paintings. Another layer of glass (the windshield of a moving vehicle) further influenced the paintings in the passenger series. The hazy landmarks and suggested details fall into the darkness, or they are just an illusion all along. Imaginary fog, smoke, and smudges on the windshield indistinguishably meld together on the painted surface. The vertical marks made by printmaking brayers resemble pixelated digital images, in addition to a driving rain on the windshield. The ambiguity of blurred forms invites active looking, imaginative interpretations, and contextual guesswork by the viewers based on their memories.
Another reference is made to Ingmar Bergman’s 1961 film of the same title that the filmmaker adopted from a biblical phrase. The expression is used to explain having the “obscure or imperfect vision of reality,” and that “we do not now see clearly, but at the end of time, we will do so.”[1] The paintings may seem bleak or out of focus, but in each image there is light at the end of the dark tunnel. Using the New Orleans nightscapes as the subject matter, these paintings express the sense of unease, as well as fear and excitement by what may lie ahead.

[1] "through a glass darkly". The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005. Web. 25 March 2017.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Post-Grad School Thoughts on... Creating Luck and Timing

Mmmmm, the title doesn't make any sense, does it? Luck and timing are, for the most part, beyond one's control.

When a museum curator gave a talk to my grad school class, she mentioned that in order to become a successful artist, being good at what you do isn't enough. There is luck and timing involved, she said, and I completely agree with her.

I dreamed of becoming a full-time painter - that's like saying "I want to be a musician!" or "I want to be a writer!" - as I used to have a day job and only painted on weekends. But even the successful painters I've met in the past two years have side gigs that sustain them when things are tough: You need to have a savings account for the rainy day.

So going to a grad school was my introduction to painting sort of full-time (between history class and teaching a foundation course) and for two years painting was pretty much all I did.  I stopped cleaning the house and cooking. I didn't go out to eat or see movies. I didn't even have a part-time job, and it felt strange, but great. It was also difficult for sure, I mean what do you expect, right?

And I didn't try to sell any of the paintings that I made at school, and that allowed me to have a stock of paintings near graduation. Large and small, some horribly executed, others less. About a week before my thesis show was to open, a friend of mine asked me to hang 3 paintings for a group show set to open in two days. Four days after my thesis show opened, another group show opened on the other side of town that included 6 of my recent paintings. I was also invited to take part in a fundraising group exhibit/sale in that same period with two botanical-themed works. This will never happen again I'm sure. No one can plan on stuff like that and if I knew ahead of time, I probably would have said no to couple of them. But they all came at a great timing, and luckily I had enough paintings to cover them all. (And quite a few of them found new homes!)

Creating luck and timing, by being prepared, is all I can do for now. If you build it, he will come... whoever he is. I don't mean in just making a bunch of paintings. Writing about and promoting your work are also important. Having friends, colleagues and mentors that support you and your work are invaluable, and I'm extremely lucky to have met & studied with so many wonderful human beings in the past two years! I wish I had everyone's headshot...

Monday, January 2, 2017

Learning the Hard Way pt.3

My search for the best alternative paint thinner is coming to a close pretty soon. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel!

The latest non-toxic solvent of choice is... Art Treehouse's Biobased Artist's Thinner.

This soy-based thinner doesn't really make the traditional oil paint 'glide' like Gamsol does, but hey I've been able to paint with my windows closed. No headache, no sore throat, no need to listen to Nick Cave or Leonard Cohen. Plus, it doesn't make the paint oily or glossy. The drying time doesn't change either. It's a bit more expensive than Gamsol but I'd be happy to pay extra! 

(note: I use this thinner by itself to thin the paint for the initial layer of alla prima painting process & cleaning - probably not suitable for glazing, etc., or I have no idea how this will act with other mediums since I don't use any)

Yeah baby

Friday, July 29, 2016

Learning the Hard Way pt.2

This is not good. 30 minutes into the painting session, I had to stop and vacate the area. I should have known, well, I knew it was a big trouble from the moment I opened the cap of my new paint thinner. But somehow I ignored all the signs for the purpose of experiment.

I could feel my throat swelling and starting to block the airway, and I could hear my braincells dying. (not really). The windows on my left were open and a fan was blowing air towards the windows about 6 feet away. My easel, palette, and the solvent cup was situated between the fan and the windows as usual.

Below is the updated list of solvents that I have used so far to thin oil paint, from harsh to mild:
artist-grade turpentine
Xtra-Mild Citrus Thinner
tie: Gamsol & Neutral Thin
(*this list is not based on any scientific data, and I have nothing to do with any of the manufacturers.)

The Citrus Thinner was the one I tried earlier today, and I still can't feel my throat when swallowing food or drinks. Have you painted with solvent when you have a bad cold with sore throat? It kinda feels like that. But again, it's not the thinner's fault, I'm just the unlucky one.

this smells like turpentine mixed with citrus oil.
not great for upper-respiratory ailment sufferers.

I love orange. I love citrus oil. But we were just not meant to be together, Xtra-Mild.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Learning the Hard Way pt.1

It's been a while since I last painted with traditional oil paint with solvent.

About 10 months ago I was given a nice studio space, and took a leap into studio painting. Almost immediately I started having horrendous headaches accompanied by sore throat, stuffy nose, and eye irritation that lasted for 4-5 months, and eventually, I even developed a mild depression. I thought I was having a bad sinus infection the whole time. It turned out that I was having a severe reaction to the solvent, although (I thought) the studio was well-ventilated. It was a total surprise because I had been using the same solvent (Gamsol) for more than 5 years at that point, and yeah, I've had headaches and sore throats in the past when I painted indoors for 8 straight hours in well-ventilated room dozens of times. But the symptoms used to go away the next day. This time around, I was in the very, very dark place for a long time.

I stopped using oil paint all together in the studio because it was the first semester of my MFA program where I didn't have time or energy to explore the alternatives. Plus I was painting monochromatic landscapes in black anyway, so I switched to sumi ink for the rest of the year.

But the funny thing is that the residual effect lasted about 2 months after I stopped using the damn thing. Serious health hazard.

Don't get me wrong though: I'm not advocating for a total solvent industry overhaul. Some painters have no problem whatsoever inhaling damar-linseed-turp cocktail everyday with just an open window. I happen to be the unfortunate one. I remember wondering why I couldn't stop crying in my beginning oil classes 8 years ago, which was my first encounter with paint thinner.

Now the school is off for the summer, and I've been experimenting with water soluble oil paints, as well as regular oil paints with various mediums such as walnut oil, safflower oil, and Gamblin's Galkyd Gel and Solvent-Free Gel / Fluid.

First, the water soluble oil paints:
You can clean your brushes with soap and water after you're done painting. That's a plus. But to thin the paint, water should be avoided or you'd end up with paint mixtures a couple of shades lighter on your palette. It's kinda like acrylics: they dry darker on your painting surface.  And like acrylics, the paint gets sticky pretty quickly on your palette and on your canvas, but unlike acrylics, not dry enough for the next layer.
W&N Artisan is the most stiff paint out of the tube, I think. Thinned with water, it turns extremely tacky and difficult to manipulate. I heard that they are meant to be used with their own painting mediums and not with water. All water mixable oils seem to be that way, too.
Cobra may be the most fluid - like buttah. So Cobra could be used straight out of the tube without thinning. They also sell Cobra Painting Medium in a tube which is basically Cobra paint without pigment, and Glazing Medium which is basically an oil medium with honey-like consistency. The problem with those mediums is that they slow down the already slow-drying Cobra paints. Sure, with Painting Medium the paint becomes a bit transparent, and with the Glazing Medium, a lot transparent and runny: but the paint doesn't become "thin" as I'd like my first layer to be. And there is no way I'm using Glazing Medium on my first layer because - remember 'fat over lean'? And since I paint in layers in alla prima pretty much, I can't sit for a week to watch the first layer to dry.

Cobra Painting Medium and Glazing Medium

Second, the painting medium black hole:
I had been avoiding any mediums because I was (and still am to a certain degree) a plein air painter, and there is a limited space in my backpack. But I went wild in a local art store the other day and got everything I was interested in using, both with water soluble and traditional oil paints.
Galkyd Gel works really well with Cobra, since the alkyd resin speeds up drying time. The gel makes oil colors a bit transparent & spreadable, therefore great for first layer, but not so great for respiratory system. It is too fast-drying for me to use with regular oil paints.
Walnut/safflower oils don't smell, affect my throat or give me headaches. But they are oils with consistency of Cobra Glazing Medium, and slooooow drying: definitely not for the first layer or alla prima painting.
Solvent-Free Gel and Fluid are great in that they are made, you guessed it, without any solvents, and speeds up drying time a tiny bit. Solvent-Free Gel is similar to Galkyd Gel, but not as fast drying as Galkyd Gel. The synthetic alkyd doesn't give me any headaches and I can paint all day with this stuff with windows closed. Same with the Fluid, and they are clearly the winners - although they make your painting glossy. Oh and they don't "thin" the paint at all, so I ended up with glossy impasto everywhere.   You could add Cold Wax Medium to counter that glossiness, but that will slow down the drying... A black hole. Can't win. Still, you could coat the finished painting with matte varnish so the glossiness may not be a big deal.

Gamblin Galkyd Gel

Gamblin Solvent-Free Gel

Gamblin Solvent-Free Fluid

I think that Solvent-Free Gel / Fluid with either water soluble oils or traditional oils would be the healthiest choice, and they don't change the original drying time of oil paints too much.
Except, they still don't thin the paint!!!!!

Here's a list of solvents that I have used in chronological order (from harsh to mild):

artist-grade turpentine
Gamsol (a.k.a. Odorless Mineral Spirits)
Neutral Thin

I gave Neutral Thin a try for a week recently. I was hoping that Neutral Thin would be my savior, since it was reviewed as a teeny bit milder than Gamsol (like, 0.002%). Neutral Thin worked well for thinning paint and cleaning the brushes, exactly like Gamsol. And exactly like Gamsol, I developed a headache and sore throat halfway into the 3-hour painting session. Yes I had a huge open window on the left side of me, and a fan on the right, blowing air towards the window across myself and the solvent.

Somebody help me...

underpainting with thinned oil paint

additional layers using less thinner

After the Rain in Black Pearl, New Orleans
oil on canvas, 24"x18"

Eco-House, the manufacturer of Neutral Thin, also sells a citrus-based thinner called Extra Mild Citrus Thinner. It's a mineral-oil based thinner with citrus peel oil, and according to their website it is 100% volatile, meaning it doesn't leave any residues after it's dry. Most citrus-based thinners are known to leave residues on your painting surfaces, so that's a plus. I just bought a small bottle of it and can't wait to try it. The window still has to be open to use this stuff, though.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Manchac, Louisiana

Phil took me out to paint on location for the first time in almost 2 months, and we went all out!  All the way out to Manchac that is, which is about 40 minutes northwest of New Orleans.

Manchac is located between Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Maurepas in Tangipahoa Parish. From where we set up on a narrow island on the Owl Bayou, we could see the underside of Highway 51 to the east, and the residential area only accessible via boats to the west.

I painted one of the unused boardwalks.

Manchac Boardwalk
oil on canvas, 14"x18"
Phil said that this painting looked tonalist. It definitely has a lot of grays instead of intense color.  I had never really thought about characteristics in paintings in terms of tonalist vs. colorist in the past. But now I enjoy looking at Whistler's nocturnes and Twachtman's landscapes more than before.

I hope that the cross-contour lines show how this short boardwalk twists in different directions. The boardwalk in real life looked beautiful in the dappled sunlight.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Thoughts on (Cheap) Brushes

Looking for different types of painting brushes on-line on a budget is not easy. At all.

I'm still in the process of learning how to paint, and learning how different types of brushes work. The best way to find out is to I guess use different types of brushes myself, right?

Each brand makes so many varieties of brushes. Sure, some websites nowadays mention the length and the width of the brush head because sizes in numbers don't mean anything. And they usually say 'long handle' or 'short handle.' That's it? I want to know how long your long handle is, on every brush size. I want to know if the handle becomes extremely skinny two inches away from the ferrule or gradually becomes skinny towards the end of the handle. How springy is a 'superb spring'?

I was spending too much time sitting at the computer instead of painting. So I went down to two different art supply stores just to take a look in person, and ended up buying 6 brushes in 2 varieties only because they were $3.99 each.

Big mistake.

Although I was aware of short life expectancies of cheap brushes, the way their lives ended one by one within days of each other was so funny that I actually laughed out loud en plein air a couple of times. And I'm known for not laughing out loud enough in hysterical situations.

the first casualty, death by decapitation

It's too bad, because I really liked these brushes - not too stiff, not too soft, with 'superb spring' one might say. But we weren't meant to be together, for more than two weeks.

this happened to the rest of them

Was it me? Honey talk to me. I'm begging you.