What Do You Do When You Ain’t Got Nothing?

A graphic pen and ink doodle of a human head in profile on a yellow background. The head has a with hole in it.

Have you ever had to make a speech?  What about an interview?  You know you have one shot to make an impression.  You want to be prepared and confident.  A lot may be expected of you.  What do you do when you ain’t got nothing?

I think of the old silent movies.  A scene shows a merchant demanding payment from the scamp drifter.  The drifter pulls his empty pant pockets inside out and shrugs.  The merchant protests, arms waving and fingers pointing.  Then, “ah-HAH!”  an idea comes to the drifter.  Some sort of solution is manifested and somehow all is well again.

Sometimes the harvest from the field of ideas is abundant.  Other times, it is like the empty pockets of the drifter.  The moral of our drifter’s story is often about faith and perseverance.  The drifter’s attitude is one that offers the sunny side of the street, and that you may be down but you’re never out.  Something will turn up so long as you hold out for it.

Still Nothing

That is fine but being at a loss for what to say or do is a feeling of predicament.  How does one generate ideas when nothing seems to come?  The ticking clock only seems to make things worse.  The longer the wait for an idea the less likely it seems anything will spark. 

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The Simple (Still) Life

Still life original oil painting with wine bottle, coffee cup and pot, drapery.
Still Life Afternoon – Curtis Green

Here is a painting that relies heavily on the compositional arrangement of the objects.   I was doing some research into academic painting and the arrangement here was developed from some simple studies in formal composition.  I set up the objects according to some of the basic principles suggested from my readings. This included a backdrop and a steady source of light from a large window.

The process was different from “direct painting” where the rendering of the objects is created by directly applying paint onto the canvas and resolving the image without drawing or preparation of underpainting.  Instead, this one was “brought up” with a charcoal drawing and fixed in place with a fixative.  A thin under painting was made with a light raw umber to describe the basic lights and darks and to put a first layer of paint onto the canvas.  Over the course of a few days, color was added layer by layer in what is considered and older or more “academic” method of working, until the last thicker highlights were placed.

Afterword, I found that the formal compositional strength appears to play against the airiness of the diffused light as it is softly rendered.  So it seems, that one of the nice aspects of painting in this very “traditional” manner is its ability to allow the most subtle notes to harmonize and have a particular loveliness, particularly in a serene arrangement such as a still life.

Note:  Tap or zoom into the image to get a good view of the subtleties. This painting belongs to a private collection.

Taking the Time to Know Nothing

A Sketch by the Creek at Lazy W, 2018 by Curtis Green

Of course, during storms and natural disasters, nature can be very humbling.  However, it can be just as humbling by venturing into a place of tranquility. A sensation of solemnity takes hold of you, quiets you and produces within, a desire to tread only lightly.  Sometimes the peace is pleasantly overwhelming, it may be like taking the time to know nothing. Take time to do this and nature will be glad to demonstrate her quiet beauty. 

Getting Familiar

At this Creekside, where I was, there is beauty among the poison oak. There is oozing muck at the waters edge and at times, wild animals.  There are rays of sunlight and shelters of cool shade.  An isolated sound of a single bird, the background of a constant gurgle of water, the smell of damp leaves, the feel of a mild breeze.  When sitting long enough to observe a place or moment such as this, personal importance disappears. 

A Sketch by the Creek at Lazy W, 2018 by Curtis Green
A Sketch by the Creek at Lazy W, 2018 by Curtis Green

I like to take in the space I am in before starting to paint. A little meditation helps me to arrive in place. Especially after dragging my stuff from the car. A moment to listen, see, and smell the surroundings informs my sense of what to look for as a painting. I forget what I know and and I start to notice little things that has character or rhythmic line. At some point, I see it.

Slowly, I raise the easel and extend its wooden legs. A fresh canvas placed upon it.  I place colors on the palette, one by one.  A brush is selected and is ready in my hand. 

I ask, “Where now, nature, shall you have me begin?  What shall you have me see? 

“I Discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.”
– 1 Corinthians 9:27  NKJV

Some Finer Points on the Art of Reckless Abandon

Aycil Smoosh - Curtis Green
Aycil Smoosh, 2018 by Curtis Green

I was having a conversation with a friend about Rock n’ Roll music. During interviews, some of the most admired writers and musicians of the genre have said they don’t think much of themselves as musicians.  Some have said they believe they sound terrible. Some believe they do not play their instruments very well.  Others who are loved for their vocal stylings say they can’t stand the sound of their voice!   Why then, we may ask, are they successful and appreciated?   We seemed to be discussing some finer points on the art of reckless abandon!

Just Making it Work

According to our conversation, what these people supposedly lack in technical proficiency, they make up for with their conviction, energy and vision.  These musicians are somehow compelled to make what ever it is they need to make, in the manner that it is necessary. The primary framework may be understood, but their limitations become challenges. They start to invent ways to arrive at where they want to be. That idea itself could be a definition for creativity.

“It’s analog, it’s the mistakes that we love, it’s what makes us appreciate that we are human.” my friend said.   

Beautifully Ridiculous

In painting, the same can be true at times.  Pushing paint feverishly into the weave of the canvas is like sending a power chord through a stack of Marshall amplifiers.   The “craft” is far from being considered. The energy and intention is being blurted out without any care for perfection.  In this sense, the act of making art, within any genre, is as abstract and absurd as it is beautifully ridiculous.

Model: Aycil Yeltan

Translating Flowers into a Painting

Oil painting of pink and white flowers in a glass jar.

Flowers are an attractive subject, but they are also one of the most difficult for a painter.  Why?  One reason is in translating flowers into a painting.  There are so many ways to approach an arrangement of flowers.  The attraction may be the variety of color or the “prettiness” of the subject. Maybe you like the challenge of so much detail of every leaf and petal.  Often the intention at the beginning of the painting turns into something very different as the process goes on.  

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My Sunday Afternoon Painting Inside

Restful Reading on a Sunday Afternoon. Oil Painting Portrait of a woman resting. of a woman - Curtis Green

I had no idea I would be spending my Sunday afternoon painting inside.  There was no plan to do this.  This was a spontaneous set up.  I was not at my studio, but there were some materials laying around, so I simply worked with what I had. 

Getting the Afternoon Started

My wife wanted to read her book.  She was leaning back in the day bed near the open window.  A breeze was gently blowing in and the air was fresh.  Immersed in the book she was reading at the time, she agreed to let me do some studies of her, so long as she could rest.  No problem. I laid down a sheet, set up my small easel, put out three colors on my palette with a white and started working.

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