Category Archives: how

The Pony Tale

"The Pony Tale" - Carraher 2022

The Pony Tale
2022.  Acrylic and paper collage on canvas. 12 x 16 in.

I frankly scorn cheesy play-on-words titles, but this title occurred halfway through the piece and wouldn’t go away.  So I accepted it.  Gotta say this painting really pleases me.  I liked the strength and simplicity of the initial gesture, which was done with a flat brush rather than the round I’d usually use for this purpose.  And I’m also quite happy with the muted gray-green ground over the texturing contrasting with the range of reds.

But mostly I like the ambiguity between abstract and narrative here.  It almost seems like there is a “tale”, but then again not really.  It fits inside the crevice between.  I feel no compulsion to figure out which it is; it seems quite complete as is, with no need to be one or the other.  I like that place.

The New Look

"Harlequin" - Carraher 2021

Harlequin
2021.  Acrylic, charcoal, collage on canvas. 12 x 12 in.

Well, I finally did get some photographs of the new work.  This was one of the earlier pieces, from December, and it delights me.  This is the inside of my mind while listening to jazz, people.  Here you see what I’m really made of.  It’s like an x-ray of my synapses.

How it happened:  I drew with willow charcoal of two different diameters over a canvas texturized with my trusty Golden Light Modeling Paste.  I sprayed the charcoal with a workable fixative, and when the canvas was dry I stained it with a very diluted quinacridone gold acrylic paint, then brushed over in areas with more quin gold lightened with titanium white.

The collaged pieces are all deli paper painted with acrylic, and in this case I limited myself to bits I’d created specifically with the palette I’d chosen for this piece:  quin gold, quinacridone red, phthalo blue, and a little cadmium yellow. The more opaque paint bits had been applied to the deli paper with a palette knife; the translucent were more dilute and were brushed on.

This technique is basically what I’ve been using for most of the current works, of which I’ll share photos in the coming weeks.  On this one I put a lot of work into retaining the original feathery edges of the pigment on the collage paper; I think I’m getting better at that.  The earlier collages were rougher.

I get a lot of joy working with these shapes of pure color and combining them with a very textured colored surface and gestural line.  When the arrangement of these elements reaches a certain relationship the work springs to life for me and achieves a sense of inevitability.  Color me happy.

Slow Burner, Lots On It

Snapshot of work in progress.

Snapshot of work in progress.

So the mandarins have left behind the clock and the vodka and are now commanding their own solo investigation, as you can see in this snapshot.  Very sketchy, I know, but I tend to get happy with “sketchy” so we’ll see if anything more happens with this study.  In the meantime, though, I’m developing a similar sketch further with some blocks of color.  Of note, this sketch is on a 20-by-10-inch canvas and is entirely acrylic applied with a brush; the pastel has dropped out again.

The clock and the vodka are hanging on, meanwhile, in some new sketches as their own line of inquiry evolves.  Some striped wallpaper and a table may be appearing.

I’m spending a lot of studio time looking and thinking right now.  I’m pursuing several of the same lines that I was before Art Tours (and, indeed, for years in some cases), but I’m really taking it slow.  It’s time to stop stumbling down the same path and instead consider whether that path is leading me where I want to go, or if I now have the tools to sharpen my navigation and better visualize a route to a new destination.

I’m certainly spending much more time with this still-life subject than has been my habit in the past.  I’m really boring in, determined to find the connection of my impulse to render still-lifes to my personal vision and preferred methods of working.  Thus the repeated pots of mandarins and extended meditations!  It helps, though, to be doing some abstracts at the same time.  Having several items on the burner keeps everything moving along, with less chance of feeling stuck.

The truth is, I’m super happy to be back to work and may not be taking part in shows for a while.  Don’t want the distraction or the sense of a deadline.  Got plenty enough percolating right here in the studio.

Adventure

Snapshot of work in progress

snapshot of work in progress

You think you’ve seen this before, but you haven’t.  You’ve seen an earlier study of the same subject – what I’m thinking of as Time, Vodka, Mandarins.  Again, acrylic and pastel on paper.  If you saw it in real life you’d see it was stapled to a piece of foamboard and bordered with white tape.  There’s a few more changes I want to make to this; we’ll see if I actually get to them.  I’m already working on a third study.  

I’ve been pondering why I’m so averse to portraying form, as in three-dimensional perspective.   I’m quite capable of doing it; in fact, I have to work to not do it. Instead, I like a flattened surface that, if it has depth, it is only depth created with texture or such design elements as color or temperature or scale.  Abstraction and the deconstruction of perspective are other ways to avoid it, as in how I handled the homestead cabins in the Additional Dimensions series.  

Every time a piece veers towards modeling I quickly get irritated – literally hot under the collar – and bored.  Resentful, even.  The feeling that happens is that of a shift to the other part of my brain – the part that analyzes and makes calculations.  There’s a time and a place for that, of course, but it feels like work.  And I’m not painting to feel like I have a job.  I’m painting to have an adventure.  

On another note:  I hung some paintings today at the one-and-only Glass Outhouse Art Gallery in Wonder Valley as part of “Buh-Bye to 2021“, a group show curated by Suzanne Ross.  The show runs Dec 1-26 (including Christmas Day), with opening reception this Saturday 1-5 pm.  For the display I elected to bring several of my Bell Poems.  I thought they might be a quiet spot in the blizzard of works on view, not to mention the general chaotic conditions of this year soon ending. 

End of the Millennium

Snapshot of "End of the Millennium with Star"

Snapshot of End of the Millennium with Star

I wrote in my last post about my habit of returning to simple still-life set-ups after a prolonged interruption in the studio in order to regain my stride, and then quickly passing on to something looser.  Here’s another example, demonstrating that this practice goes quite a ways back.

At the turn of the millennium – more than 20 years ago now – we had a small party on my property with a very big bonfire.  When I acquired my five acres in 1999 there was quite a bit of debris, and I gathered this over months into a big pile.  That night we burned all the contents over many hours, ending up with the pile gone and a deep pit of cherry red coals.  It was pretty spectacular.

Anyway, one of the guests gave me a special bottle of wine and a yellow winter squash, curvy and heavy and lovely in that almost fleshly way winter squashes have.  Too lovely to cook, really, and so we didn’t.  After everyone was gone and the mess cleaned up, I staged the two items in a box and started painting them.  It began quite conventionally, like this:

Snapshot of "End of the Millenium"

This is pastel on a heavy watercolor paper.  It’s quite small, maybe 4 or 5 inches.  It got a name:  End of the Millennium.  (These are all just snapshots, by the way.)

Then I began playing a bit more:

Snapshot of "Millenium" study

I think this study is on sandpaper, and brought in some vine charcoal.  Again, just a few inches tall.

I liked what was happening, so I worked it up further, a little larger, again on sandpaper, with result as seen in the snapshot at the top of this post:  End of the Millennium with Star.  That final version is in the scribbling, layered style I was using at the time, before I began taking a brush to the pastels.

This cascade of deconstruction always ends up happening in these return-to-the still-life scenarios.  And then I’m done with still-lifes and on to something else.  Perhaps I’ve gotten the re-grounding, re-centering I need.  But I think more likely I just get reminded that I find conventional still-lifes profoundly boring to do, and in reaction I head towards something more exciting and then I’m back off and running.  There is something seductive in the prospect of the still life, but I’m still searching for the more direct route to the part that matters to me.

Back in the Saddle

Snapshot of work in progress - Carraher 2021

snapshot of work in progress

I’m finally back to real work in the studio.  I hate long interludes where I can’t paint; I really lose my stride and it’s hard to regain it.  On the other hand, I’ve been wanting to explore some new directions, and this recent break in continuity certainly provides that opportunity.  This tends to happen every few years, due to one thing or another.  And I’ve found my common first step to get back in the saddle is a still life – usually a conventional approach to start with, followed by lively disintegration into directions I’m more interested in.

Thus the acrylic and pastel in progress pictured above.  Of course, the big news here is the re-introduction of pastel, after my focus on acrylics the last few years.  I still feel more comfortable with a pastel rather than with a brush in my hand.  And it feels a little awkward, trying to work in both at the same time.  Even how to lay out my tools on the table is not obvious to me.  I’m really stumbling around, which is the opposite of what I’m seeking.  But it will get better.

There’s a set-up out there somewhere, a set of tools and an approach, that will let me just flow.  I can feel it.  I know it’s possible.  I’m getting closer.

The Blue Pot

"The Blue Pot" - Carraher 2019

The Blue Pot
2019.  Acrylic on canvas. 14 x 14 in.

I have a heavy (very heavy) blue ceramic pot that I picked up second-hand a few years ago.  It’s square in shape but with the sides slightly rounded and an unusual, wavy, multi-level lip around the top edge.  I’ve actually never planted anything in it, although plants get temporarily placed in it sometimes.  It’s pretty groovy.

I wanted to make a painting with it, and did some sketches a couple years ago.  It was tricky finding an approach that caught the aspects of it that interested me.  But I found this close-cropped, straight-on angle satisfying.  I was also at the time particularly interested in how Matisse handled pattern, and how often it showed up in his work.  So a little patterning got added to the sketch.  The palette was very simple, just raw sienna, phthalo blue, and a yellow, probably cadmium.  The drawing was brushed on the canvas very loosely, and my main interest was the intensity and weight of the blue.  I was not quite satisfied with the block of raw sienna in the upper right, and added the blue discs.

I liked the painting well enough but didn’t see where it fit in with the rest of my work.  I didn’t expect to show it at Open Studio Art Tours.  But on a whim I hung it up to replace another work that had sold, and it was quickly bought by a younger fellow who was furnishing his Mid-Century Modern mobile home.  He showed me some photos of the trailer and I must say it was pretty cool.  I was intrigued at the idea of this work in there.

When he and his friends were leaving they spotted the original blue pot on top of a low wall in my yard.  They were pretty excited to see it.  I’m kind of surprised they recognized it from this painting.  Says something, I guess.

Mop Up

"Satellite Beach" - Carraher 2021

Satellite Beach
2021. Acrylic on canvas. 16 x 12 in.

Whoosh!  Hwy 62 OSAT 2021 is over (for me – there is another weekend to come for many artists), and I’m exhausted but really glad I did it.  OF NOTE:  I will be leaving my work up in the studio through next weekend if anyone who did not have a chance to come by would like to see it.  Contact me and we’ll set up a time.

I’ll have more to say in other posts about the experience, but right now I’ll just note that everything went smoothly, all our preparations served us well, paintings went to new homes, and many wonderful art conversations were had.  Thanks to everyone who came by!  It was so satisfying to finally be seeing friends again, both old and new.

And now I can start obsessing about my artwork again, hah!  Satellite Beach, above, started at the same time and in the same way as Lighthearted, early in the year, but this one took much longer to declare complete.  It was a different process than I’ve been using lately, with an emphasis on mixing and balancing the colors – yellow iron oxide, Indian yellow, phthalo turquoise, and violet oxide, plus of course black and white.  The textured canvas gives the colors extra depth and the transparent colors more strength.  I hope to do more in the vein of Satellite Beach and Lighthearted.  I’m happy to say both of these paintings have found folks who love them.

I have lots to reflect upon in terms of the responses I observed to the work I had up.  Almost every collection got at least some love, and odd pieces did as well.  I must say it was encouraging.

If you want to see the show for yourself this week let me know and we’ll set something up!

Texture

"Carbon 6" - Carraher 2021

Carbon 6
June 2021.  Acrylic on canvas. 14 x 18 in.

Now that the studio is comfortable to work in again, I spent most of last week doing multiple photo trials of my more textured paintings.  It’s a tricky enterprise:  When you light the work to capture more surface texture, you trade away some of the other important qualities of the painting such as layers and variation in value and opacity.  It’s hard to hit the right balance.  I want to indicate the dimensionality and textural feel but I don’t want the “skin” of the painting to grab a disproportionate amount of the attention.  Ultimately, my goal in a photographic reproduction is to convey as closely as I can the sense of standing in front of the painting and experiencing it fully, in person, in all aspects.

This was an enterprise that did not fascinate me.  I am not a photographer and I don’t want to be one.  I’m just trying to record the work as “accurately” as I can.  And I’m a pretty dogged person, so I worked through all the variables that were reasonably available to me, which took some time.  In the end I realized that there was no perfect version, but rather just the version best for the particular purpose at hand.

As the importance of texture and dimensionality has increased in my work, my antipathy toward digital reproduction has been foregrounded.  There are SO many digital images saturating our every day, leading to a constant visual chaos and cacophony.  Perhaps it’s different for you, but I am left with a sense of emptiness and exhaustion.  More and more, I prize the actual, real-life artwork.  An experience of shallowness versus an experience of depth.

This is a main reason why I’m not on Instagram, etc., and don’t seek out additional opportunities to post my work on-line.  This aversion obviously complicates my art career in the time of covid.  But apparently I don’t care.

Let’s get off the screens and smell the paint, people.  Time to reach out for what’s real.

Adventure

Snapshot of Asilomar pastel portrait

Snapshot of pastel portrait study, 1997

Last week on my trip to the Central Coast I was walking with a friend along lovely Asilomar State Beach, south of Monterey, when I remembered that I’d been at the Asilomar Conference Center once many years ago, for a pastel figure-painting workshop. I’ve been feeling the tug of pastel again lately, so I dug into the archives and pulled up this snapshot of a portrait study I’d done that weekend.

This was the first and last fully developed pastel portrait I’ve done.  I should say “fully developed” in quotes because it’s really not quite finished.  As usual with representational work I was engaged so long as I was learning something new, but after a while it started to feel tedious and I lost interest.  I remember I didn’t like the puffy jacket the model was wearing and just kind of mentally wandered off at that point.  I actually do have some facility with realistic representation in that I have a fair eye and sense of proportion, but I find no adventure in it.  I’d rather use that facility to explore other dimensions of a subject.  So that’s why you won’t often see works like this posted on my blog.

I will say it’s a good likeness of this beautiful young man, who was a wonderful model and able to sit good-naturedly with this engaged expression for three hours.  I carefully followed the methods demonstrated by the instructor, the fine pastelist, esteemed teacher, and all around sweet soul the late Bob Gerbracht, and it’s a tribute to his teaching that I was able to wring something out of what at that time was my extremely limited pastel technique.  The handling of the medium is rough, to say the least, as you can see in this closer view.

Snapshot of Asilomar pastel portrait 2

This was done on a light gray Canson Mi-Teintes paper, for folks who are interested in that kind of thing, and I was no doubt using my sturdy, dependable Rembrandts.

That workshop at Asilomar was a busy couple of days, without much time for beachcombing, but I got a lot out of it, maybe most importantly the confirmation, once again, that though I like drawing the figure, realism is just not my bag.  Too much like work, not enough like adventure.