Category Archives: how

Drought, 115 Degrees

Snapshot of "Drought, 115 Degrees" - Carraher

Snapshot of “Drought, 115 Degrees”
June 2021.  Acrylic and graphite on paper, 8 x 11 in.

Yes.  It’s been hot here.  Dangerously so.  Five days straight of 115-plus, sealed up in the house, blinds closed, cooler running around the clock.  Outside, plants and wildlife scorching, wilting, hanging on for dear life or…not making it.  I’ve kept irrigation running at a low level to provide damp ground for cooling bodies and small puddles for drinking.  The bird feeder has hardly emptied; the finches can only manage an hour or two at it in the morning before self-preservation sends them to find what shelter they can.  It is very, very quiet in the yard.

The studio cooling has essentially failed.  This latest swamp cooler has never cooled well, and in this heat it’s barely this side of useless.  I can get in a few hours of work first thing in the morning, if I rise very early.  That’s it.  Very frustrating.  But at least I can go in the house and be reasonably comfortable; many creatures are not so lucky.

The conditions in the studio are why the image of this painting is just a snapshot taken with my phone instead of a properly lit and staged photograph.  I have a backlog of work needing to be photographed, but that will just have to wait until climatic sanity returns.

“Drought, 115 Degrees” is on paper.  I’ve mostly avoided using paper with the acrylic paints prior to this; getting away from all the problems of paper was one of the reasons I turned from pastels to acrylics in the first place.  But it’s time to give it a decent trial, if I can find a satisfactory product.  I’ve started experimenting with Strathmore acrylic paper, and so far it’s pleasing me with the several small studies I’ve attempted.  It’s 246 lb, so fairly sturdy and not prone to buckle with the light treatment I’ve been using so far.  It has a subtle linen texture on the “right” side; this particular painting is done on the smooth reverse.  I like the smooth textures I’ve been able to easily achieve; common canvas is so rough the texture can dominate at this small scale, which can be frustrating.

I’m happy to say it’s cooling off, very noticeable today at a high of 107.  The creatures who’ve made it this far have reason to hope.  The plants, though, have gone the last year-plus with almost no rain, and even the hardy desert natives can take only so much.  Let’s just hope the winds don’t come up.

Rough Trade

"Carbon 4 (Rough Trade)" - Carraher 2021

Carbon 4 (Rough Trade)
2021.  Acrylic on canvas. 12 x 16 in.

I’ve been spending quite a bit of time on several individual works in the Carbon series.  Some of the Carbons have come quickly; this one did not.  I started it late last year, and only declared it finished in May.  Over that time it changed almost completely; only some portions of the upper left remain from the beginning.  At one point it had a bright warm red figure – the result of a Hail Mary pass.  The remnants of red still glow beneath layers of white on the upper right.   I actually had decided that that version was the final, months ago, and set it in the stack for signing and varnishing.

But…no.

It made an interesting painting at that point, with the red; I even had a title and a sort of alternate life for it.  But it wasn’t a painting I cared about.  When push came to shove, I decided to press on.

I spent a LOT of time looking, putting it aside, then pulling it out and looking some more.  I repeatedly painted over passages that I liked because they weren’t right for what was developing.  After I’d covered over the red I felt a strong connection with this painting and knew I’d be pursuing it, whatever it took.  Slowly it came into focus, but the final refinements still took a long time and lots of consideration.

Why am I telling you all this?  Must not be very fascinating to read, I’m sure.  But I’m having this experience increasingly – not with all my paintings, but with more and more of them.  Especially the Carbon series.  I’ve had several of those sitting in the stew pot for months now.  I believe it’s because:

  • I have a clearer sense of what I want;
  • I have a clearer sense of what I can do;
  • I have a clearer sense of how to do it; and
  • I’m not willing to put up with less.

So that’s progress, I’d say.  It’s a slow-moving but important development.  It’s changed my tempo in the studio, the varieties of control available to me, the depth of satisfaction I feel.  My commitment is deepening.  Which is good, because not everybody is going to like the direction revealed by works like Rough Trade.  So be it.

Light

 

"Light" - Carraher 2021

Light
2021.  Acrylic on canvas. 18 x 18 in.

First, a couple brief housekeeping items:

One:  There will be a closing reception for Creativity During Quarantine at Gallery 62 this Saturday, May 29, 5-8 pm.  It’s a mark of how things have changed just in this last month that when the show opened on May 8 the gallery staff did not feel an opening reception was safe; now, just a few weeks later, they feel ready for such an event.  Hope to see you there!

Two:  If you want to receive new posts from this blog, there’re several easy ways to subscribe.  Scroll down the sidebar to enter your email address and hit the Follow button.  Or, below that is a button if you want to follow via WordPress, or, alternatively, another button if you’d rather add it to your RSS feed.

This painting, Light, is of the same lineage as Pause Point and Urchin but in the larger 18 x 18-in format I used with Genie and Jack (Steady at Sea).  But, like with Genie, rather than continuing with Mars black I stopped after the initial earth-tone gesture.   A very simple work, obviously.  But we can always use more light in this world.  

Maritime Constellation

"Maritime Constellation" - Carraher 2020

Maritime Constellation
2020.  Acrylic and china maker on wood panel. 9 x 12 in.

I did several of these in the later months of last year; this is the only one I’m happy with.

I began each of them with several coats of gesso, then rolled on two values of a single color with a brayer, overlapping.  The initial linear work was with black and white china makers.  I observed this one on and off for weeks, weighing options and potential, and finally added the blue line straight from the tube.   A lot of picky little minor manipulations followed until it felt right, smoothing curves, bringing them forwards or backwards, letting some bits fade and strengthening others.  As is often the case, the title was clear to me before finishing.

None of the works went at all where I thought I was going when I started the series, and I finally accepted that the original idea just wasn’t going to pan out.  But I did get at least this one thing out of it that I like.  And I like it pretty swell.

Lighthearted

"Lighthearted" - Carraher 2021

Lighthearted
April 2021.  Acrylic on canvas. 14 x 11 in.

This actually did start out as black and white, but it certainly didn’t stay that way!  It’s one of four pieces I began months ago. only finally finishing in the last couple weeks.  They all started with black improvisations brushed on a plain white ground, although two of them had been textured first with Golden Light Molding Paste, including this one. 

I liked the black drawing, but I really disliked the cold white over the texturing.  It did not inspire me.  So, after a few weeks of staring at it, I stained it with quinacridone red to a pale rose. 

really hated the rose.  I mean, really hated it.  Like gnashing my teeth when I’d look at it.  So, once again, it sat around for weeks but this time with me not staring at it.  Just avoiding it.  

Finally I’d had enough.  I chose my palette (the original quinacridone red, cadmium yellow light, and cerulean blue) and sailed in with abandon, starting with the orange and progressing to the green.  I’d always known I was going to have that blue stripe, and opposite was going to be a white stripe, but I didn’t like that after all and covered it with the yellow.  Came together pretty fast, once I finally got to it. 

This is a different way of handling the paint than I’ve used heretofore.  It helps to feel one has nothing to lose.  It specifically helped to have the textured and tinted surface that I just wanted to mess up; I am so easily enslaved by the beauty of a pure white surface, I get too careful.  This painting turned out to have no visible white in it at all – quite unusual for me.  I’m really glad I got over it, because I quite like the texture in it.  It truly adds a third dimension. 

Anyway, in the end it felt good and I like how it turned out.  Different for me, at least in a paint medium (as opposed to pastels).  It’s got a hint of a Matissean feel to it, in terms of the saturated color, loose drawing, and joyous mood.  I like that direction.  Glad I stuck it out. 

Creosote With Bullion Mountains and Squirrel Holes

"Creosote With Bullion Mountains and Squirrel Holes" - Carraher 2000

Creosote With Bullion Mountains and Squirrel Holes
2000.  Pastel and charcoal on sandpaper.  8-3/4 x 6-3/4 in.

We finally took this small painting in for framing last week.  It’s been sitting in a drawer, carefully wrapped in glassine, for 20 years.  I’m very patient with these things; having created it is the primary source of satisfaction, and I don’t need to look at it all the time after that.  And I knew I would never agree to sell it; it’s a key piece of my work, plus I dearly love it.  My partner, who loves it also, is not as patient as I am, and she had found a frame that was suitable.  She wants it on the wall.

I drew the original charcoal sketch out behind the house I was living in at the time, about half a mile from where I am now.  It’s the view facing north, with a creosote bush, the distant Bullion Mountains on the Marine base, and some ground-squirrel dens amid the swells of sand and dried grasses.

I liked the swingy gestural feel of the large sketch, and some time later I reduced it with the scanner and transferred it to a piece of Ersta sandpaper.  The pastel technique I was using at the time involved building up layers of color and value with scribbly line, which can give a lot of depth and complexity but also breathing space while still retaining the sparkle and intensity of the pigments.  Recreating the charcoal line was a challenge, a kind of task I had plenty of opportunity to practice over many more years of drawing and painting in pastel.

This would have been around the time I acquired my studio, when I was working mainly with Rembrandt pastels.  Soon after I would have bought my full set of Senneliers, which are much softer, and eventually began working the surface with my brush technique and left this scribbly style behind.  But the fact is I miss it and often think I need to pick it up again.  It has its own unique potential and satisfactions.  Someday.

Genie

"Genie" - Carraher 2021

Genie
January 2021.  Acrylic on canvas. 18 x 18 in.

I post this image aware that no one may perceive its charm besides myself. The painting began in the vein of Pause Point and Urchin, with an earth pigment gestured on a white-on-dark ground and the intention of following this up with Mars black.  I did come back in with white, several times, to remove some areas of umber I didn’t need; you can see the ghosts of the strokes in the upper portion.  But when I got to this stage, I just wouldn’t go further.  This painting sat in the studio for months as I waited for permission to continue.  But I never got it.  I simply was satisfied with this “Genie” (the name came to me almost immediately).  I debated with myself about the messiness in those upper areas, which are not clean or well-painted, frankly.  But repeatedly I came to the conclusion that I didn’t want to change them.  I liked the messiness, for perverse reasons.  I like all the grubby ghosts in there.  

This canvas is larger, 18 by 18 inches.  Once again I was re-purposing an old painting, done maybe a year ago but that had never felt quite right.  It was good that it kicked me into the larger format.  I have several going at this size now.  I like the physical impact as the format scales up.  And I like the physical feel of painting it.  Fits me better.

You’re Only As Good As Your Last Picture

"Carbon 2" - Carraher 2020

Carbon 2
December 2020.  Acrylic on canvas. 16 x 12 in.

Things have moved to a new level in the studio the last few months.  A subtle graduation has occurred.  I seem to have gained my footing with the acrylics.  I have enough skills now that I am better able to achieve what I’m trying to do, to match the execution to the vision and the impulse.  And when I encounter a challenge, I’m more likely to know a solution, or at least in which direction to turn.  And because of this, I am more patient.  I’m willing to set a work aside for months, if need be, and feel confident that the solution or direction will become apparent to me with time.  The flailing has lessened; the Hail Mary passes are fewer.  And I’m less likely to fall into an abyss of hopelessness and self-condemnation when several works in a row seem unsuccessful. 

I’m also fully focused now on several series of works and have lost patience with my long-time practice of giving myself “assignments” to help me learn.  There’s a growing pile of such pieces that I’ve simply lost interest in.  And I’ve become better at distinguishing between works on which I’m just unsure how to proceed, and those that just actually don’t mean anything to me.  This is a change from the past.  The curiosity of trying to learn something or the challenge of solving them technically is not enough to carry me through to completion.  I keep wandering off to the works that compel me.  

This is a good thing.   

The works I’m doing now may or may not be “good” – I’m not in the best position to judge – but they are what I want to be doing.  I’m achieving my visions, and through the prompts of the medium and process itself I’m discovering  new visions, visions that surprise me. 

“Carbon 2”, above, is from a small but growing series that surprises me, and keeps pulling me forward in an unhurried way.  There are four completed works now, and I know more are coming.  I posted the first here (it was an “Untitled” then, but I’ve since realized it was “Carbon 1”).   I’ve been working increasingly with black and white, or minor variations on B&W such as the grayed white in the Carbon paintings, or just small amounts of other hues as in Urchin and Pause Point.  And, for those who are curious about such things, the black pigment in the Carbon paintings is carbon black; it is Mars black in the other two just mentioned.   

Technicolor

 

"Bell Poem No. 17" - Carraher 2021

Bell Poem No. 17
2021. Acrylic on canvas. 20 x 10 in.

Whoa, color!  We’re not in black-and-white Kansas anymore here!  But is it still a Bell Poem?  Yes.  Began as always, with big black gesture on a white 20 x 10-inch canvas.  After that the technique is similar to what I used on The Furies:  saturated transparent acrylic color blended straight on the canvas with lots of gloss medium.  Blue-green, Indian yellow, cadmium red deep.  Plenty of aplomb and no place for hesitation or second-guessing. Wheee!!

Here’s No. 15, done not long before it but harkening back to methods I’ve used since early in the series:

"Bell Poem No. 15" - Carraher 2021

Bell Poem No. 15
2021. Acrylic on canvas. 20 x 10 in.

This one started out straightforward enough but went awry early on.  After the gesture I stained the surface a bright yellow with a sponge, then applied another layer of stain with violet but went too weak, and instead of a vivid, vital surface of complementary contrast I ended up with a feeble gray.  Argh.  So I stained another layer with ultramarine blue, a little stronger this time, and ended up with this muted green.  Kind of liked it, but…eh.  I finished with another gesture in an opaque celadon.  Obviously a very different feel from technicolor No. 17, but I decided there was room for it also in the collection.  

I love doing these.  Always an adventure.  

Urchin

"Urchin" - Carraher 2021

Urchin
2021.  Acrylic on canvas. 14 x 14 in.

This work developed from a simple arch-like figure in raw umber and went through quite a bit to arrive in the final state you see here.  I began it similarly to Pause Point – prepping the canvas with a darker value undercoat then overpainting with white to leave a just-off-white surface slightly varied in temperature and value but not heavily textured. The initial improvised arch figure was interesting but…not that interesting.  I started building with both the raw umber and the black and, to my surprise, felt pulled to bring in the violet.  I knocked certain parts back with white, but left faint shadows of some of what had already transpired. 

I was quite happy with it in the end, but it wasn’t until the very end that I felt that way.  Most of the time it felt pretty awkward.  It helped when the title occurred to me, well into the process.  I then better understood the direction I was going.  Sometimes that’s just how it goes.