Getting Things Done

Lately, it seems that I have been receiving a lot of inquiries about my process.

Typically, I avoid such discussion, preferring instead that my work speak for itself. The ends justify the means, after all, and I think getting caught up in talk about process can easily become a distraction, if not disenchanting to the point of the work. -When you know a magician’s secret, the fun of the trick disappears. I also find this discussion a bit challenging, since I am not always conscious of how I go about doing things. Instinct guides me through most things in life, and I have never put a lot of thought into my methodology in order to articulate it.

All that said, I do appreciate having someone’s interest, regardless of reason. Also, my process is anything but mysterious, so I will write some things about it and hope that it satisfies all those that may be curious. I don’t want to bore anyone with specific technical data, so if you’d like to know what brand of brushes I use or where I bought my easel, please write me directly.

The starting point for me is usually born in photography. Sometimes, I have a concept in mind before I shoot, and then go out in the field to gather reference. But this doesn’t happen very often. For the most part, I have absolutely no idea in mind when I wander the rail yards with my camera. My hope is to randomly stumble upon something inspiring. This “no-plan” plan, may sound lazy, but it is a conscious and deliberate action that has taken me years to master. My goal is to let go of all preconceived ideas and listen only to the creative voice in my head while in the moment. Indeed, most of my paintings come about in this manner. For me, the unexpected thrill is far more enticing than anything I could ever contrive. My heart speeds up whenever I see the way shadows can drape across a surface, or the majesty of a spray-painted message, layered among the rust and rail coding. For me, it’s all about contrasts -Texture, light quality, and weathered colors excite me and when it comes to painting, photography is the first tool that I use to gather information.

Back in the studio, I work in photoshop to compose and work through my photos. I often make changes; move things around, add or remove details to isolate and refine whatever idea is at the root of my inspiration. Cropping is also very instrumental in storytelling and I frequently utilize details from several photographs to make one single composition. On rare occasion, a painting comes from a single photo. But still, I always make adjustments to better suit the idea. Once I decide upon a composition for a painting, all the reference photos serve to help me to make the painting as convincingly realistic as possible. As I mentioned above, I do not employ a lot of thought while shooting, and so I don’t really know if I have anything worthwhile when in the field. It is not until the photoshop stage, where ideas solidify and compositions for paintings come together.

In the next phase, I loosely sketch my composition on the canvas. I don’t get fussy at this point, rather just draw a basic road map to follow and a simple pencil line does the trick. I keep either a printed photograph by my easel or work directly from the computer screen as a guide. My aim with the sketch is to lock in on placement and proportion of the all the elements, and not to resolve any fine details. When I am satisfied with the sketch, I seal it on the canvas with clear gesso. I like to add a drop of paint to make a tint, since I prefer working from a more neutral surface color, rather than white. When the gesso is dry, I sand to remove any texture left behind. Then, working back to front, I apply paint to the canvas. Layer by layer, colors are blocked in to form an underpainting. Gradually, I refine details until the painting starts to take on a life of its own. This is when things start to get interesting, as I no longer feel in control of the painting. Instead, the painting directs me to what it needs, and my hand just follows what I am told. In these moments, the process becomes somewhat of a compulsion and time flies by as I dig deeply into the minutiae. When fatigued, I put the painting aside and out of view. I have found that taking breaks like this are very important. They allow my brain to stop obsessively problem solving, and they also help my eyes to see things freshly when I return. If something looks off, I back up and re-work areas of the painting until satisfied. This cycle repeats until there is nothing more I can possibly do. When my mind wanders off to the next idea, I know it is time to finish the painting. The final step is to apply a few coats of varnish and sign the back. I have found that keeping track of time can be somewhat destructive to my creativity, so I try not to do this. Generally speaking, though, paintings can take up to several months to complete, depending on size and complexity.

When it comes to process, my mind and heart are truly at their freest. For me, the making of each painting is its own unique love affair. Some are easy and short lived, while others are challenging and feel like they take a lifetime …All are worthwhile though, and I learn something new about myself with each one. When I am in the flow, emotions ricochet around my brain, and I get lost in reflective thoughts about life. I get so entrenched sometimes, that I am not necessarily conscious of the painting in front of me. I must frequently step away from my easel throughout the day, to gauge progress and to assess what to do next. More than anything else about my art, process is the thing I cherish most of all. -It is my own personal pleasure in life. The actual paintings are secondary for me. They are the physical manifestations of a cathartic experience. -Souvenirs, if you will, and I have little attachment to them. If anything, the paintings serve to remind me of certain moments in my life. I have always been the sort of person to figure things out on my own, rather than follow instructions. This isn’t necessarily a good thing, but it is my nature. Somehow, and despite difficulties involved, I have managed to grow and learn a thing or two along the way. Having had such limited resources available for so long, I am programmed to make do with whatever I have at hand, to get things done. This has been the basic philosophy throughout my life and among the reasons I identify with freight trains. No matter how challenging things can get, the journey is what matters above all. It is where we learn, grow and discover the most valuable things that life has to offer.