While I have been doing the physical sorting I have also been doing a lot of mental sorting as well and reviewing some of my old notes from classes and lectures from the past six years. I did chronicle a massive amount of my student time at PAFA as this blog clearly shows. I've posted demos and pictures covering a lot of my process visually, butI haven't yet really written as much about the mental aspects or the "Paint Thinking" as I like to call it.
Part of the reason may be that for me a lot of the thinking is actually the doing of 'it", the moment of response as a painter to the stimuli. In that instant of looking, feeling and response there is a universe churning in my head--then BAM! You make a stroke, mark, passage, scrape, wipe, or many a tiny little tap or wipe the last mark or stroke out.
One of the things I noticed about watching experienced painters work, is that they looked at the subject they were painting or drawing, if working from life, at least 60-70% of the time they were engaged in that session and actually making marks or strokes about 30% or so of the time. I have read that Sargent spent a long time looking very intently, and then striking with his brush. Sometimes he would then go a wipe it right off again, and repeaedt this way of working.
The best demonstration of this I have seen was watching Nelson Shanks paint four times in the past few years. Shanks is a painter of grand, traditional gifts and the head of Studio Incamminati here in Philly. He is very much about the classical approach to painting and Sargent's way of working and subject matter. Every year or so Shanks would do a painting demo to promote the school or some activity related to the school and it was really a great opportunity to learn about painting as a process by watching somebody as good as Shanks paint. I like his demos more than his finished pieces as they really have guts, life and energy in them that his more finished pieces loose. Watching Shanks is like watching a top athlete you can marvel at, someone at the top of their game work or play. Unlike the NBA though, you don't have to be 7 feet tall to be a great painter. You can see Shanks painting my friend Alina here on a youtube video. I warn you the music is bad and distracting---why they have to use such cheesey music is beyond me. This isn't his best demo, as I think he was feeling ill, but it does show his process well even though it's speeded up.
My point is talking about this all is that there is a lot of "paint thinking" going on by Shanks in such a demo. Certainly the pressure to complete and also to perform are big factors and conditions on this type of demo and his thought process. An experience painter like Shanks has lot of time in "thinking" this way, I imagine there is almost a groove in his mind, worn into his Neural Pathways as a result, like an athlete who is supremely trained to move so precisely between choice and instinct.
Two paintings by Scott Noel that use the construction of the Convention Center in Philly as a subject, energy or element of a painting. Scott painted these as the construction was happening and so the energy of the painting was always live as the subject was alive and changing minute by minute as the construction site changed and "breathed" just as the models do in the process shot of the second painting.
This relates to another set of notes on my iphone from a painting seminar (maybe from Scott Noel) I took down and reconstruct here:
What are the connections to be discovered between a classroom painting and a studio painting? Do these different types of paintings, done under different conditions, different desires or needs inform each other and if so, how do they inform each other? What is the energy about in the work?
What are the crucial energies in the paintings and how do these energies manifest themselves in a mature painter and a mature work? Are there certain patterns that come together, passion, intellect, strategies employed , conscious motives? What is the aspiration of the painting and the painters and how does one construct the the best self that is a unification of all of this energy and motives as a painter?
Whoa, pretty heady stuff...
An answer to the first question for me was that the classroom painting was never a painting I would have chosen to do on my own. The conditions of that painting were set up by the teacher as a way to stress and practice ideas that the instructor wanted to teach. Some days I'd look at the set-up and go ugh! I'm sure that was at times a big failing on my part.
I always felt frustrated when doing the class paintings, even the ones that worked better than others. So my aspiration was to try and learn the lesson or "paint thinking", to take with me and apply the ideas of the lesson later, better. I suppose a mature painter does this and uses any opportunity to manifest their motives as a painter with any subject. In my final year in my undergrad and in my painting seminar in the master with Scott I did attempt to turn the classroom painting into something more that doing the art school equivalent of doing curls or military presses. It's also very easy to get your strategy confused, your paint thinking confused or unfocused and end with a mess of a painting!
These two paintings were done a year apart at school. The first was done in the last semester of my undergrad year in my class with Peter Van Dyck. I painted on this over the course of a few weeks. The second painting is a one session painting in my MFA Painting Seminar class with Scott Noel. Scott mostly had one session poses in that class so my strategy or Paint Thinking was different from the start. What I was able to do in both was find the energy or idea I wanted to paint right away, and try and make that work for me. The conditions of both painting were very different and thus my thinking had to take that into account to satisfy my motives. What was similar for my approach to in both paintings was taking the time to find the painting I wanted to paint. To make those set-ups work for me. I had 90 minutes for the second painting and maybe 5-6 hours for the first painting. I actually had even less than 90 minutes for the second painting as the "light event" lasted only 20 minutes. This was a growth point for me in my last year of my undergrad how I made a painting in terms of my "Paint Thinking".
From that point forward I did try and turn any opportunity to paint of draw into an opportunity the employ my energy and aspiration, motive as a painter. I don't always succeed in making a good painting or one I am happy with, but then no painter does that.
This makes a Sargent a Sargent and not a Diebenkorn or a Shanks. I suppose a mature painter is able to move back and forth between the studio and the classroom or demo or whatever the impetus is for the subject to paint and connect his or her painting energies and strategies in a way the serves their aspirations for the particular painting as well as their own as a painter.