Less is More: Thoughts on Painting

by David Garrison

There is a very special breed of people who create works of art under all conditions. No matter how difficult it might be, they still must create. If you feel inspired to paint for countless hours at a time, if your painting makes chill run down your spine, and if you feel so intense and can only focus on the painting before you, then you are among this special breed of people that observes life and its beauty like no other.

To bring this magic called art to life, it sometimes requires an extreme degree of sacrifice. Under more relaxed conditions, one might just nod off at the easel. Personally, I have found that a small amount of hunger has a helpful angle to it. I have found I am more alert and my senses to the values and accuracy for color are keener, and my handling of edges are more spontaneous looking and are much more accurate. My paintings have a poetic beauty to them when I am less concerned about my physical needs. When on a painting trip, I have made it a rule to eat only two light meals a day. I have found my body adapts better to a leaner diet and I am able to concentrate my energy on the important task at hand, painting! And when the painting binge is over, I can really put the food away! And it really makes my wife mad because I have only gained five pounds in the thirty-four years we have been married.

On one occasion, I was painting in the beautiful hills of the Flint Hills in eastern Kansas and decided to stay overnight in my car instead of returning to my motel. I could then catch the first rays of sun very early the next morning. I found that time, and the need for food never entered my mind as I painted through most of the day in several locations. In following trips to that area, I located a cattle pen where I could park my car and get a little sleep. I fondly called it the Cattle Pen Inn.

While on these painting trips to many areas of the country, I have found that by eating less and painting more I could bring order to the traffic jam of color, lines, and busy spaces all demanding attention. By concentration with discipline, I discovered what artists mean by the term, “less is more”. Knowing what to paint and what to leave out is an art in and of itself. By keeping the colors and compositions simple, a fresh spontaneous look is developed. When faced with time restraints because of the sun, working on a small canvas or paper is best. With no more than 50 or 60 square inches, you quickly realize you ust keep it simple and ot the point. Incidentally, I have used the same French style easel for the past 35 years n every painting trip, covering many parts of the country and Mexico. We have truly become best friends!

The past masters had a style and look to their work that made it look effortless. But what was really required at every brush stroke was skill from constant practice and a discipline to organize a painting. The masters were able to spot their trouble areas quickly and correct them. They were their own most severe critics. As Michelangelo said when he was in his eighties, “I’m still learning.”

The masters knew how to simplify. They knew the value of a strong foundation of drawing. When painting the model, they used quick lines to capture the feel of posture of a glance of an eye. Often, this can make or break a painting. Keeping it simple but accurate in anatomy as well as values is a concept often overlooked. As you paint, do not think of painting the eye or arm or the background as “background” but with simple directness. Paint the shapes that are in that area as if you were fitting a puzzle together.

I use a variety of surfaces to paint on. For the quick and easy and when you have an idea that just can’t wait, Wallis paper is durable and good. Sennelier offers a fine paper but you cannot scrub it as you can the Wallis.

When I have time and can plan ahead, I create my own surface by texturing either a 200 lb.pH neutral board stock or 80 lb. Brainbraidge board. If the overall size is large, I mount it on a lightweight wood panel for added strength.

The texture process I use is to mix a gritty primer made from two parts heated hide glue, two parts gesso and one part fine pumice stone. Often I will add the dust my easel has collected from previous pastel paintings (my mother taught me to never waste anything!). Most often it will turn the mixture into light gray so if I prefer a different color I add pure powdered pigment of whichever color I am after.

At times, I have found the best surface is not the created textured surface or the pastel papers that everyone uses. For example, “Sir James” was painted on untreated Fabriano Uno watercolor paper that is 100% cotton rag, mould-made acid free with four deckle edges. The possibilities are endless!

There are so many ways to paint in pastel in this day and age that it is truly exciting to be an artist!

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