Lowe's Wharf Cove
Oil on canvas, 16x20.I had a breakthrough yesterday, while painting moving water on Tilghman's Island, here in Maryland. It was a breakthrough in painting and a breakthrough in understanding, as well.
For a few months, I've been fascinated with the marbling effect I can get with the palette knife. I load it up with two or three colors, then move it in a repeating pattern (say, up and down), while also moving it along the canvas, say, right to left.
I've been using this technique whenever I can, I like it so much. Yesterday, I tried using it to paint moving water. Here's a detail shot from the painting:
The technique gave me water, moving water that I really like!
And if that were not enough, it gave me a new understanding of painting. Here's what I realized: This water that I painted, it doesn't really look like water. But it looks enough like water and feels enough like water that, for me, it works as a sort of shorthand, a personal vocabulary, for water.
I think that one reason that my dog and cat paintings are so attractive to people is that dog owners speak the same language. My paintings clearly don't look like photographs, but the shorthand that is in them, the vocabulary, is understood by others who love dogs.
I got to this idea by thinking of the skies of Samuel Borenstein. In many of the paintings I like the best, he paints his skies with vertical strokes. I have usually painted them with angled stokes, but while I was painting yesterday, I thought I'd try vertical strokes, as an experiment, and as a tribute.
But as I painted, I realized that I was not painting in my voice. And this made me think about Borenstein's skies vs. my skies. Neither of us paints sky that looks like "sky" as you'd see in a photograph. And yet, our skies are understood as skies. We have a shorthand for skies, a consistent shorthand, individual, unique, recognizable.
Then I began thinking about other parts of my paintings. I have known all along that nothing in my painting really looks like the thing it is, and that the more I focus on getting the detail "right" - i.e., attempting photographic representation - the worse my painting gets. And why? Because I am trying to use someone else's vocabulary.
I have developed a shorthand for skies, for houses, for trees, for fields, and even for corn. Yesterday, I found a way to speak about moving water. And I found a way to understand what it is that makes a painter unique.
I don't want to speak with anyone else's voice. I don't want to paint like anyone else. I want to discover my own voice, and speak with it - and continue to have the courage and the energy to experiment.