Thursday, January 13, 2011


If there in one thing I have very reluctantly learned over 40 years of artmaking it's the need to simplify. I say 'reluctantly' because I never really learn it. Instead I struggle through some works, finally arrive at something that seems satisfactory and is also much simpler than where I started. At that point I relearn the lesson that I ought to simplify. It works.

And yet sometimes you want to enlarge your experiences and start from new and bigger material. I think you also need to expand your horizons in order to grow. But when I do I always find that I'll eventually need to strip down and simplify the new material or the new way of working.

Not everyone of course loves simplicity. But for me it is the best way. I'm not sure that anyone would guess that from my work, but it is my own conclusion about it.

That said you may wonder about these two photos. Sort of a mess. Somewhat in need of simplification. Sure enough.

This watercolor and pencil sketch are based on some photos, and bad field sketches, I did of female and immature Wood Ducks along the Wissahickon this summer. I've always loved the light in the photo as well as the grouping of birds.

I'd like to make a linocut of this. I haven't yet decided whether or not there will be more than one color. Adding colors and carving reduction linocuts certainly ups the complexity.

I'll decide on that later. For now I'm experimenting with how I can take this subject and do it as a linocut, concentrating on line and contrast. You might say how could he make such a sloppy watercolor after the more detailed and controlled watercolor of the Yellow-rumps a few posts back? I can do it because I'm using watercolor more like a lino, trying to concentrate on lines and contrast.

I admit it's rough. But it is intentional. I'm trying to simplify the scene so that it will work as a linocut. I imagine there's still a lot of simplificaton that awaits me. But I thought it might be interesting to see the steps on the way to what I hope will be a successful linocut.

As an aside I'd also like my linocut style to leak back into my watercolors. I'd like to have bolder, more abstract watercolors. This means that I'll do less of the more subtle, detailed ones like the Yellow-rumps. There's nothing wrong with such work, and I'm happy with that painting. But I think my personal tastes runs toward something more bold and lively.

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