by Rey Armenteros
How do you transport the characteristics of doodles to a painting? How do you convert the loose dynamics and sharp lines of a pen to the deliberate strokes of paint? Is it even possible? It’s the age old question concerning drawing versus painting, how a drawing is always fresher, how the ideas just roll out in the lines. A drawing is more immediate, or so it has been argued ad infinitum. I believe there are exceptions.
In my world, I don’t need to touch drawing materials to make drawings. My pen and ink drawings of recent years are actually made of brush and paint. I thin my paint to a precise degree, and I employ brush techniques that mirror a certain type of hatching. I work on “plastic paper” (acrylic paint skins that I make). If the image on this synthetic paper is successful, I adhere it to a substrate, and the painting is finished. If not successful, I white it out and start again or keep it until I can make it work later. Working on this plastic paper first in order to later adhere to a panel helps me overcome the psychological factor related to painting. The psychological factor goes like this: If I put all that time in preparing a canvas or panel (either of which happen to be more expensive than a page of a sketchbook), I had better make a worthy picture. When you skip that step for later, you are releasing that feeling of commitment, and you embrace the freedom of doing whatever you want. It gives my drawn and painted work the throwaway attributes of a doodle.
In the end, I am emulating these drawing qualities with paint. Does that mean that it is the same thing? “It is never the same” is a dictum I have carried in my art for years, because as soon as you change something, it can never be the same. In my search for emulating certain things that can look like other things, I have to remind myself, even convince myself, that they can never be the same.
The sharp pen lines I can make with a brush won’t match that inherently scratchy quality of a pen line, no matter who you can fool after scrutiny.
It is never the same because as soon as you change something in the method, it can no longer have the exact same substance. It’s like changing the main part of a recipe and hoping to get the same flavors.
Nevertheless, though my painting is not a pen and ink drawing, it is still a drawing; it is a drawing I do with paint. And my doodles in acrylics are still doodles, even if I am limited to making them in the studio. I would never haul paint containers, a jar of cleaning water, and several brushes to draw out in public. That is why at a coffeehouse, I scrawl with a marker instead.
by Rey Armenteros
In as much as I was counting the loops I made in my doodles in the interest of finding a formal system for the practice of doodling, I soon abandoned the whole idea. I really enjoyed the structure it was promising, but it was getting tedious, counting the loops and then second-guessing if I had done it properly according to my own rules. And it was forcing my doodles into a corner, which I should have seen coming since the very act of doodling disregards the idea of rules! And yet, I did learn a couple of things about how to incorporate limitations in your work, which is always a worthy endeavor; artists need to embrace restraints in a work of art. At some point later in my artistic explorations, I can see myself counting loops again as a way to locate some lost wisdom or something.
When looking at the past couple of years, I have gone through various periods in my doodles. There was one stage where I was focused on the many ways people walked. I was concentrating my viewpoint on people walking toward me, so I was drawing people from the front. It is much easier to show a figure walking from the side, so I was attempting to uncover the secrets of frontal strides because I wasn’t sure if I could do it.
Instead of drawing from a photo or other captured image, I was observing people in public. But I was not drawing from observation, not in the strict definition; actually, it was more like I would look and digest what I had just seen, and then I would draw from memory, the moment it was already gone. Of course, when watching someone’s steps, you have no chance at an observational rendering because you find it happens so quickly that you have to try to see the next step to understand what you have just seen the second before. It was a quick process: I would look, grasp the figure in my mind, and bend my head to my sheet to find the walking figure in a few loops.Everybody has a different walk. If words could represent an amble or a march or a fleet-footed shuffle, a few scrawls had the capacity to get at something almost unmentionable but far more sophisticated in expression. There was a personality behind everybody’s walk, it seemed, and I was witnessing the gestural analog of a moving fingerprint.
With each worthless scribble, I was getting at something deeper and more fundamental than just cataloguing an endless stream of idiosyncratic steps, and I knew that when you succeed in something like this, you possess a part of that thing you’re representing (even if with nothing but flimsy lines). I was expanding my collection of such information. This was information I can use. Such a thing can come out again whenever I needed it in some future project. I have been collecting such data for years, growing my personal library to its greatest dimensions yet, hoping to be able to use all this understanding whenever it was needed in a painting or some such ambition.
by Rey Armenteros
So, I made up a few rules on doodling tiny things on a scrap piece of paper, and I centered my rules on there being five loops to a single doodle, arguing that this was the perfect number to represent a human, and I could therefore bring out a face with five such interlocking shapes, or bring out a hand or foot, or a whole body.
Yet, I also had variations on this just so that I could play with a little variety. I had the three-loop doodle and the nine-loop doodle, wondering if there were uses for them that had little to do with humans. Since landscapes were more complex than a human figure, I tried nine loops to get a trace of this form of detail. Though a still life could also be complex, I felt that giving one or more objects nothing but three loops was a way of looking for minimalist forms. I also tried other numbers just to try them.
Eventually, I came up with the idea of the multiple doodle. It would have to be on a larger piece of paper. It was a scrawled image that was made up of one main doodle that tied it all together (perhaps with nine loops, although it could be less). And on top of this foundation I would add a five-loop doodle for every person in the composition. If it was an object, it would need a three-loop doodle. And I was looking for evidence that this might have a practical use when constructing sophisticated compositions.
I suppose you can argue that there is no difference between this and making a sketch or a study for the same purpose, but what I like about the doodle is that it has a great freedom that depends less on planning because the method is not front-loaded with a predicted image.
by Rey Armenteros
I am a tireless inventor of useless processes, but I firmly believe that in some such throwaway activities, I will find that mound of treasure that can point to new artistic directions.
Doodling could be one of these activities, but recently, I have been adding a certain twist to the meandering drawing you do when your head is not particularly going in any direction. I have been adding rules to my doodles, so that I can play a game as I explore. I’ve been using something I call loops, and I recall this coming about when I was doing variations of the typical spiral one day, not so long ago (when the spiral by itself was not quite sufficient to pass the time). I distorted my spirals, searching for something else, striving for unpredictable ways to get at a drawing that was not a spiral. My goal was to find forms I could place in an asymmetrical choreography, and the rules were my way of destabilizing expectations. Rules or no rules, I was still looking for ways to come up with images from something that was abstract; this was just a different take on that basic idea.
The loops could be any shape including having rectilinear sides, and they can bend in any direction, but a single loop had to stop when it ran into its own loop line, where I would start another loop. And I would try to adhere to these limitations. As an option, it could also stop when encountering another loop if it happened before touching its own line. A loop line could also intersect another loop line and create new shapes in between two or more loops.
When I doodle, I don’t usually have something in mind, but for weeks, I’ve been counting the loops, after having settled on the number five. Even if I did not designate a subject matter, that number of loops does reference something for me because it is based on human qualities. The number five is the human number because we are limited to five senses, we have five fingers on each hand and foot, and we have five limbs if you count the head. So, I would use five loops for every discrete form I would come up with, trying to find a face, a foot, a hand, or a body.
Sometimes I did have something in mind, and if it were a human, I would count the loops anyway. If I tried to bring back a certain old friend I no longer knew, I would think about this person and doodle the five loops without looking at the page, with my eyes fixed on infinity. And when the five loops were over, I would try to find my old acquaintance in the scribble. Then, I would do another one and another one, until I got it right or gave up.
Recently, I’ve been taking these quick doodles and trying to make something of them with a bit of crosshatching and such. I would see a face and then bring it out of the obscurity by finding details, still trying to surprise myself by distorting forms even as I was bringing them out of the linear mire. I was coming up with things suddenly in the wake of having nothing in mind. And this was even more exciting than placing the finishing details on a little gem of a painting.
by Rey Armenteros
I draw with paint. Though everyone of my pictures from recent years would be classified as a painting, I feel they are mostly drawings in disguise.
A drawing is immediate with little planning. It is a one-sitting enterprise, and the more you deliberate over it, the closer it comes to becoming a painting. A drawing is linear, and it is monochromatic, but it can evolve from there and still be loyal to its upbringing.
A drawing is done with solid colors; there is little subtlety. Titanium White is corporeal in paint mixtures and Zinc White is not; therefore when I use Titanium White, I am drawing, and when I use Zinc White, I am painting. Drawing is like writing. Painting is the propensity to use the surface to make something of it; the skin of a painted portrait could be an actual skin of paint, and the feel of these surfaces connote to the surfaces of other things.
Nevertheless, painting can be ethereal, and drawing is hardly ever ethereal, unless it is alluding to it in some abstract way.
And that is another thing: drawing is provoking a literal reality using the most abstract of devices (namely line and the lack of color), whereas painting is pure abstraction, even if it represents something and even if it does it convincingly.
So, if I begin with abstract clouds in order to get something out of it eventually, I am painting regardless of the tools I am using. If I know what I want to depict, I am drawing.
A calligraphic mark makes me think of drawing. A haze is beyond question an aspect of painting.
When I sit in the studio and am making one or the other, I am always using acrylic paints, and I don’t think about whether I’m making a drawing or a painting. The distinctions come later when I am analyzing the way I go about doing things, when the act of drawing or painting is over.
by Rey Armenteros
The way I’m presenting the work online might run into organizational confusion. For example, I’ve been showing older paintings in various places, but I am currently selling prints related to my newer work. And this newer work is not the most recent work. My Tumblr is showing work from my time in Shinchon, Korea starting from first to last, and my Instagram is showing the same work from last to first. This blog shows work as it comes up in my thoughts, and I am currently making work absolutely no one has ever seen.
In presenting my work, I am not trying to confuse. I should inoculate the madness with a little order. I should come up with that game plan that’s going to put my work in the best light.
But life is complicated. A career in art is just as complicated (and confusing), and there are no set standards to such careers. I’m putting this stuff out as best I can, in the order that it occurs to me, and it may make sense to do it otherwise, but I don’t know how.
by Rey Armenteros
Complication never assisted any form of art – but I simply can’t help it. When I make art, I not only shape the essentials of whatever it is I’m trying to draw or paint but I explore for details that create complications. I invent things, drawn objects that may not have a name because I only placed them in the image because it felt right, like some control box on a brick wall that has pipes leading away from it on the edge of an alley away from the real focus of the image: a figure holding onto a handkerchief weeping melodramatically. When I post art in my various online sites, I elaborate. I seek the longest path. If there’s a way to make things richer, the fascination of such diverse possibilities would lure me down that rabbit hole — the one that might eventually have my viewers scratching their heads to understand what it is I’m trying to say with my art.
But in my view, not only could a painting be complicated, it could show off a dozen textures, meticulous details that I incorporated that I had not identified (since I placed them in because they felt right rather than because they represented something). That one particular painting might then be related to several other paintings in ways that were obvious, to me. And so, I group them together hoping that the viewer can find the narrative thread between them.
Then, I might write about such work and use the opaque language of sincerity “to try” to get the right message across, rather than a pithy verbal point of connection that merely made sense. In recent descriptions of such images, I would use such terms as Shinchon Color and hellfire art, dark drawing and abstract landscape.
I don’t know what all these peripheral matters would mean to a prospective viewer, but as a working artist, I might be shooting myself in the foot. Successful art is nothing if not simple. It is the shortest path to the eye, and therefore the mind, and thus it had better be clear. If it is an abstract image, it should be nothing more than that. If is a portrait, then a portrait is what you should provide without adding a landscape and a still life in order to raise the idea of this triangle of connections.
It seems to me that such simplicity is allowed just one turn of complication. You have seen it a million times before where an artist tries to play with the idea of portrait or landscape without going too far out there; that one point of complication can still safely deliver a message while providing an interesting twist. For example, if you have an abstract painting, it can hide actual things inside of it that the perceptive viewer might look for. If it is a portrait, you can make it of an unknown creature that still retains the human qualities of attitude or personality. You only get that one break of the rules; more than that would get you into the dangerous waters of real complication, and therefore confusion.
When experts say that art is about communication and that clarity will grant success in an artistic endeavor, I understand exactly when they mean. But for me, there is no way around it. The lens through which I see the world is not a spyglass that you can twist to get closer or farther from an object but a kaleidoscope of visuals and the many ways in which they form a dire web in my thoughts. The questions I ask take apart the notion between my images. Does this one drawing of mine somehow feed these five other ones I made afterward? Do they allow the same concepts to materialize? Do these portraits or character studies represent the same people (people I had made up when just playing around with colors and ink) because they not only look similar but they feel familiar to each other? I thrive on such infinitely probing questions. It is exciting to me to negotiate paths into art that raises issues within itself. And I really don’t know how to do it any other way.
by Rey Armenteros
I painted this a couple of years ago on Jack Kirby’s birthday. I was online, looking at comics imagery, and I found it was Jack Kirby’s birthday that day. He would have been 96 or 97. I was planning to paint that day, but now I wanted to make something significant to Jack Kirby. So, I came up with this, something that occurred to me when I going over the reasons that made Kirby so damn great. I thought of my old room, where I started collecting comics. That’s supposed to be my brother off to the side, playing or doing something by the chest of drawers, and those are my comics on the bed.
That room was the place where I first heard of Jack Kirby, where I first read back issues of the Eternals, Machine Man, and Devil Dinosaur. I also had a couple of rare issues of early Fantastic Four and one of Thor; those three issues from before my birth spelled out a mystical time for me. My brother had some Kirby Captain America comics from the Marvel return of the 1970s, and there was more. When I reach back far enough into my memory of Jack Kirby, I go back to this room.
Jack Kirby was there at the dawn of the comic books, and he came to influence that industry in so many ways. In the realm of American superhero comics, there has been no one more influential or beloved. Today marks what would have been his hundredth birthday, and so let us devote a moment of reflection to the King of Comics.
by Rey Armenteros
When you listen to the classical music station, they might suddenly announce over three hundred years of Bach, celebrating the great composer’s birthday, and some people might wonder what’s the angle? I mean, I know it is an appreciation of the man, but why celebrate the birthday of a dead person? I suppose I’m looking for conceptual glue to these types of fragments, and I don’t recognize enough in them to suit me.
With Jack Kirby’s hundredth birthday coming up, now I am beginning to understand. When you think of one hundred years, you can internalize that number, not just because it is a milestone but it is not impossible that a human life can attain such a duration. So there is a physiological connection with the number, an intimate understanding, and then you think that Jack – had all the cards fallen into the right place – could have lived that long. He could still be alive today.
For me, celebrating Jack’s hundred years makes sense. Online, you can find many fans making the point, filing a parade of endless images by the King of Comics, and these are spearheading an incredible interest in the great comic book creator, setting off more fireworks than the publishing houses that owe him a great deal.
In my art, I never (consciously) reference the work of other artists. Here, we have an exception. It comes from my recent reading of the New Gods. I was taken aback by the superb twists in Jack Kirby’s story, particularly the one above, where the main hero, Orion, is revealed to have a natural sinister countenance that he has to hide with the help of his mother box. This is one of the most shocking moments, delivered in a strange circumstance that gives the reader a chill. Below is my attempt at a similar situation (far from finished, and far from good).
Thank you, Jack, for still lighting the fire for artists everywhere.
by Rey Armenteros
We moved. And now I’m looking at unfinished paintings that I had started before the move to try to see how I could finish already. This entails uncovering what I was trying to do with these particular paintings in the first place.
A great deal of time and meaningful events have divided the last time I contemplated this work and now. I’m trying to remember what I’m trying to say with them.
We bought a house. We went through the tremendous energy of gutting our old home, and we moved much of this displaced stuff to the new home. Then, we organized all of our possessions (including these unfinished drawings and paintings that I couldn’t find at first), and we were also making changes to the new house. We had to take care of peripherals with our child’s school and utilities and the rest of all that. We had a long list of other things in order to have life continue once again. We bought a second car. And after all this, we tried to look for the life we had left behind, look for the past things we had misplaced.
And now is when I’m starting to think about my art again, over two months after having lost touch with it. What you see here is some of what I have. Where do I start?