Through Concentrated Breath

making images from memory

Black, A Triptych of Thoughts

30 November 2017 by Rey Armenteros

A student in a color theory class once insinuated that you can make a perfectly good black by mixing brown and blue, which raised the question of why I included a tube of Mars Black in my materials list. My argument was that you can certainly get some profound grays and dark browns but you will never get a true black like the color you see when you wake up in a room full of darkness. So, if you ever have to paint a room full of darkness (or just about any night scene), you can’t get away with merely blue and brown.

The reality is that if you want a true black to paint black objects like a TV set or dress shoes, you would need to buy black at the store, like you would for red, blue, yellow, or any other color. Certain painters frown on black. It is a superfluous color that only serves to shift colors and dominate mixes. The going argument is that the use of complementary colors is better for shades. But complementary colors can only go so far into darkness. Historically, the use of black is in evidence in the cave paintings of thirty thousand years ago, and it was likely in use well before that since it was one of our original four colors, or so the experts say. Leonardo Da Vinci considered it one of the primary colors. It has always been an essential color until about a hundred and fifty years ago when the Impressionists dictated black was not a color to be used. (The Impressionists, alas, never painted night scenes; their thing was outdoor daylight, which might have very little use for black.) Since then, a majority of painters have precluded black from their shopping list. Like everybody else, I used to shun black. Now, not only do I use black, I use three types of black.

Mars Black comes from an iron oxide, and I use it for general mixtures with other colors that I then store in containers to use later. It is not a very special color, but it is a good all around color for such mixtures. For example, if you mix Yellow Oxide with Mars Black, you get a lush olive green.

Bone Black (often mislabeled Ivory Black) is my drawing black. Sometimes I either mix it with other colors or glaze thin coats over an image in order to place shadows after the fact. It is a warm black that can have the curious look of pencil work if used in hatching. The name comes from the bones from birds and other little animals that they burn to extract the particles for this pigment.

Carbon Black is a deep black that has a cool undertone. I use it for inky effects or when I need an absolute black. For contrast, it has the most impact. If I were stranded on a desert island and could only bring one color with me of the thirty or so I use, it would be this one. I have to confess, the greatest joy I have in painting and drawing is when I make lines with this color.

In my work, black has become the color that puts my pictorial elements together. When I am ready to wrap up an image, I use black. On certain days, I only want to use black. I own multiple containers of the three blacks in my repertoire. All in all, I don’t believe I do that many night scenes, but when I do make one, I know I am well-prepared.

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The Rules of Doodling 5

22 November 2017 by Rey Armenteros

And here I’ve come to the end of the line, and I can only conclude that you can play with rules in your doodles, but you can’t shackle yourself to them. The rules themselves are not important. They are there to serve the flow of ideas and to have the images come together in certain ways.

I can’t say how important the doodle is to my art. On the one hand, until recently, I didn’t doodle at all; I hadn’t done so for many years. But in the random ways I arrive at images, you can conclude that I have been doodling in paint for all that time.

In some paintings, I make the doodle show its genealogical imprint through scribbling lines and incomplete drawings. I have a few examples that emulate the look of doodles and scratchy sketches. The problem is they are paintings and not doodles. I like looking at these pieces with their broad similarities to pen and ink, but I don’t number them among my stronger pieces. They feel forced. What is the point of pursuing a meaningless exercise only to take the “plastic paper” it sits on and adhere it to a painted panel and then call it a painting?

There are more natural ways to incorporate the doodle. The general process is to start something with a doodle and finish with something else. There is an idea I’ve been following where I make rows of rudimentary doodles on a large acrylic skin and then only flesh out the doodles that somehow come alive for me. I add colors or darker lines and locate details. The doodles that get this special treatment remind me of the panels on a comic book page. My mind gets busy turning these possibilities around, and a new path appears before me…

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The Rules of Doodling 4

14 November 2017 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.


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The Rules of Doodling 3

05 November 2017 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.

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The Rules of Doodling 2

30 October 2017 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.

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The Rules of Doodles I

21 October 2017 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.

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Drawing and Painting: A Personal Definition

14 October 2017 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.

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The Constant Flow

21 September 2017 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.

No regrets.

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What Merits Reside in Complication

03 September 2017 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.

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One Hundred Years of Jack Kirby!!

28 August 2017 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.

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