Through Concentrated Breath

the making of images from memory

Monthly Archives: November 2017

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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