Through Concentrated Breath

the making of images from memory

SHINCHON CROSSROADS 4

08 February 2017 by Rey Armenteros

Scan 15

I started answering my own questions. How was color (and opacity) going to change the way I did images? What did I want to do with this new approach?

I was fishing for images, letting them happen, at first, and making them with equal parts invention (allowing the paint to find faces in the clouds) and fixed ideas, which were those mental plans I was trying to get out in my art.

They were tiny paintings. I did about a hundred or more like this, and then kept doing more and more, just playing around with whatever came out, pushing my own notions of what I wanted and getting this hodgepodge of fun and unfocused details. They were mobs of ideas, and I loved it.

Scan 15a

I was looking toward the black and white work I had just made in the weeks previous to my big change and wondering how I could make work the same ideas – but now in color.

It was not going to be easy, because now I was focused on color, that strange new element that was putting me in raptures, and not the content which was making me move to a different tune of shadows and light.

 

Scan 3a copy

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SHINCHON CROSSROADS 3

31 January 2017 by Rey Armenteros

Scan 10

You’ve been drawing in black and white for almost ten years. The lead artist of the show is a good friend of yours and is aware of the reasons why you refuse to paint, even as he steers you into color with the argument that your work needs more impact.

Because he is aware of your artistic intentions, he comes up with alternatives to actual painting. You have always respected him, almost like a mentor, but these ideas he is giving you are pretty substandard, such as placing color transparencies over your gray drawings; he is a sculptor, after all, and not a drawer or painter.

The only two choices you see before you are acceding to his less-than stellar ideas or returning to paint. (There is the third choice of not belonging to this group show in which many of your old friends are to be a part of, but that is not really an option.)
What do you do?

My solution was to simply abandon my artistic integrity by giving in and painting once again. Suddenly, I was working with colors, veering away from ink and straight into paint, playing with its substance, contemplating color harmonies.

Ultimately, my return to paint was an unexpected one, most of all to me. Every reason that you had ever come up with as to why the austere black and white was superlative to paint had to be refuted, revealing that such philosophical reasoning may be more about preference than any reality you are trying to define.

So, I dropped all arguments I had ever formulated for black and white, and my mind was, for once, fresh – free of ideologies, receptive, almost as if unformed.

And there was work to be done.

Scan 57a copy

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SHINCHON CROSSROADS 2

21 January 2017 by Rey Armenteros

Scan 9

If you are ever asked to go from black and white to color, here is what you should do. Contemplate why you’re doing black and white, and then think of the possibilities of color. Come up with some numbers and figures, and if the equation you put together shows a marked improvement in change, you better be sure that is what you want before you make the leap, because there is no going back.

In my case, my colleagues had secured an exhibition space at a well-respected commercial art gallery in a coveted neighborhood of Seoul, Korea. These were high stakes we were playing with, and anything less than a stellar job would have been unacceptable. I was being given ideas of how to make my gray pictures pop, how I could overlay sheets of color transparency over the black and white drawings, and I felt like I was being pushed into a corner I didn’t want to be in.

Complacent in my black and white world, I had been convinced that I would never need to work with color again. However, the show was a big event, and the push to do my best allowed for unforeseen solutions. Ultimately, I don’t know what the show did for the others. (I wasn’t even there when it opened; I had returned to the US to get married.) I’ve heard here and there a string of gossip and loose stories about what the show did for such and such, how success was soon followed by calamity, how friendships were broken, how a couple of fellow exhibitors vowed never to do another group show again. It all sounded very exciting, and I was thrilled to be part of this grand, tragic thing, but in the end, it did next to nothing for my own career. All I got out of it was a new direction in my art that I would have never foreseen. Good or bad, change had arrived, and I was suddenly accepting it with open arms.

I don’t regret caving in for the group, but I do think these things come at a price.

Scan 9a copy

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SHINCHON CROSSROADS 1

16 January 2017 by Rey Armenteros

What do you do when you find yourself in a group art show and your colleagues are asking you that for the sake of the show, you need to change your work?

Do you welcome change or do you resist?

Scan 117

The Situation: For years, my art was nothing more than ink drawings. My fellow exhibitors thought it might have more impact to incorporate color somehow. I resisted it at first, though the idea didn’t really bother me. Eventually, I caved in and went with whatever was coming; I experimented, I tried different things. I had no idea at the time that I was entering a crossroads and choosing a path to different artistic vistas (regardless if it came at a cost or not).

Ultimately, what would have been the better path?

I think no one can say for sure, but I have two answers for this. If there is a show coming up and you are asked to change your work, one solution would be to go with it for the greater good. It could turn out successful for everyone, as was the case in our show, where the group show was perhaps a little better for it – and better for me, where I consequently found a new direction which took me through more changes and has led me to this place of reflection in which I find myself today.

But, on principal, I will never do that again, and that is simply because an artist that allows himself to be swayed by the practical matters of a group is an artist that has no connection to his own work. And that is my second answer, though it should be the first.

Scan 3c Scan 3d

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Dad in His Living Room

07 January 2017 by Rey Armenteros

This one image is stripped of almost every extraneous detail. It looks closer to my father than any other picture I ever labored over, and it captures something essential the others of him didn’t.

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To me, the outline that forms the person is the most striking feature. To get these lines just right, I did them over and over again on separate skins. I did about twenty versions of this outline drawing, and I started arriving at an order to the strokes very much like Asian characters, which are properly written only when you follow the prescribed sequence of strokes. This step-by-step process was instrumental in getting the variation of line, the curves, and the proportions of the forms to come together as they did.

When I started working on this image, the color ended up going over the lines, and in the end, I had to redo what I had thought were perfect lines. In the end, I don’t know which version was actually better.

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The Generation of an Image

19 July 2016 by Rey Armenteros

Here we have textbook steps for a painting; this is textbook in the traditional sense, which is something that rarely happens in my work.

Buddha 1

This began with a rudimentary drawing.

Buddha 2

The drawing developed a bit more before going into color.

Buddha 3

In this case, before introducing the colors, I placed more gesso over the drawing to allow for later transparent washes of color.

Buddha 4

Textures were added for still more washes of color.

Buddha 5

With a return to drawing, I further cut into the forms, refining them a bit by using lines. There were no opaque painting in this one.

This image, like all my images, is from memory. It was done with the Great Kamakura Buddha in mind, which I had seen twice when I lived in Japan. I did it in 2012, and looking at it now, I clearly see where this falls short (on all manner of levels, including the fact that it has only some remote resemblance to the real one). I will say that I did have a slightly different way of entering paintings in those days (notwithstanding these steps), and it was more of a purist, hit or miss approach, where in this case, I got the essence (or structure) without getting the details, without really getting the subtlety. I may explain this better one day.

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Worth Another Shot or Not

31 May 2016 by Rey Armenteros

SKINS 2_0012

There was a drawing in an ad for a comic book that was just the type of drawing I didn’t like. I could tell the guy could draw, but it was scratchy – scribbly crosshatching coupled with thick, tapered lines. It was so sketchy, I couldn’t tell if it were a girl or a boy (most likely a girl), and she was propping her chin with one hand, holding her head in profile, while holding a flute with the other.

I was in my early teens, and it’s funny how many times in life you hate something and later rediscover how wrong you were. A year or two later, I found myself compelled by this drawing, in love with it, never letting it go! Years after that, with no access to the drawing, I would try to bring it back together. With a pen, I would try to recreate what was there, in my memory. It would never come close, but I would focus on different aspects of it with each failure, like the nature of the scribbling line on my third attempt or the exact turn of the head on my fifth one. That turn of the head was originally from a lower angle looking up. And I would try it again.

That is what I’ve done here, but this time in paint. But what I have here is something that is not even in the same hemisphere of methodology and treatment, what with the color wet-into-wet and my own brand of strokes creating a weave all my own and nothing like that one from memory – of an image that no longer resounds with the same poignancy, but still worth another shot.

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Emulating a Doodle

02 May 2016 by Rey Armenteros

Using a brush to make marks like a pen. Using paint instead of ink. Bringing out the idea of a doodle onto a skin of paint rather than a scrap piece of paper and putting down one image after another, as if I were still at the back of the class, jotting things in my notebook. This little thing was an exercise in emulation. I don’t know if there’s enough here to justify emulation (when using the simply natural tools would be better), but it was fun.

Doodles

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Another Living Room Moment

26 April 2016 by Rey Armenteros

Why show this? I don’t know. It was nothing more than me trying paraline perspective in a room in my dad’s home. I added my dad in the corner, but he’s not coming under the paraline rules, almost like an objective bystander. He’s an outsider, floating above the room, delineated by thick lines that no longer hold him together. Paraline, as a diagrammatic handling of reality, succumbs here to the standard rules of perspective, here and there, wherever I forgot the rigid rules. Theoretically, a paraline drawing can run forever, if you have enough drawing surface, like the diagrams in assembly instructions and eye trickery. I’d like to try this again and make it work this time.

SKINS 2_0008

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Dynamic Light and Shade

12 March 2016 by Rey Armenteros

Untitled2

Burne Hogarth’s series of art instruction books continues with this volume that centers on shading. It is over150 pages populated by many black and white illustrations and minimal text. Most of the drawings are by Hogarth himself. Is it a worthy art instruction book?

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Hogarth begins with the idea of silhouettes and how even in their flat and limited capacity, you can imply spaces and relationships between objects. He follows that chapter with edge light, which is when you take a silhouette and penetrate its flatness with hints of highlights around the edges of forms.

Untitled 2

In the third chapter, he delineates the nature of light and shadow in five types of general situations. The first one follows when an object is hit by a single light source. Then, he brings up the characteristics of dual light sources (one strong, direct light source and an indirect light source on the other side of the object). Next, he goes into diffused lighting, which is when the light sources are not distinct, such as during an overcast day. He has a category on nothing more than moonlight. And the last one is sculptural light, which is not a lighting situation that happens in nature but more of an art technique where you shade forms in order to heighten the form rather than to form realistic lighting.

He continues with other lighting situations that each get a chapter. Similar to the idea of sculptural light, spatial light and expressive light are less about depicting a natural occurrence and more about using light to manipulate the viewer’s focus or raise some higher emotion, respectively. Environmental light are the weather and seasonal conditions that can come into play, and textural light focuses on the surface texture of objects. Transparent light illustrates a few strategies when drawing objects that have transparency. Fragmentation light underscores those situations wherein light breaks up, such as light on choppy waters. And radiant light is light that is in some way aimed at the viewer.

When I teach shading, I go about it differently, but I find some sense in his categories. At first, I was reluctant to accept a distinction for the very specific moonlight, but as I read what he had to say about it, I felt that he was presenting a situation that conflated two other categories, the single light source (the moon) with a diffused light (since the moon is not a direct light source but a reflective one that can render dim contrast).

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Each category is detailed in a chapter, and each chapter gives variations for the student to understand some of the possibilities within each category. One of the biggest problems with the book is that there is no formal text. Each chapter starts with a paragraph and the rest of the words are confined to captions. In other words, he is doing very little instruction but providing many examples. He never goes into explaining how one might go about doing this, and I suppose for a beginner, it would be frustrating. Actually, I would not recommend this to anyone who is closer to the side of novice drawer; this is better put to use with someone who already knows some things about shading.

As a textbook, it could have some use, since the instructor could fill in for all the gaps in the book. It could be used as a sampler of things to look for. You could even use it to copy (as an exercise) Hogarth’s drawings. Nevertheless, it is so steeped in his comic book style, that anyone not interested in such heroic drawing will not get a lot of value from it.

Curiously, it works best as an art book that showcases the art of Burne Hogarth. His stylized drawings are reminiscent of his work on the Tarzan newspaper strip, but they are rich with intricacies that make you want to keep the book for that value alone.

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