Analytical Painting

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In “Thinking Fast and Slow”, Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman considers how we make decisions, fast and slow. Fast decisions are easy, quick and driven by habit and convention. Slow thinking requires mental work and the brain prefers the easier path.  Let’s consider going slow in our thinking can be useful in perceiving and making better paintings.

Critical analytic thinking can spot the mistakes of quick easy reactive thinking (often called intuitive). Here are some examples.

In starting the painting “Wandering Stream” I determined to design the work while painting  without the use of initial sketches to organize my design. Here’s how I found trouble.  In example one you see my initial approach.  Later I noticed the two sylph-like blue shapes in the lower area were not only suspiciously rhyming but also, dividing the painting in two.

Example 1, “Wandering Stream” begins. Step one.

In example two I tried uniting the two shapes with a cross bar which created a peculiarly foreshortened and floating letter “H”.  This was no good.

I further observed that my reliance on yellow and yellow-greens in the top half were not connected to similar colors in the bottom half.  The painting was splitting apart.  The bottom half was separating from the top half. Furthermore because “H” shape did not  help to unify the painting… I told myself to slow down.  Sit, look and think without a brush in my hand.  Coincidentally this is how Edward Manet described the process of painting, as 90% looking and thinking without a brush in your hand.

Example 2. Step two of “Wandering Stream” and the unfortunate “H” solution,

As I sat considering options from about twenty feet distant from the painting I concluded I must introduce some of the colors in the bottom half to the top half (like light pinks and blues) and, colors in the top half to the bottom half of the painting  (like yellows and greens).  I also saw I needed a design shape which could interlock the top half to the bottom half and,  the left side with the right side of the painting. The historic serpentine-meander shape came to my rescue.  You can trace the azure blue foreshortened serpentine form wandering from the painting’s lower left up through the middle and off to the right.

Example 3.  “Wandering Stream “in its current state.

Another Nobel laureate, Eric Kandel, submitted that distillation and reduction were useful tenets for successful 20th century modernist abstract works in his book, “Reductionism and Brain Science”.

In my painting “Stream to the Horizon” I again began without sketching.  Again I placed the horizon high in the picture plane leaving more space for the labyrinthine blue-meanders, that dissipated gathering of water patches all moving  toward the horizon.

I had also introduced multiple lines of distant trees in the distance and interrupting rounded triangular shapes sitting in the foreground. These forms later appeared to me more as lost butterfly wings than leaves poking above the surface.  There were too many and looking too much alike. I began editing them out. Additionally, the foreground’s  blue water-patches appeared too similar in size and too numerous.

Next, I looked to the horizon’s  bands of trees. There were too many. They needed reduction. The atmosphere of the distance needed unification through dissolving fog, more simplification and reduction. You can see this process unfold in my three examples, 4, 5, and 6.

Example 4. Step one of “Stream to the Horizon”,

Example 5. Step two; note the superfluous interrupting shapes (leaves on water and double set of distant trees).

Example 6. Step three, after editing, reduction and distillation, “Stream to the Horizon” in its present state.

I invite you to join me in my coming workshops:

The first weekend in June I will be at the Lyme Arts Association with a two day plein-air workshop. “Techniques of The Masters” June 1 and 2, 2019. To register call 860 434 7802

In July (18, 19, and 20) I will conduct a studio workshop on Nantucket with the Nantucket Arts Association. “Natural Elements” a 3 day studio workshop with optional photo walks, July 18,19, and 20, 2019. Call 508 228 9700.

Save Friday May 10th to visit with me at the Susan Powell Gallery in Madison Connecticut for the opening of my solo exhibition “Color and  Luminance”.

See my new exhibition opening May 3rd at the Ponte Vedra Beach Cultural Center in Ponte Vedra Beach Florida.



6 Responses

    • dd_admin

      Paul, thanks for your supportive comments. They are meaningful to me.

  1. Mitra

    Thank you for your valuable information! I can alway learn great points by reading your blog posts!

    • dd_admin

      Mitra, I know this is a terribly late reply but, let me thank you for your supportive comments.
      Best, David

  2. Laurie

    I love this. I am not a landscape painter only because my gallery directed me to do other work. I would love to do landscapes and your techniques get me so excited. Do you ever do workshops in Canada?

    • dd_admin

      Laurie, again I must apologize for my later reply. thank you for your supportive comments. I have been to Canada to conduct workshops but, I have discovered that now I must get a work permit from the Canadian Embassy to teach even for a weekend in Canada. Alas. Thank you, David

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