Thursday, January 14, 2010

Put Down a Stroke and Let It Stay: Masterful Improv


"Red Rock Rush"
5x7, oil - contact Michael


If you watch a master paint, it's like listening to a jazz trumpeter skilled at improv. The musician knows his notes and fingering well enough so that even if he blows a rare, false note, he can incorporate it into the flow. It'll sound as if he'd intended it all along. And sometimes, that false note can even lead to a passage of virtuosic genius.

A master painter is like that. He can blow a note and let it stay. That is, he doesn't fuss with his strokes. He doesn't massage a little blue into it to make it cooler. He doesn't blend the edges to make it not stand out so much. At the very most, he'll add a second stroke beside that one to modify an edge or to cause an apparent color change through simultaneous contrast. When he's done, the painting has a crisp immediacy just like the trumpeter's improv.

How can you become so accomplished that you can put down a stroke and let it stay? Practice. You've got to be as comfortable with your instruments as the trumpeter is with his. You must learn that you can get a certain stroke if you hold the brush one way, and a different stroke if you hold it another way. You must learn that when you mix this blue with that yellow, you'll get a particular shade of green, and when you put it down next to a certain red, it'll give you a particular effect. But you've got to know all these things not just in your brain but in your hand and arm as well. And that takes - practice.

The master painter does has an advantage over the trumpeter - he can take back a note, if he has to. A stroke can be scraped and put down right the second time. Since most master painters work in private, I'd bet this happens more than we might think.

What are your thoughts on this?

Lately, I've been making an effort to leave every brush stroke alone. It's tempting to fuss with a stroke, but I find if I consciously aim to mix the right color and put it in the right spot, the painting goes a whole lot better.

This small painting I did at Red Rock Crossing was painted this way. It was an overcast day and the light wasn't changing much, so I had plenty of time to consider each stroke.

4 comments:

Ruth said...

Wow, how true!
I love how you described the strokes and compared it with the musician. That makes it very clear to understand. Love your posts - you provide so much insight, and we call can learn from your struggles and successes.
Ruth

Dennis Dame said...

Well said Michael, well said!

billspaintingmn said...

Now your talkin'!
Sometimes rehearsing is rehashing.
I like the spontaneous trueth of the moment.
Also in cooking, somethings only
need a few seconds, at best.
I still need much practice, but
your post about this helps my aim
for the target.. Thank you!

Mary Sheehan Winn said...

Great analogy.
I just saw the most wonderful movie called, "For Love or Country" the story of Cuban Jazz trumpeter Arturo Sandoval. Since then, I've been listening his type of music on Pandora radio while I paint.

I like your painting.