The Fifth- Elements
A friend sent me an email imagining me to be painting in t-shirt and shorts. Hardee-har-har! Winter is the rainy season here and the second big storm of my stay has me pinned beneath a tarp, fighting drips that melt my paints and carry them down the walls. Despite this I am progressing on the monster, albeit only on a small section of the Cretaceous.
Before any pics of the painting, a little about where I am and how I am living. My friend Mercy asked me last fall if I would paint her a mural and when I asked what subject she wanted she said the two words that are music to artists working on commissioned pieces: "You decide." So I visited the site, Steve and Mercy's house west of Paso Robles. The house is a straw bale palace set in rolling oak hills about 20 miles inland of the central California coast.
The area has a lot size minimum of 40 acres and many of the parcels have no buildings on them. It is wild and beautiful. A mountain lion buried its kill on the property, there are thousands of birds and it's fall as you can see from the golden leaves of the black oaks. Quiet too. I walk or take a bike ride in the morning, wander the hills a bit. I grew up a hundred and fifty miles south of here but have never spent time in oak woodland. I'm glad to be here.
Have a look:
So it's a fine and beautiful place to take a walk- giant oaks and sycamores, ferns on the forest floor, woodpeckers pecking away and the knowledge of big cats in the neighborhood. Oh, and they grow some really tiny moose here, with cute little noses:
As long as I'm on wildlife- I had a good herp day yesterday. This Pacific treefrog has been calling ever since the rains came- I knew he was around but he always shuts up when I move through the area. I went to the woodpile and found him whilst looking for a board-
Then, after dark and in the middle of a pissing down rain shower Steve knocks on me cabin door with this-
It's an arboreal salamander. Steve found it on the flagstones outside the house. A new critter to me (always exciting for a bio nerd) and an internet search turns up the fact that they have a nasty bite. I didn't have the honor as the guy was well-behaved throughout his incarceration in the glass.
So here is how I am proceeding in rainy California:
As long as it rains I am limited to working under the tarp in the central section of this wall- the mid-Cretaceous. I am using water soluble paints and here is what happens when wet paint meets wetter water:
So I operate in a tarped-off little space and grind away. But today was a good day. Creating the illusion of depth where there is none is the central illusion of representational art. It's visual legerdemain, a set of tricks involving color and texture and overlapping elements. It''s a pretty delicate thing and on a painting this big and complex it's easy to get lost. Today I painted with a variety of sponges- thin, quick-drying texture washes to establish the relationship of foreground to mid and background. This is the first section of the mural that I have done the full spectrum of depth and, even though the paint is pale, I can see the layers now- I know this composition will work.
And in the middle of it all a "magic square inch". This was my dad's term for an accidental miracle in painting- a set of squiggles that, viewed at a distance, fools the eye entirely. Here was mine for the day- the photo is pale, and you may not get it, but when I look at this section from five or six feet away it turns into a convincing rock slab on a slope. It's a seemingly insignificant feature on the painting but enough of these strung together will make the mural work.