Nicholas Baxter

Blog posts tagged “Jeff Gogue”

Realism Techniques 3

Working Smarter, Not Harder

Here are two more quick paintings from my visit to Jeff Gogue’s studio last summer, which I’ve blogged about here and here.

These paintings were executed (almost) entirely in Jeff’s very direct Alla Prima working process, with his stripped-down palette of Titanium White, Alizarin Crimson, Prussian Blue, and Transparent Orange.

"Extinguished 1" Oil on Panel, 12 x 12 in, 2011

The goal during the several hours it took to paint each of these was, first and foremost, to let the spontaneity and expressiveness of each brushstroke remain apparent, to let the paint breathe in all of its wet, visceral uneven glory. In other words: not turning into a self-indulgent artist and over-brushing everything to death. Or, in other, other words: not using my normal sharp-focus realism techniques or process.

"Extinguished 2" Oil on Panel, 12 x 12 in, 2011. These candles are a metaphor for the passing of time and worldly things, the aging of mind and body. The still-smoking wick represents the fundamental stillness of mind, accessible through meditation, which becomes clear once all thoughts, concepts and constructs have been extinguished. The half-melted candle represents the slow aging and decay of the body, our physical vessel.

The theory behind this approach is that over-working the paint takes you out of the moment, masking the raw emotion that may be transferred from body to brush to canvas, that infuses a picture with a sense of life and mystery.  Emphasis is placed on accurate and efficient reproduction of what you’re seeing: hold brush confidently, make your mark with discriminating force, leave it alone.  As a realist, this exercise is a valuable lesson in efficiency, allowing you to access the ability to commit the most information with a single stroke. More accuracy with the least amount of physical brushwork or artistic manipulation.

Its simplicity is quite beautiful, really, like Buddhist meditation practices.

It’s also quite painful for the neurotic who wants everything to be smooth and perfect, everything resolved and solved so that the final illusion is primary while the physical surface of the painting melts into oblivion.  The working process I’ve developed over the years is patterned after many of the Renaissance masters who used many layers and subtle glazes to achieve convincing illusions.  These results are often dependent upon a process of highly refined brushwork, and arrived at through precise technique, planning, and strategy. So, needless to say, each of these candle still lifes were a monumental struggle from start to finish, as I forced myself to make marks and then leave them alone–moreover, to make “mistakes,” and then leave them alone.

Ultimately, I’m pleased with the results as well as the experienced gained from the exercise. When I returned home and began painting again in my usual manner, I found myself able to loosen up my brushwork to achieve illusions more efficiently. Incorporating the ‘observe, make mark, move on’ attitude helps me, as a painter of realism, focus on committing only the necessary information, more accurately and more quickly. I see this as the next level of learning, after an artist learns simply how to work with paint. It’s the process of learning how to work smarter, not harder. To achieve greater results, in less time and with less struggle.

Realism Techniques 2

After recently finishing my newest series of paintings for my show in May/June at Last Rites Gallery, I had a chance to revisit an experimental painting I’d started this past summer while attending a workshop by my friend Jeff Gogue, a phenomenal painter and tattoo artist in Grant’s Pass, OR.

To backtrack a bit: I convinced Jeff to lead a workshop for me in an attempt to break away from my well-worn habits and artistic routine.  I find the intentional abandonment of familiarity and comfort to be a crucial element of any learning process, and knowing that Jeff has a drastically different technical approach than I do, I knew I could round out my own knowledge and expertise by absorbing some of his.

Jeff and I in his studio.

This proved to be quite challenging and downright frustrating (perfect! or in the words of comedian Will Arnett, “that’s how you know it’s workinnng!”), as I grappled with my ingrained artistic tendencies. (Side note/Cliffhanger #1: I’m preparing a thorough explanation of this concept for a future blog post).  

I started a simple painting that week, abandoning myself to Jeff’s process, with no clear vision of what my end result would look like nor how I would get there. My stay in Oregon ended before I could see this painting through to its conclusion, and I quickly forgot all about it for months while keeping busy with other projects.

How it looked when I left oregon.

Fast forward to March, and here I am with a unique challenge of revisiting what I’d learned at the workshop in order to finish what I’d started several months prior.  I finally had a vision of where I wanted to take this piece, and I made the decision to adapt the foreign process I’d started the painting under, to my own familiar process for finishing pieces, creating an interesting synthesis of two peoples’ techniques and approaches.  A mental collaboration, with only one person executing the plan.

Here’s a step-by-step document of a portion of the painting, consisting of wafting tendrils of black smoke, being completed with my familiar glazing process.  Glazing over previously dried layers is the only way to build up smooth transparencies of color–perfect for the illusion of smoke. I’ll post the entire completed painting once it’s been properly photographed.

(Interesting side note/Cliffhanger #2: In deconstructing this process by studying the progress photos I’d taken, I realized a much more efficient method of layer buildup that I could have used, which I predict would also be conducive to even more realistic results. A compare and contrast to the 2 approaches will be the subject of a future Realism Techniques post.)

The smoke was completed in 5 stages, each a transparent glaze layer, consisting of a high alkyd-to-pigment ratio, applied over paint that had been allowed to dry completely.