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Fooling Around with Old Flames

November 16, 2010

For almost four years, I’ve maintained a self-imposed monogamous relationship.  No, this has nothing to do with my personal life.  It has everything to do with my artistic endeavors.  For these four years, I have focused very strictly and intently on painting.  I wanted to truly become a Painter, and the best way to accomplish that was to completely immerse myself in it.  And I wanted to develop some modest reputation as a good Gouache Painter.  So I entered into this singular relationship, forsaking all others.  I haven’t experimented.  I haven’t dated around.  I have only painted… exclusively in gouache.

When I did this, I completely turned my back on some 45 years of working in pencil, colored pencil, and pen and ink.  I have to admit it has been a worthwhile endeavor.  By staying so focused, and maintaining a very serious work ethic, I have been able to develop some unique methods and an increasingly recognizable painterly style.  Focusing so intently has allowed me, in this sixth decade of my life, to continue to discover what I’m capable of.  But, I suppose, first loves and old flames have a way of imprinting themselves on one’s psyche.

At times in the past year, while searching for something in my files, or reorganizing the studio, I’ve come across drawings and sketches done in the past.  I’ve picked up pencil or pen and ink renderings and thought, “wow, that was good!”  I’ve uncovered colored pencil work and remembered the delicate touch that went into it.  I’ve found mixed media pieces and thought, “I should have experimented a little more”.  Old feelings tugged at me as I realized that I had completely turned my back on these early loves.

I remember when painting and I first got serious.  It had started out innocently enough.  I was working on what I intended to be a mixed media piece, a combination of Prismacolor pencil and gouache.  It was late January, 2007, shortly after my 63rd birthday.  I had done a preliminary pencil drawing, and was working over it with light washes of gouache.  The intent was to do a gouache underpainting, and then work over that with colored pencil.  I don’t know what happened.  I just couldn’t help myself.  I never got to the colored pencil stage, and ended up going all the way with brushes and paint.  Like the electric touch of a new love, the excitement was overwhelming.  The pencils became merely tools in the preparation for paintings.  The Prismacolor pencils, dozens and dozens of them, languished on a side table for weeks until I finally put them away.  Pens eventually dried up.  I was hurtling forward on a new adventure.

Today, I am first and foremost a Painter.  I love the challenge of trying to breathe life into a painting, of capturing the light, of putting a touch of mystery in the shadows.  I love the sometimes infuriating challenge of getting the perfect mixture of color, the right combination of water and pigment to achieve the brushstroke I want.  I’ve worked long and hard to become a competent painter, and I didn’t give up nearly four years of my artistic life to stop now.

But I have missed my familiar old loves.  So I’ve decided to get back in touch, and to put a bit more variety into my studio time.  It’s time to pull those old flames back into my life and see if we can be friends.  Hopefully, they won’t hold grudges for being snubbed for so long, and will welcome me back.  I’ve opened up the old dust covered tackle box full of art supplies, and pulled out pen nibs and colored pencils.  I’ve pulled the old roto-tray off the shelf and restocked it.  I bought a new bottle of ink and a couple of drawing pens.  I even bought a set of pan watercolors to try some transparent washes.

Who knows what will come of this?  Maybe not much.  Maybe there’s no spark anymore.  After all, we’ve been separated for a long time.  I know I’m taking a risk.  Some of my friends will be a little disappointed, maybe worried that I’m going to stop painting.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  I will paint for the rest of my life.  At this point in my life, I’m simply being true to myself.  Maybe it will be kind of exciting.  I may even find that some experimentation and variety might spice up my marriage to painting.

Here are some things I’ve done in the last few days to get back in touch.  We haven’t gotten serious yet.  We’ve just been… you know… fooling around.

Blacksmith Shop, New Orleans, 4x6, Pencil

Windows, 6x4, Pencil

Mt Vernon House, 6x4, Pencil

House, Italy, 4x6, Pencil

4 Comments leave one →
  1. November 16, 2010 7:36 pm

    These bring back memories of my youth. You on the couch with your pencils. Me sitting next to you reading a book. I love these Dad.

  2. November 19, 2010 3:23 pm

    That is so sweet. Sorry for the intrusion. I have two daughters of my own and we do the same. I have entirely too many skeches of them reading on the coach 🙂 I just hope these turn into fond memories for them as well.

    Ralph your work is an inspiration what ever your medium of choice.

    • November 19, 2010 3:42 pm

      There’s no intrusion here, Zan. My children are my biggest supporters and fans. I really appreciate you looking in, and your very kind comment.

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