Koi Painting: The Mind Brothers

orange koi fish swimming in garden pond

“The Mind Brothers” _ oil painting on canvas _ 24″ x 8″ 2004

by Robert Conway

This oil painting, titled “The Mind Brothers” is from an art show I had named “The Garden of Christopher Noble”. I can’t resist naming my paintings from obscure science fiction references, so the title of this painting comes from a tripped-out, futuristic spy thriller from 1967 by author Peter Heath. I also wanted to refer to something cerebral in this piece, that was my theme, like ideas ever-flowing like they were water. Yep, a little out there I know, I may have been partying a little bit during this stretch, natch.

I did not have to do any photo manipulation or Adobe Photoshop tricks on this artwork which I am particularly proud of, it was just one straight shot I got on my digital camera one a beautiful morning in my backyard while sitting on the bench by my water garden. This image is of our favorite butterfly koi named ‘Solomon” and his pool mate affectionately referred to as ‘The Big Orange One”.

I have painted two versions of this painted artwork, one in done in acrylic and one in done in oils and sold both of them, I have been itching to paint another one except this time twice as big, maybe I will break out some of my Japanese bamboo painting brushes which I have stashed away for just a special occasion.

May 30, 2014

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The benefits of working on your painting upside down

robert conway artist at work by Robert Conway

– Are you continually painting the same areas over and things are still not making sense?

– Is your painting turning into that impressive work that you had envisioned? Or is it just “meh”? -Are you tilting your head to one side and squinting when you are looking at your painting? – Are unsure as to what your next move is going to be? – Are you just jabbing away with your paint brush like a punch drunk boxer just hoping by chance that you are helping the situation? These may be a signs that things are not moving along as planned. You may have to change your battle plan. And it is a battle indeed, a battle in your brain. When they refer to modern warfare in the twenty-first century they always refer to an “ever-changing” strategy to meet the evolving tactics of the enemy. I like to apply this ideal when it comes painting. I want to be open to change as it all goes along. Each piece does create its own unique set of problems because each one is a lesson in itself. Also, as you are painting, you are going to run into challenges and discover things along the way that will alter your original approach anyway, so why not? This method will make you start reevaluating your approach and that is the most important thing. Tilting your head when you look at your work may be a non-verbal signal from your brain telling you to just rotate that thing. You may want to take the whole painting and your reference materials(layout) and flip them all upside down. To add another military analogy, just think of it as a possible exit strategy from the quagmire you presently find yourself mired in. I am always turning my paintings around. I just would not be able to finish one if I didn’t. To me there are just not enough clues there right side up to make it all work, no pun intended, I just never see the whole picture. Solutions to obvious problems right in front of my nose elude me because I am only studying everything from one vantage point. Here are some of the benefits I have found from turning my paintings upside down: • It will make you perceive everything differently. When you have to refocus, you are naturally going to pick up on different things, and the more visual clues the better. This exercise will force you to update your plan of action even though this means that you are going to have to burn up more brain cells than you had originally intended. Isn’t that always the case? • You are most likely going to find a lot mistakes that would of never occurred to you. Now in the end this is a good thing because you know where the problems lie, the bad news is that you will have a laundry list of things that need to be fixed. • You get to approach the painting with brushstrokes from a different angle. This can breath new life into a work that has been turning into a burden for you. I am most comfortable with a brush stroke that goes from left to right as opposed say from top to bottom, so by turning it upside down you will be able to take advantage of brush strokes that you might feel more confident with. • Elements start to make more sense. It will increase your understanding on how your composition functions as a whole. It will alter your perception as to how the elements in your piece interact with one another. You might suddenly realize that your favorite area in your painting is the one single thing that is screwing up the whole works. That happens to me all the time. • It breaks you out of a routine. The same old same old is never a good thing. • It challenges you out of your comfort zone. It may help push you to greater heights as an artist by waking up your survival skills. This may me be the thing that renews your excitement in your painting. Also, why go down the same road? Why not cover new ground? As artists don’t we always want to be improving? • It may aid in you in finding that one crucial element which has been eluding you that would tie everything together. Wouldn’t that be the bee’s knees? • You will have better access to those hard to reach places that you have been ignoring. You have to face them sometime and now would be the time to give them your attention. That may be the whole problem right there. When you are fine with the way you have painted upside down, turn it back right side up to check your progress. Hopefully your composition will have tightened up and you have got a better understanding of how all elements in your painting work together. May 22, 2014

The first painting: ‘Solomon and Platinum’

two koi fish swimming painting

by Robert Conway

Here is an oldie. Actually it is my first painting from late 2001 I remember that specifically because I really started to paint because I wanted to get my mind off thinking about 911, I needed a diversion. You see we lived right across the river from that even and we all had ringside seats there in the Mile Square City also known as Hoboken NJ. Needless to say we were all going bonkers living so close to that smoldering crater and this seemed like the best way to get my mind off things.

Funny to see how my style has evolved from this early start this painting looks like primitive cave art to me now or maybe some type of naive American folk art, yes indeed. The two fish in this acrylic painting, were my two favorite pets from that time, you could say muses, their names were Solomon (orange butterfly koi) and Platinum (white koi fish) and they ended up in countless paintings of mine from this time. I really do like this painting and I keep fighting off the urge to go fix it, well specifically I want to go repaint the white fish which I don’t think I really captured in my first try. perhaps someday.

April 24, 2014

The Hamptons painting, the most difficult one to finish

east-hamptons-acrylic-painting

Taming the beast

by Robert Conway

I found this article in my archives from when I had this other blog. This post deals with my attempts to finish my most difficult painting, thank goodness this ordeal is over, however I might add that I am pleased as punch in the way it all came out . . .

This one is so close to being finished, but as I go in for the kill, I keep finding these little things to fix, I am in the extra innings with this project. Now my wife, who usually never comments on issues dealing of my nocturnal hobby, is saying that it looked fine enough like a month ago and it looks finished. I am being referred to now as “the painter of sticks’, a subtle hint that I have been obsessing over this Hamptons vine painting for far too long. But to my defense, I need my obsessions, it just keeps my mind off what is happening in the real world which makes no sense to me whatsoever. Anyhow, I am going to have to lose this ‘stickman stigma’ in my house as soon as possible, so musical theme from this point on is of course, Momma Said Knock You Out.

It is not helping that my source material is an actual size blow up from a blurry cell phone shot which means I have to make things up and make my lines appear sharper than what I am seeing, even photoshop could not help me out with this. At least I am down to the tiny brushes now, so I am not too worried about totally screwing up. Words to live by: big brushes, big mistakes, little brushes, little mistakes.

This is a whole new painting for me. Quite a few of firsts in this one, lots of detail, a realistic style and most importantly my first painting with actual lines in it. I also broke one of my old taboos about never having any man-made objects in my paintings. Yep, out of the comfort zone with this one, most of my past work has been my koi paintings which are colorful and have very soft edges, I wouldn’t  even call them lines. There is a certain level of discipline in this new work with the dynamic composition, strict attention to detail and hard lines that really make the whole process a tight ass venture, not that I am not happy about my results, its just not as fun to paint as my previous artwork. Also, my computer system has been down in my studio so I am without any of my music, this makes me uptight right there. I miss my headphones and my twentieth century bar chords. I am really itching to get back to painting something that is fast, loose, colorful and not so darn serious. However, just let me say that I have always wanted to do a canvas like this, I have always loved japanese sumi-e ink painting and I always wanted to capture that tense, dynamic energy of say a coiled vine or the branch of an apple tree so i definitely think I got my fill as far as that is concerned. Also, painting the deep contrasts of shadow and light and experimenting with the levels of depth in this composition has been and an extremely rewarding venture.

Here are a couple things that I am going to do to finalize everything:

I believe that the whole war will be won with this painting when I can make the 3 elements on the right side of the composition (the white window frame, the dark barn wood siding and the faded sign on the top) connect convincingly on the same plane, instead of it being just 3 separate pieces. My plan right now is to first darken the shadows of the white window frame, that element needs to be pushed back from the foreground, there just needs to be more depth in this area. Second, I need to lighten up the barn wood and hit it with some long highlights. Third, I need to slightly darken the white sign in the upper right and work it out with a longer more convincing grey gradation over the entirety of this element. I hope that these moves will make these elements work together with each other and that this whole right plain looks like a real solid wall. The part of the vine in the foreground that reaches diagonally through the middle of the layout also needs to be modeled more, it needs to feel more rounded, it is very busy in this area but I am enjoying it, that branch looks yummy enough to eat, I just have to smooth it out more. Then I need to do a just a general examination of everything and hope that I don’t add any more things to fix on my list.   Hopefully after all that, I can put this horse out to pasture and start painting something else, sometime thing more fun. Can’t wait to spray this thing, I love putting that final finish on the worked canvs, sealed for all eternity in a UV coating, now that’s closure!

April 1, 2014

The Train Station acrylic painting finally gets started

train-station-terminal-painting-art

off to a slow start, but this might turn into a pretty good one

by Robert Conway

Well I finally broke down and started to work on that train station terminal painting that I blogged about in the fall. It is not that I don’t want to do it, it is just that I am really itching to do a painting that is alive with vivid colors and the three paintings that I have been working on have all been painted with very limited color palettes and I just want to bust out. This year I am going to have to remind myself to go out and take more pictures in the spring, summer and fall so I don’t have to resort to doing winter pieces which always lack color, it is sort of not fun, I might as well  just be drawing sometimes I think. Anyhow this is going to be a small painting(12×16) so hopefully it won’t take too much time, also I am going to go for a more impressionistic feel with this one as an experiment and if isn’t turning out right I can always go back to my safety net, realism. Right now I would say that my inspiration for this piece would be that series of paintings that Claude Monet did of the Rouen Cathedral, but like I said that can change as the process goes on. Yes I took those meds, that is why I am so chatty today.
In the picture above I wanted to show you how I start a painting which is I run two color proofs of the intended work both at one hundred percent, then I save one as my reference and the other one I turn over and rub a dark, soft graphite 6B pencil all over the back until there are no white spaces. From there I take that print and I  tape it around the edges of the stretched canvas using with the graphite side sitting on the canvas, then I tape the print to the canvas from the sides, so now I am ready to trace. I usually take the proper sized book and put it as backing behind the canvas so I am not tracing on a sagging canvas and then I trace out every sharp detail with a black ballpoint pen and I am good to go. Then you remote the tape, take the print of the canvas and give the graphite impression you just made a quick spray of workable fixative to seal it all and I am ready to paint.

When I start a painted work i want to make sure that I don’t cover up any of the details from the heavy pencil tracing that i put down on the canvas. The first paint cover is usually thin, so my pencil markings show through. Also, I want to make sure that in my first round of painting the colors I choose are as close to spot on as possible because that is a huge time saver if you get it right in the beginning, you have to fight the lazy urge to just get some paint down there on your first round just to make it look like something. When i first started painting, i would just put down any color that was reasonably close enough to my source material and then I would eventually pay the price later with having to go back and repaint the whole thing. You want that first overall cover with the paint to be as accurate as possible to give yourself the most visual clues. In this way you will have a firm and stable foundation for the rest of the journey. Just remember that the less guesswork you have going foreword, the more confidence you are going to have and a more enjoyable experience it will turn out to be.

March 24, 2014

Painting Fish with Acrylics while on Meds

orange fish white carp art

just can’t think of a good title for this painting

by Robert Conway

Yep, I took the plunge, I don’t want to delve into anything serious not on this blog, lets just generalize it and say that ‘old man winter was giving me the blues’. Why not? the rules have changed, everyone is crazy now, crazy is the new normal. Anyhow, my old 20th Century brain needed an overhaul, a little outside assistance getting through this mind numbing hassle festival that we call modern times, just a little tweak was all that was needed, a low dosage, nothing major, like the mayor of Toronto or anything, I am not starring off into space and drooling or something like that. That was a big concern, but the stuff they have now is different than it was when I was growing up, I think back then they gave everyone Thorazine to keep them quiet so everyone else could go about their day. So for years there was always that stigma in the back of my mind, my greatest fear was that I would become a total zombie, a total zombie who didn’t want to paint! but that did not turn out to be the case at all, in fact I have just upped my game, I am at a different level with my painting now, more focused in my execution and more confident than ever that I am improving with my progress at being a painter.

It all started the third day I started to take these pills, I was at work(as a digital retoucher) and I found myself writing the most eloquent emails about the most mundane work stuff, even my boss was like “I didn’t need a novel Bob, a simple yes or no would of done.” That’s when I realized that I was concentrating better, better than ever, I have always been easily distracted it is probably ADHD but we did not have that term in my day. I was always a poor student and If I had this stuff in high school I know I would of avoided that purgatory like stint at that community college. But I digress.

So along with the heightened concentration and the easing of distractions I am also finding that the extreme highs and lows that I have always experienced while I was painting have kind of melted away and has been replaced with a steady sense of quiet confidence and a little more optimism. If you have read any of my other posts you know that I am all about avoiding panic and ignoring self doubt these are the two culprits that had impeded my progress in my earlier experimental days and I am done with them, don’t let the door hit you on the way out fellas!

I would say also that I was greatly concerned that my desire paint would be diminished from taking these things which is not the case at all, the act of painting has become less of a struggle now so I am enjoying putting brush to canvas even more than before.

March 16, 2014

Painting what you see, Not what you think you see*

barn wood painting hamptons

“East Hamptons Shop” acrylic_painting on canvas_16″ x 20″

by Robert Conway

*I have been told that some of the subject matter included in this post might reach into “Drawing for the Right Side of the Brain” territory, since I have never read that book ,this is my (I am sure) less eloquent version of the subject matter. honestly I really don’t know my right from my left anyway.

When using a reference source like a picture or a layout for your painting the act of visually translating that image to your canvas can be can be quite a challenging one, there can be this inner struggle in your mind between the analytic side and the sentimental side of your brain. I always find it helpful to try to block out that sentimental side of your mind, the part with all the stored memory of all things you know and embrace that logical side of your mind since this is going to aide you in visually breaking down the elements such as for example which colors to mix, which brush to use or how much paint to apply.

There is sometimes a tendency to want to rendered favored areas into something greater than what you have in front of your eyes and this can lead to a hot mess of confusion, for example if you are painting say a leaf, there is going to be that part of your brain coaxing you to depict the leaf from your collective memory of all the zillions of leaves you have seen in your lifetime, it would be more productive to block out these urges since you are dealing with a new challenge and you should be focusing on the present and depicting what is actually sitting right in front of you. This sentimental part of your brain is going to tell you that a leaf is usually green, it has a stem, it has these veins in the middle and it has pointy edges, now this is all useless information for the task at hand, you want to tap into that part of your mind that tells you “this object is just a mixture of black and green that gradates to green and white and has some yellow highlights thrown in.” It is like you have to take a step back and detach yourself from a lot of the things that you are comfortable with, it is like a very sterile, scientific approach, maybe it would be good to pretend that you have never even seen a leaf before, in this way you can focus on a non-bias, analytical approach that should yield positive results. You can even take it a step further and not think of the leaf as an object at all, it may be better to just think of it as just another part of the composition
another brushstroke, another dab of paint and just move on from there.

Being a self-taught painter, I find this clinical method of visualization really helps especially when I am working on difficult, complex areas of a painting, much in the way that I would imagine a fire walker psyches himself up to walk over the coals, I want to get into a zone of detachment where i do not panic. In the past I have had a history of crashing and burning while working on difficlut areas of a canvas, but with this method of visualization I no longer feel like I am totally going to screw up, it is a good safety net to have.

March 2, 2014