Art on Its Ear

I was struggling to loosen my painting style. So I asked myself: How can I create a painting in which I’m unable to control any aspect of it?

Journey Series, No. 5

“Paint upside down,” was my response. (The painting is upside down, not me!) The idea was that if the painting were upside down, I couldn?t see the composition or any details in a logical, left-brain sort of way. After a bit of tenacity, I found the technique very liberating. Now I paint most of my skies upside down, as well as abstracts. Try it; you?ll like it.

Journey Series, No. 6

An Upside Down Exercise for Watermedia
1. This technique uses a great deal of water, so I recommend using a block of 140- or 300-lb. paper on a board. I usually use 18×24.
2. Have your work board at a slant. Cover the area around your board with newspapers.
3. Tell yourself that your watercolor paper is upside down. The bottom edge of the paper is at the top of your work surface.
4. Spritz your paper with clear water. Or, spatter it heavily (from a large brush) with clear water. I usually use both spritz and spatter.
5. Fling paint at the paper and let it drip down the sheet. I often tilt it back and forth, and side to side, to alter the drip path. I use paint that?s risky and unpredictable. Even some of my “I?ll-never-use-this-again” colors. The idea is to go with the flow. Don?t prejudge what?s going to happen.

Journey Series, No. 7

6. Watch while the colors mix and flow. Have fun! If you feel as if you need more color, slap more on. Need more water? Spritz more. Take time to pay attention. Note when the spritzing leaves clear dots in the paint and they stay clear. Note when the drips trickle into other colors and then pick up speed. You can learn so much about the water and the paint by watching this random process. You may wish to wait for it to dry and add more paint later.
7. Resist the temptation to turn your painting right side up.
8. When you think you?re half-way completed with your painting (and I know it?s impossible to know since you don?t know what you?re painting, but trust me on this), turn the painting right side up. I think you?ll be surprised at the composition, the areas of wonderful detail and color, and an overall vitality from not being able to fuss with all the “problem areas” along the way.
9. Take time to really absorb the nuances. I admit that sometimes?frequently?I get a mess. But, oh well. I learned something along the way: something new about paints, or some “ah-ha” about the wet-into-wet technique.
10. On your dry, right-side-up painting, add any brushstrokes, details, washes or layers that you feel would enhance the painting.
11. Now feel free to hang the painting right-side-up, sideways or upside down. (And who knows which is which!)

Michelle Taute is associate editor for I.D.

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