Give Yourself an Assignment

A Leap Into the Unknown (mixed watermedia, 40×60).

I typically paint landscapes in a representational style—usually painting en plein air once a week. But because I like to explore and experiment with my art, I?m open to other modes and styles of painting. Quite often, I paint abstractly with a method I call my mixed media technique, which I discovered at a working session of my wife?s critique group. Our assignment was to work in a manner that was different from what we normally do and use materials we weren?t familiar with. I took a set of gouache colors, a 22×30 edited watercolor and some torn watercolor papers of unsuccessful works. The basic process I came up with then, and still use now, is as follows:

To begin my abstract paintings I place loosely torn and cut pieces of painted collage papers on my paper support, covering about a third or less of the surface. When I?m satisfied with the layout, I walk away from it for several hours. If I?m still satisfied when I return, I affix these papers to the surface with undiluted acrylic matte medium.

Next I take a 40-inch metal ruler and move it over the surface, looking for an interesting spatial division. After I draw my first line, I ask myself whether I want large bold areas or lots of detail distributed in repetitive patterns. I then create my shapes. Up to this point I haven?t considered the color. I generally decide on a warm or cool color scheme, but after the first color is applied everything that follows is what I feel is right for the next color application. Since gouache is difficult to work or glaze over and maintain the purity of color, every visible color nuance is a separate color application. I don?t use a fixative or masking tape of any kind. I?m constantly standing back as I?m working. If something doesn?t fit I?ll paint over it. If it needs a change I?ll change it. When I?ve finished the painting stage of my work, I sign it.

Dream Landscape (mixed watermedia, 18×30).

I?ve been using this technique for 16 years, but I never begin a painting with an idea of what the finished work may look like. It simply develops by making one decision at a time. For instance, as I worked on A Leap Into the Unknown (above), I decided I wanted large shapes. So I kept that in mind as I worked. And with Dream Landscape (at left) I wanted a feeling of spatial inconsistencies, so I made the cows float.

There?s nothing wrong with painting only in one medium, style or subject. But that?s not my personality. My personality is to explore art from various perspectives. This continuing vacillation between various mediums and representational vs. abstract imagery keeps me searching and reaching, which is good. But you have to follow your own bend.

Mark Gottsegen is an associate professor of art at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and chair of the American Society for the Testing of Materials subcommittee on artist’s materials.

You may also like these articles: