And now for something completely different

Although I’m not a professional artist, I don’t consider my painting a hobby.

What is a hobby for me is building scale models, mostly tanks. To show off their work, many model builders will create dioramas, scenes that usually include landscape elements, including ruined buildings. As a result, there is a cottage industry of pre-built, paintable ruined buildings. It was this, plus the discovery of Emmanuel Nouaillier’s models of French buildings that gave me the idea to create my own miniature building vignettes.

A detail of one of Emmanuel Nouaillier’s building miniatures. His website and Instagram feature tons of amazing finished pieces, some of which are photographed to be nearly indistinguishable from reality.

My building vignettes are created mixing and pouring plaster into a wooden shadow box. I then carve the desired details into the plaster. Metal and wooden components are simulated with sheet styrene, lead foil and wire, that I then model to simulate dilapidation. Finally, I paint the surfaces to simulate varying degrees of newness or decay. Hopefully, when it’s all done, there’s a small scene that is fun to look at!

Here’s a piece in progress.
A detail of the red door.
An older piece, perhaps the door to an underground bunker?

Richard Diebenkorn’s 10 rules

I love learning about other artist’s self-imposed guidelines for making art or living life. It doesn’t matter the discipline. Being a writer as well as a painter, I know that the two art forms share much in common. I’ve also picked up bits of advice that come out of improv and theater, which seem to ring universally true. Is it possible that we’re all knocking on the same door?

  1. Attempt what is not certain. Certainty may or may not come later. It may then be a valuable delusion.
  2. The pretty, initial position which falls short of completeness is not to be valued – except as a stimulus for further moves.
  3. DO search.
  4. Use and respond to the initial fresh qualities but consider them absolutely expendable.
  5. Don’t “discover” a subject – of any kind.
  6. Somehow don’t be bored but if you must, use it in action. Use its destructive potential.
  7. Mistakes can’t be erased but they move you from your present position.
  8. Keep thinking about Pollyanna.
  9. Tolerate chaos.
  10. Be careful only in a perverse way.
Cityscape #1, 1963 at SFMOMA

James Elkins on painting

“Recently, some art historians have become more interested in what paint can say. They suggest that since art history and criticism are so adept at thinking about what paint represents (that is, the stories and subjects, and the artists and their patrons), then it should also be possible to write something about the paint itself. What kinds of problems, and what kinds of meanings, happen in the paint? Or as one historian puts it, What is thinking in painting, as opposed to thinking about painting? These are important questions, and they are very hard to answer using the language of art history.”

“To a nonpainter, oil paint is uninteresting and faintly unpleasant. To a painter, it is the life’s blood: a substance so utterly entrancing, infuriating, and ravishingly beautiful that it makes it worthwhile to go back into the studio every morning, year after year, for an entire lifetime . . . Any history of painting that does not take that obsession seriously is incomplete.”

“Painting is an unspoken and largely uncognized dialogue, where paint speaks silently in masses and colors and the artist responds in moods.”

“Painters can sense those motions in the paint even before they notice what the paintings are about.”

These excerpts are from What Painting Is, by James Elkins, who was an artist before pursuing art history. I’m fascinated with his takes on art, imagery and seeing, so expect more posts!