Monday, September 13, 2010

Appreciation (27) … Learning to paint by painting

Appreciation (27) … Learning to paint by painting
Torrey Orton
Sept. 13, 2010

A client who is finding his way out of depression with a paintbrush was talking about his emerging experience of learning to hold the brush correctly. Though a graphic designer by trade, he's only recently started painting seriously. It's a gift he first glimpsed around age 5, but various things kept it out of the field of his life's play. Recently in a gulf between employments, he bought a painter's kit and started in.

He works at it three hours a day. Along the way he's learning the craft by doing. Brush wielding turns out to be a critical technical foundation. As he's learned to hold the brush ever further along handle, his view of the emerging picture has developed too. Grasping the handle just behind the brush, as if taking up a pencil, pulls the eye and body down into the picture. To see the point of application, to see the perception he was creating, he had to look around the brush tip.

I was sharing this progress with another painting client, who's further down the technique path. She noted that the shift from close to more distant application involved two other moves: standing while painting and painting from the shoulder not the wrist…demonstrating as she spoke with a solid but refined flourish of an imaginary brush …much as a conductor in a delicate slow movement in a classic.

….all of which put me in mind of my own painting career – for two summers between university years as an industrial painter, of schools at the time. . and what it took to learn to paint, especially "cutting in" or edging the boundaries of a surface; if attempted with too much precision, more slips occurred; a certain flourish lightly deployed cut the best edge, sweeping lightly in from the open spaces of the surface to the boundaries and then away again with each brush load. Most satisfying, even on recollection. There was a definite flow in the process, though we lacked the concept then. Or, rather, a flow was just what wasn't wanted in a painted surface, then or now!

By the way, this was edging in pre-masking tape times (late 1950's). Similar, but less delicate, flourishes were useful in coating the concrete block walls which made up the bulk of the paintable spaces with a 6cm bristle brush 15cm long and 4cm wide. Brush work was superior to rollers because the standard union contract of the time required them – brushing took longer. The technical argument was that brushing gave better filling of the rough surfaces. Compressed air spray guns were limited to painting obscure surfaces like the 15 meter high roof of the gym with aluminium based paint…. But I regress.

My emerging painter noted in passing that he can feel in the flow of his brush stroke that it is achieving the "look" he was seeking, that at once the body realises his unrevealed perception of the image he is producing. This has something to do with what is recently applauded as the muscle memory. The applause is only partially warranted since it takes the concerted effort of all muscles to train a few in a specific way, in other words a consciousness not just a body, arm or eyelids, among the subcomponents.

It has more to do with the relationship between perception and intention. Of this, more next week.

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