I have been wanting to learn methods in acrylic that exploited their quick dry characteristics as opposed to trying to make them look like oils and when I saw Brian’s work, back in January, it struck a chord with me- both the medium and the method. So, I found a workshop and committed to going all the way to Pemberton, British Columbia to take it.
Brian is from Nova Scotia, a painter who can only be described as an abstractionist, and I would say, an expressionistic abstractionist. No matter if that doesn’t mean anything to you - the long and short of it is - I was setting myself up to walk into the eye of a storm -and after being home now for a couple of weeks - my head is still spinning.
Even now, I don’t know exactly what to say about it - except I haven’t had so much fun painting, in a very long time.
All advanced painters, we worked large format: 30x30 and larger- in acrylic. I was the only oil painter (not in the workshop, of course). Brian gave a 2-3 hr demo every morning; each day focusing on a different technique or compositional idea, and each day the demo got less representational and more abstract. He is a wonderful teacher - clearly directing us in a very intuitive process, while encouraging each painter in their own path. About the middle of the week he gave each of us a private interview to talk about what had brought us to the workshop, what we wanted out of it, and what he saw as a way to get to that goal. That time alone, was worth the price of admission.
Each day’s demo was based loosely on one of 5 design Elements: Shape, Value, Color, Line and Texture, and expressed via 4 design Principles: Gradation, Variation, Repetition, and Exaggeration. Brian uses a multi-layered, deconstructive approach to his indirect method of painting, building up- then working over, tearing down and reinventing again and again. For him (consequently, for us) there are no wrong marks. WHAT?
He would say “make a mark and respond to it. Think on the canvas and go with what occurs to you; let the PAINT be the subject”.
This process can be maddening and wonderfully freeing but there is no denying that there is a depth to his work that goes beyond the image. He calls it “maturity of mark making' - often spending weeks or months on a single work. Hmmmm. . . well, that sent my impatient nature to the back burner.
“Go the distance” -took on a whole new meaning for me.
Because this was a class of experienced painters - he could say -
“ Believe in your own mark making- you don’t need to understand every mark, just make it - believe in it - trust it.”
- knowing full well that he wasn’t teaching anyone here to paint - he was releasing everyone to trust their own skill set, giving them complete license to do what he knew they could do.
It was empowering.
I took tons of photos for my own reference and have included just a few here to give you all an idea of the process.
So, will I suddenly quit with oil and take up abstract acrylic painting?
I don't think so - but this workshop sure did scratch an itch that I have felt deep down for a long time, and it broadened my thinking in so many ways.
I plan to spend a big chunk of my winter working on things Brian recommended to me - not so that I can paint like him but so that I can reach for new places in my own work - places I don't yet see but I know are out there.
Eventually, some of these methods will become my own, painted with marks characteristic to me, in my voice and with my palette. All that is required is perseverance, patience and putting in the TIME.
Click on the photos to view them larger.