Antithetical Exercises

Monotone Skull Ink Painting

Monotone Skull Ink Painting

Recently, I was challenged to be more raw with my style and also portray “not pretty”.  Apparently, the world and life are not all colorful butterflies. So I started this, a skull in black monotone, as the antithesis. 

Not my thing. It is really kicking my @$$! I know because I am avoiding it. Well, as artists go, I like to paint things as they are. It starts as a leaning in toward listening and intimacy and then becomes an attempt to convey the unknowable and essential nature of a subject. 

Usually, I paint still life, or from photos of things that won’t stay still that I encounter in the natural world. Sometimes, I dabble into fantasy and whimsy in a more illustrative style, often centric to mythical themes. Those myths too are deeply wound in the natural world.

My technical approach here is half-blind. You begin with no sketching or drawing. You study the reference for a few minutes and have to paint from memory for more than double that time and then back. When you look back to study a reference again,  you are not allowed to glance at your work at all, nor study your work before. 

It guarantees a more raw expression, aka ‘mistakes’. It keeps idealism and perfectionism on the shelf and away from the work at hand. It also keeps hand-eye coordination strong. As there is no literal object I am portraying, I also can not get trapped in proportions or physical distinctions with this method. No getting drunk on details, in other words.

When I paint from nature, I am listening to the butterfly, ie, observing it’s movement and habit, studying color and texture and so on.  What is there here then? Just a wide-open channel for the subconscious.

The subconscious is always painting in between the lines, and in an exercise like this which aims at the “not pretty” there is so much unspoken if I am honest about my own nature. So we have a skull, not a proper skull as there are intimations of sinew and tongue, screaming.  In short, a half-blind exercise really allows the subconscious to do most of the driving, all the way home.

I have told myself for about 5 days now that I am just too busy to finish. Oh, what a pretty lie it is. I have been busy, but not so much not spend a quick ten minutes doing the next wash or a quick few details.

I’ll have to pluck up and work with it till I stop feeling uncomfortable. Till it is all MU. I have a sneaking suspicion, that it may mean a few more exercises.


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