Saturday, February 12, 2011

Another Tolkien interpretation – a painting in progress

Eowyn and the Lord of the Nazgul, underpainting
“…Well, as you can see from the image I send you, I made a quite developed monochromatic underpainting of my new piece named Eowyn and the Lord of the Nazgul. I usually don't do the preliminary color compositions. The only preliminary color composition I did was the one I painted years ago for one of the paintings from the Steel Bashaw book (it was published at the beginning of  'The Making of ' chapter). The reason I don't do color compositions is quite simple - I have the feeling of spending (losing) an important  portion of my creative energy (or a creative tension, as I experience it) when doing it. I like to start with a new painting fresh and free-minded, so to speak,  and to search for the right color solution along the way. My paintings are often created in a flamboyant "fight" with the medium, the technique, the demands of a developing painting and my goals and aspirations in connection with that particular painting. When painting, I try to connect all the aspects of the creative process and make them work together, and as if in a state of creative "trance", I force my way towards my goal (This is especially relevant at the first stage of the work on a painting. Later on the grip of the mentioned “trance” gradually fades away).  I presume that this could sound as a mystification of the working process. It is not my intention to mystify my working process, although I am aware that it can appear to some people as such. It is just the way I approach painting.

On the other hand, there is perhaps  a bit of mystery in it as well, but of another kind. Every time I start a painting, I try to reveal that mysterious and elusive picture that already exists somewhere within me, or somewhere outside of me, I am still not sure about that part. I just have the feeling that such an image already exists somewhere as a potential, waiting to be materialized.  Through the intuitive painting process and the expressive behavior, (and without the preliminary color compositions, because they tend to reduce the level of that creative frenzy and excitement),  I try to grasp that illusive image and turn it into a most appropriate form.
This does not mean that I start the work on a painting without preparations, on the contrary. I spend much time preparing myself for the upcoming “fight”, as well in terms of collecting reference as in terms of mental preparation. Beside the other aspects of the future painting, I spend much time thinking about color arrangements and mood, as well.  And as you also know,  I do make many sketches, studies and  preliminary drawings, trying to solve the main problems of form, value and composition, but at the same time I keep on thinking about the color problem.
So, there is much painting going on in my head before the actual start of the work. I try to visualize as much as possible. So, when I eventually start painting, I often know what kind of color I have to use. But , I must admit, it is a struggle, sometimes a dramatic one,  to make a compact and stabile whole from a painting when doing it this way. As a working method, it is not very practical, and it cost a lot of energy. But again, that’s the way I like to work.

Detail of the underpainting
Detail of the painting in progress

Now, I also think that the making of preliminary color compositions is a very useful  thing, and it is quite advisable to include it in the working process, at least sometimes. At the same time,  in my humble opinion, one should not try to solve every bit of a problem with a color composition. I firmly believe that there has to be enough space left for the improvisation and the decisions that have to be made on the spot. I don't think the artist should have too much of a  "scientific" approach to art, or to have the intention to understand every part of the creative process, unless there is  a very good reason for that, of course . One has to leave some space for the natural, creative instincts, that are coming straight from our own, unique  personality, for these things are in charge of the uniqueness of the future art work. After all, if we pause for a moment and seriously think about it, we have to admit that the process of creation is a miraculous phenomenon. It is an ability that is “given” to us,  and that we should not try to control too much…” *

As Harvey Dunn, one of the greatest American illustrators from the Golden Age, and one of the most intriguing art teachers, said: “ Paint a little less of the facts and a little more of the spirit. Paint more with feeling than with thought…When intellect comes in, art goes out.”
(From the book Harvey Dunn, Illustrator and Painter Of the Pioneer West, by Walt Reed, Flesk Publications, 2010)

* Taken from the letter written to a younger colleague illustrator.


  1. I can't believe this. We may have been separated at birth. Except I got the bald, white, Asian, can't paint as well gene. When I have done demonstrations people have asked, "wouldn't it be faster if you did some color studies?" I have tried that, particularly for illustrations under deadline, but it really kills the process for me. They joy of discovery at every turn of a painting keeps my passion for that painting alive. Too much planning and it feels as though I have already found its heart and it becomes "a job" to keep painting. Now I know that this is my particular personality and plans at every stage work very well for some brilliant artists but I've always believed we each need to find our own particular path for creating. Continual discovery and dialogue with the piece just happen to be on my path.

  2. Hi Bill – I needed a few pages to explain something which you described in a few brilliantly formulated sentences! We really do understand each other. This makes me a little less lonely… “…Too much planning and it feels as though I have already found its heart…”, this is pure poetry… “…Continual discovery and dialogue with the piece…”, this is beautiful and so true! In fact this is a necessity.

  3. Good Stuff. I suffer from over planning and loose the spirit of the piece before it reaches its final form. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Very inspiring, Petar. I appreciate your generosity. Keep fighting the good fight!

  5. I have a tendency to not plan enough and it can bite me. I rarely do a full on color study (possibly a mistake)in favor of a really rough color "impression" or even just a well thought out "mental color rough". Either way, there are just some things that you can't plan on and you have to be willing to respond to what comes out of the brush. It certainly keeps things interesting that way.

  6. Thanks very much, Guys, for your comments and support!