Artistic Process

About the painting that's almost ready and where it's going...

The next phase of the Marine Layer series. I call this piece  "Contemplation". 

The painting is finished! I will do nothing else to it other than assembling it. Now that it is done, I can tell you what it is for. This painting has been submitted to a contest, by the same curator in charge of Blossom II: Art of Flowers. After the success of said show, I was compelled to join this one as well.

Unlike last time, where I was pretty confident the painting would at least make the show, this time I have my reservations. It has nothing to do with the quality of the work, but with the way I have chosen to present it.

The funny thing with contests is that, even when it comes to realistic painting, the parameters are very broad and undefined. My experience has taught me that, ultimately, it comes down to what the judges think art should be and, if the judges are artists themselves, what validates their own artistic pursuits.

A decade ago, when I was in art school, I was guilty of trying to anticipate what the judges would be looking for. Now, I simply try to determine if submitting to a certain contest will be a waste of my time. There is no point in sending your work to a place where you know it probably won't fit, at least that's the theory. Having participated in a contest judged by some of the same people, I kind of know what to expect, but that does not mean I do not get to be myself or push the envelope a little.

I have taken many risks with this painting. Risks as far what this contest is concerned:

  • The theme of this contest is "America's Parks, through the beauty of art". Think about it: it's about the parks. So, I purposely decided to not include an animal or a flower in the foreground of my composition. This is extremely risky, considering they even have both wildlife and floral award categories(on their own, huge tell signs of what the judges are looking for). Choosing this course of action was something I debated back and forth for weeks.
  • I live in California, so I have access to a lot of beautiful inland parks. After deciding to showcase the nature of an open space, I needed to pick a setting that stood out, which is why I chose to go to the Channel Islands. There is going to be a whole lot of green in all those submissions, I figured I should paint something different.
  • My painting is fragmented. It's a series of panels put together as one painting. They look like tiles, which is definitely not conventional "oil on canvas". Sometimes, when drawing something intricate, artists would draw a guiding grid on the canvas to aid the drawing process. Well, after many years of drawing the grid, I wondered what if I showcased the grid and made it a part of the finished work. I arrived to this idea after years of admiring Chuck Close's later painting period, where he didn't bother to erase the grid anymore. I am sure this is not something new, but I wonder if the judges will appreciate it. The fact is, most people who get to see my Marine Layer series wonder if these works are made on actual porcelain tile. That is something I think is pretty interesting and is a part of my work. After all, "the beauty of art" is part of the theme too, right?
  • While last time I was pleasantly surprised to see many artists use acrylics, my personal technique is still a little unconventional. Last time, I wanted people to see the brush work, not I want something else. The whole thing is undefined, like floating on a cloud.

While this is a modern art competition, I am still a contemporary artist. I cannot strip my work of all the issues I have been trying to communicate over the past few years. For the first time, I submit a painting to a contest that is defined by my body of work, not the other way around. It has been over a decade since my father advised me to do things this way, but that's just how long is has taken me to develop my work. He always told me that by the time a contest came along, all I had to do was to choose a piece from my catalog to send over. I never fought this notion, I just needed to find my own voice. And man, what a journey it's been.

This is why Marine Layer is so important to me. It comes full circle. Everything that I have done so far is included in this series. The image intervention, the technique, the concepts behind it; they have all been maturing for years and have evolved into this. I am excited to see what's next!

When I traveled to this island, I stood still for long periods of time, waiting for my shot. It was like nature was showing me how to work. Here is this beautiful setting, and the marine layer is covering it all in this foggy, thin blanket of mist. All the beauty is there and I was patiently waiting to see it clear up. But is was always there, it was always beautiful. The island was not just a place anymore, it was a state of mind.

As for the painting, it is still covered in mist, waiting to clear up!

More about the contest

I had to write an essay about my painting for the Blossom II: Art of Flowers show. I think it summarizes what I have being talking about so far on this blog, so I decided to post it:

I come from an artistic family, which allowed me to learn my craft and get familiar with many different techniques from a young age. While I am very adventurous and I have studied various modern and post-modern schools of thought, there is something about realism and its derivatives that has always fascinated me. From Rembrandt to Chuck Close, I enjoy studying the representational process, each artist’s motivation and more importantly, their personal technique.

While at school, I became familiar with classical under-painting techniques, more specifically grisaille. I fell in love with it to the point that I have used grisaille almost exclusively in my figurative painting. After a couple of months working with it, I decided to give it a personal twist and execute grisaille with acrylics. It was only fitting, given the technique’s labor intensive layer application process, that I should try to master it with a media that dries quickly.

To my surprise, this combination proved to offer me some deep and rich color combinations. It allowed me to deconstruct colors and the way I apply them to the canvas. Along with contemporary tools such as image processing software, it has shaped the way I conceive and present a work of art. This blend of classical and modern techniques has managed to influence my work more than the work of any one particular artist.

Breezin” is the latest chapter in my quest to reinterpret realism, understood from my own point of view. I part from that primal impressionistic concept of the pigment itself, the texture of paint daubs on a canvas as elements of beauty; and I mix it with the aesthetics of photo-realism. The result is a painting that flirts with hyper-realism yet it maintains a raw, organic, quality.

An excerpt from my blog, about this painting:
“I purposely reserved some areas of the painting where, if you look closely, you will see brush strokes from the initial 'gray' thin coat I applied as I was getting started. That "richness" in my opinion is worth the time and effort, because it brings an additional blending element. More importantly, it emphasizes the fact that this is a painting, not a photograph. I want the audience to appreciate the painting's photographic quality, but I also want them to see the different kinds of strokes and textures obtained by the brushes. To me, that is what makes a realistic painting interesting and alive.”

Aron Ortega

God is in the details, or so I've been told...

I love to paint. I love it so much sometimes the subject is secondary. All I want to do is play with the colors, like a kid does with his/her favorite toy. Every painting is a new adventure!

The Matilija Poppy Painting is finished!

So, to keep it interesting, I like to change my approach every now and then. "All roads lead to Rome",  I've heard. For me, so far all roads have led me to boredom! I'm too ADD to paint things the same way over and over. Or maybe I just keep searching for that signature way of painting, something that will define my work.

I'm very happy to inform that, after this painting and at least when it comes to contemporary realism, it seems that I am close to find that signature look. This last painting was pure joy and learning. It was also payoff of many years of hard work, investing on developing a painfully slow process.

Now, my classical painting techniques are not really something new and worth reporting. But the pieces are finally starting to look the way I want them to, and I'm very happy about it. What this post is really about is something I have been slowly trying to bring into my work.

I've said this before, I like my works to look like what they are, paintings. I do not just imitate a photograph for the fun of it (why I actually do it is a whole new post on its own!). Within that frame, I have decided to include those initial brush strokes, to reserve them, in a way. Painting with acrylics has allowed me to deconstruct the way I paint. I love when I get the feeling that I can "almost count" the layers needed to paint a picture.

If you wish to see more details about this project please click here.

UPDATE: I had trouble uploading the pictures on this post (for some strange reason), so I made a new one for you to check out those details.

About Fear and White Canvases

I think it was Picasso who said there were fewer things in life scarier than a white canvas. I couldn't agree more. While it is impossible for me to REALLY know what he meant by that, I have a few reasons of my own on why a white canvas should usually be avoided.

Now, let me paint you a picture:

 Run, Edvard! Run for your life!!!

For the inexperienced, a white canvas can be terrifying. It's a monster that will eat you alive. It is expectation, insecurity and anxiety. And don't you dare to face one of them in public, you will never feel more judged in your lifetime! All those stories about great artists, godlike creatures with commanding skills and unworldly talent that needed only a single line to convey even the most abstract of human emotions will come to mind and haunt you. Fear will paralyze you and every subsequent pencil or brush stroke coming out of you will be conditioned by that fundamentally painful question every artist has asked him/herself at one point or another: am I good enough to do this?

For a seasoned painter, a white canvas is a wild animal that needs to be tamed. It is an empty road with no speed limit. It is pure emotion, endless possibilities. It is an adrenaline rush, the trigger of that creative force that goes beyond human intellect. An exhilarating feeling trumped only by the accomplishment of the finished piece and the satisfaction of a work well done. The beast has been tamed and you have survived to paint another day.

But for me, a white canvas is not only boring, but mostly just plain annoying. A white canvas is like looking at the sky right after getting your pupils dilated at the eye doctor's office. It is that dreadful glare on your TV that keeps making you adjust the drapes. It is that awfully loud club music that will not let you have a decent conversation. A white canvas is a distraction that needs to be eliminated.

As a painter, one of your jobs is to mimic light through pigments. That job gets even more complicated when you have a light reflecting surface messing with your eyes and therefore, your perception of the pigments being applied on the surface. When using a white canvas, sometimes I found myself going back and reworking values, because once I covered the whole surface with paint, some colors would seem different, either not as light or not as dark as I thought they were.

Even when I got that situation under control, I still did not care that much about white canvases. I have too many related pet peeves, I guess.

I was brought up on the school of thought that works a painting progressively. Every piece of the puzzle gets worked at gradually. But many other people work in a more sectioned way, painting little details, finishing them and then moving on to the next element within the painting. When I used to do this, I often found myself lost in the particulars and the painting as a whole suffered a lack of cohesiveness. While I respect and admire this and every other painting approach, I cannot bring myself to paint a flower and finish it, for example, while leaving the rest of the canvas blank anymore. It drives me nuts!

Now, this is more like it!

So, all my surfaces get the same treatment. I fill my backgrounds with many layers of color to create a neutral environment more suitable for painting. I purposely choose different shades of gray that will either complement or contrast whatever it is I'm going to paint on top. I mix these gray shades with lots of colors, trying to gain depth, in case I decide to leave some parts of it untouched. My backgrounds can almost be abstract paintings on their own.

As you might have probably already figured out, I'm all about demystifying art. As silly as it may sound, all it takes is filling the canvas with a couple of layers of paint and it will instantly look less scary. Once that pristine, immaculate white surface has disappeared, it is no longer a terrifying new white canvas. It is now just another unfinished painting...

Cuz' that's not scary at all or anything...