I’m Not an Artist – Part 2
This is Part 2 of a 3-Part series. If this is your first visit to the blog, click on the the link at the right to Part 1 to read the full story.
I took the challenge from my sister to heart. For my second painting, I knew that I wanted to use the same painting technique and I wanted to paint other buildings. I thought if I could find or take a picture of real buildings, that I could use my trusty ruler, proportions, and calculator to transcribe the buildings from the photo onto my canvas. Just what buildings did I want to paint?
I know I wrestled with this dilemma for some time. What about a famous building like the Empire State Building? No everyone would compare my painting to the image in his or her mind of that building and my painting might not be judged so favorably. And I liked the blend of realism with a touch of fantasy in my first painting that depicted a building but not the detail of a real building. Knowing how many hours it would take to complete another painting, it couldn’t just be any old building.
I don’t know how the idea came to me but I thought: “How about buildings from Asheville, NC?” This was a town that was special to my siblings and me; this would make a special painting as well. But how was I going to get a picture of some interesting buildings? I searched the Internet for photos of street scenes from Asheville. I even ran across some paintings of street scenes in Asheville but I couldn’t find a picture of a street with buildings that held any significance to me.
I finally pulled up the Asheville Chamber of Commerce website and although I didn’t find street scenes like I was looking for, I did find a number of photos of individual buildings that held some potential. I remembered that my painting would have a little fantasy in it and I thought, “I could make up my own street scene and include buildings from different locations throughout the city.” With this plan, I just had to pick the right buildings.
Having selected three that looked interesting, I next had to decide what color I should paint each building. My first painting gave me a sense of freedom since it was painted by an artist and had included an orange building and a red building. Other than scenes like the Rainbow Row in Charleston, SC or the New Harbor in Copenhagen, I didn’t think these two buildings were actually red and orange in real life.
So I picked three colors that I thought would look pretty together and yet provide a bit of fantasy. Since I had a separate photo for each of the buildings, I had to “scale up” each separately making sure that proportionally they would all be the same size on a single canvas and fit together without any one of them overpowering the others. Having expanded to three buildings, I also had to grow my canvas size up to 24 X 36 inches. Thank goodness I loved algebra.
I created my scene on paper as before and then I redrew it on the canvas. I also discovered on this painting that you could buy painters tape that had a much smoother texture that was designed to leave even finer paint lines. And finding a canvas that also had a smoother texture, I was all set to produce my second painting. It was on this painting that I also first explored blending paint to create unique colors, a technique that any artist could probably do in their sleep. I had not done this on my first painting as I knew I would have to mix up additional batches for touch up and fixing mistakes and I didn’t think I could recreate the same color that matched perfectly at a later time. But with finer tape and a smoother canvas, I was emboldened to give it a try. I was very pleased with the outcome.
That fall, I had a couple of business trips scheduled, one to San Francisco and one to Amsterdam. It was on this trip to San Francisco that we got to visit our daughter who had recently moved there to pursue her PhD in Russian literature at UC Berkeley. As we were exploring downtown Berkeley, I began to notice a number of unique looking buildings. I thought what better way to get photos of buildings than to take them my self and as we walked around, I captured snapshots of eight different buildings.
On my return home, I started thinking that my wife would be hesitant to hang a third painting of buildings on our walls and a quick question to her confirmed that suspicion. But with my best photos yet, I really had a passion to paint one more because I knew I could create a masterpiece. Suddenly it came to me; since the buildings were in Berkeley where my daughter would be for a number of years, I could paint a Berkeley scene and give it to her. Problem solved.
I wanted to increase the scale of this painting but stay with a 24 X 36 canvas so I limited my selection to just two buildings. And since this painting was specifically for my daughter, at least one of the buildings should hold some significance for her. That part actually turned out to be very easy, as fortunately I had photographed a building that she frequented on at least a weekly if not daily basis.
Confident in the expression that “the third time is the charm” would lead to my best painting yet, I set out on my task. Returning to my “artist license” that I had used on my second photo, I created my own street scene by combining the Peet’s Coffee shop with one of the most interesting looking buildings I had encountered. Having become skilled in my technique, I drew out the buildings on paper and then transcribed the pencil drawing to the canvas.
For paints, I decided to keep these buildings true to color. I chose this path because I didn’t know what my daughter would think if I a painted a purple Peet’s Coffee shop. (She actually probably would have loved it but for me it wouldn’t be real.) I also didn’t change the colors because I thought the buildings each had their own natural beauty. I think I made the right decision.
That November, my daughter was able to come home for Thanksgiving. This gave me the opportunity to give it to her as a late birthday present. I wish I could have captured her expression on film when she saw it for the first time, I can just picture the glee. We snapped this picture of it hanging in our entry hall later. Knowing that she would have to take it back on the plane, I engineered and built a wooden case with handle that just fit the painting. I was struck when I finished the case and realized this was just like a real work of art, one so valuable that it required its own custom carrying case.
I am happy to say that my daughter has proudly displayed this painting in a place of prominence in each of her apartments in Berkeley and now in Pasadena. And for each of her moves, she has used this carrying case to protect it from damage. Anyone familiar with her website and blog, Krugthethinker, might recall seeing the painting sneaking into view in a photo of whatever was being featured.
That fall, I also traveled to Amsterdam. By 2004, I had been to Amsterdam 14 times and had always enjoyed seeing canal houses. Having developed a love of Amsterdam and these canal houses, I knew this had to be my next painting. My last full day in the city, after I had completed my work, I walked canal after canal. I can’t begin to imagine how far I walked. I captured a number of photos of possible scenes to paint. Before the sun set, I realized I had almost overlooked probably the most famous canal house of all, the Anne Frank House. More canal hiking and good fortune; being the end of October the tree in front of the house was almost leafless. I took several different perspectives before my hike back to the hotel and my trip home. These photos lay in waiting.
The next year, in conversation with my oldest sister, I found out she was teaching her class about the Diary of Anne Frank. She seemed very passionate about the subject and mentioned how she would love to go to the Anne Frank House. I recalled my photos from the previous fall in Amsterdam and thanked my lucky stars for remembering to photograph the house where she and her family had hid. What better birthday present than to paint Anne Frank’s House for my sister.
By now, you know my routine almost as well as I do so I won’t repeat the details of its creation. I must say when my sister was in town in the fall, I had the perfect opportunity to give it to her. Fortunately this time, I captured it on film.
But did four paintings mean I was an artist?
Is the last question rhetorical? Shall I answer your question with another question? How many paintings does it take to become an artist? Or should we just paint and not worry about labels?
Can you wait until Part 3 to get answers to your questions?
I loved reading this! Your painting of the buildings in Berkeley is a real treasure to me, and I am so happy to have it hanging in our dining room. I am even more glad that you found an art form you truly enjoy, and one that allows you to express your scientific side creatively. From one painter’s tape user to another, well done!
I used to think that using tape was somehow “cheating” but now I know it doesn’t matter what tools you use to create your art. I am so glad you feel that way about your painting; I always enjoy catching a glimpse of it whenever it sneaks into view in one of your photos.