What goes through my head while I paint no colors

…which I finally got around to doing tonight, after at least a two week procrastinatory hiatus.

Yes, if you’re keeping score, I’m still prepping that gigantic fish thing which I was talking about, oh, a month ago, which I sort of forgot when I planned it was going to be fifty or so square feet of surface — all of which I’m going to have to stroke by hand with itsy bitsy bits of camel hair covered in goo. In multiple layers. So I’m moving kind of slowly on it. We’re still pretty firmly in Malevich territory, I’m saying. Except without the black square.

The things I keep catching myself doing, therefore, when I finally do get around to sitting down and doing something on it, are in a lot of ways related to the scale of the thing — I get in a hurry, for one, because after all I’m just doing a big boring swath of background color — and try to cover too much area with every brush stroke and add too much thinner and wind up having to go through the motions of smoothing that thin soup over the whole board, and wind up when it all evaporates with not much more than what I started with. So I have to do it again two or three more times, and wind up not saving any time at all, after all.

Which I tell myself, that’s great, I’m doing lots of thin layers so when they all add up it’ll be a fine, smooth surface, no gloppy brushstrokes to interfere with the detail work later, it’ll be beatiful. I’m being a craftsman. Except that what I’m really doing is just giving it that much more time to attract small insects and bits of dog hair and fingerprints; and because I’m doing all these thin layers, all the little ridgelines and uneven strokes just multiply with each other anyway.

Which I tell myself, that’s great, isn’t that why I’m using a paintbrush in the first place? Because I’m too used to pixel work, which never throws an interesting fingerprint or bit of grit or unexpected texture at you, it just gives you whatever color you asked for, all the time. Whereas the paint talks back at you, and has its own opinions. Who wants smooth? Those fingerprints and streaks and uneven bits aren’t flaws, they’re character!

It’s not a digital well of #FF3333 that will be evenly applied to an adjustable-radius circle centered on wherever you click. No, it’s a little pile of thick goo, which you’ve thinned with some measured proportion of thin goo, and added a little bit of thick goo in a different color from another tube — all of which you’ve got to try to mix in not too radically different proportions every time you dip your brush (and preferably remembering to do it on the palette, not waiting until you’re smearing it around on the canvas to make any corrections)…

…all of which adds up to, you have to pay attention to it, even when you’re just throwing down a flat layer of background white, which if this were pixel work all you’d have to do is hit Apple-N, Return, D, X, Apple-A, Option-delete, in that order, no matter how many square feet you have to cover.

And isn’t that the point: you’re paying attention, you have to be fully engaged in the process at all times.

Which leads to a whole long unprofitable Process v. Product artgradschool road that you know from experience isn’t worth going down, so you back away from it slowly by saying, okay, regardless of the value of Process as such, that additional level of attention can’t help but improve the Product in itself. Unless of course the mechanical minutiae distract from higher-level attention that might be more valuable. In which case it can. Distract. In which case I should stop worry about the Process so much and just hurry up and produce some Product. So I speed up again and thin the paint too much; see above.

(And as long as we’ve wandered into artgradschoolland anyway, I do finally have to come down on the side of Product, because anything about the Process has at most an audience of one, so the greatest good for the greatest number and all that. Spock said that. Or Gandhi. I forget which. Or, less nobly, if you’re going to be your own audience anyway, there are a lot more convenient and immediate methods of expressing yourself than by rubbing colored goo on boards with animal hair. Or with pixels, either, come to that.)

Anyway, it certainly can’t be all that important at this point, anyway, when all you’re doing is a plain white background color in the first place. But maybe it’s a good chance to practice, before it becomes critical when you add variables like color. Or, er, subject.

One more to go. Of this half. The other twelve panels are still wrapped in shipper’s cardboard. Maybe I won’t do both fish. Maybe one fish will be enough. Let’s see how the first fish comes out before I start stressing about the second one, shall we? One more to go, and then I can start adding something that’s a color that isn’t white.

It’s possible I overreached a bit with this project.

This was all originally going to be some big metaphor about how paying attention to the paint means something about the value of paying attention to the details of any other kind of task — but that point kind of made itself before I was halfway there, and seems obvious in retrospect anyway, so I guess this is more about what happens inside my brain when nobody is talking.

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