I’ve been working on a new oil painting the last few days. I’ve been creating the entire scene from my imagination, using memories and dreams to flesh out the details. A lot of stuff runs through my head when I paint. Sometimes I go on autopilot depending on what stage I’m on. Mostly in the detail stages, surprisingly. When I paint grass, or leaves, or something that is repetitive type brush strokes my mind starts to wander. Well, I’ve been working away on the leaves to my latest painting and this memory pops in my head from nowhere. It was from the college days.
I remember my first painting class. Our professor, Anderson Giles (look him up, he’s awesome), was a somewhat intimidating figure. He was a very tall, broad man, with a southern accent and a stern demeanor. The type of guy who means business, but that southern charm comes out, so you’re kind of scared and at ease at the same time. I remember hearing a rumor that he could have played in the NFL or at a pro level in football. Not sure if that rumor is true, but for this story I’ll just say it is ;).
It was about half way through the year and we had tackled a few projects already. Painting three dimensional ball shapes, abstracts, portraits etc. Our next project was landscapes. I remember Andy going over the project, giving us the due date and the details. One of the details was very important. Andy sternly says to the group, “Now don’t just go making up a landscape from your head. Go out and paint in nature, or take a photo and work from that. You can’t just go and make up the landscape, I don’t want you doing that.” Okay, that was clear. No making up the landscape.
Well a few weeks passed, and I had worked on my landscape a total of 0 hours. It was college, I was working full time. I lived in an apartment with crazy roommates. Ya know, college life. I remember waking up the day that the painting was due, and thinking to myself, “uh oh.” I hadn’t worked on the project at all. I was definitely procrastinating. Well, I had about 6 hours until class, so I got out the canvas and just started painting…. from my imagination.
I whipped up this half decent painting of hills and a valley and called it good. My signature clouds weren’t developed yet, so my sky was just pure blue.
I got to class, and we all sat around the room with our canvases waiting to be critiqued. A few other people went before me. Then Andy says “Tim! Let’s see what you did.”
So I get up in front of the class, all nervous like, and stutter out “yeah, uhh so I did some hills, and this valley.”
Andy chimes in: “where is this?”
Me: “uhh, well, its this place I like going to to think, its not far from my apartment at all.”
Andy: (long pause) “oookay, continue.”
Me: Thinking in my head. “Phew! …well it wasn’t a lie, I do like going to a place in my mind to think…”
Okay, so that’s a little bit of mental gymnastics. But hey, if you knew Andy you wouldn’t want to experience the wrath of breaking the rule he specifically said not to break.
Long story short, I stumbled through my critique, answering the usual questions: “why’d you pick this color?” “what does this place make you feel like?” and so on. I ended up getting an A on the project.
That was the moment I started painting from my head, and I’ve done so ever since. It’s the way I feel most comfortable. I use reference photos sometimes, but man, they are restricting. So when I use them, I just get an idea from them and trudge out on my own.
So Andy if you read this, which is very possible, I’m sorry. You can retroactively give me a D+ or something, I deserve it. I had to come clean. I broke you’re rule, and got away with it. But it kind of set the stage for my approach to painting, so maybe I should keep the A :). Yay college! Yay procrastination!