A Man with a Plan


Emerging, 6 x 6″ ink, newsprint

“I found that if I planned a picture beforehand, it never surprised me, and surprises are my pleasure in painting.”

– Ives Tanguy

“Without planning, your painting will probably be indecisive and fragmented, and you’ll try to say too much in one picture.”

– Ron Ranson

So which camp do you fall into?

I must admit that I do not plan a painting ahead of time. I don’t do small sketches, value studies, etc. I have occasionally in the past, particularly when I was doing more representational work. I’m a little too impatient to put too much time in up front on a new piece.

These days I find that I like to start by putting some random expressive shapes, textures and colors on the blank paper and and then constantly ask myself, “what does this need next?”. By intuitively trying to determine what is not working, what is missing, what should be added or taken away, the painting itself  communicates its needs to me. This dialogue works because there is a need in me to resolve unresolved qualities of the image. Something isn’t right, it’s unbalanced, lacking harmony, discordant. It’s like a musical phrase needing resolution – the notes move in a direction in which the tension mounts until the composer, with a deft touch, adds just those notes needed to restore order to things.

Of course, some art, both visual and musical, intentionally creates and maintains the tension of unresolved parts. It’s a little uncomfortable to see or listen to this art. The artist may be after this discomfort. Perfect harmony or resolution is not something that I’m really after in a piece. Figuring out just the right amount of resolution or lack thereof to leave in is one of the challenges in finishing a work. My favorite pieces fall short of perfect harmony but each stroke I’ve added has made something whole within the piece. There is, I hope, some method to the madness. Just not enough, I also hope, to get rid of all the madness!

7 responses to “A Man with a Plan

  1. In my monoprints I go even further than not planning, in that I rely on a process of chance on the making of the print. Initially I start as you describe by making marks on the plate in acrylic or inks, then adding what seems necessary. After taking the impression I then further select – moving a mount around to ‘extract’ compositions from the larger piece. If I’m lucky I might get 5 or 6 – sometimes however nothing. In the latter case I might use the print as the basis for a further print.

  2. I know it’s a paradox, but I do believe that the paintings that “work” are a combination of spontaneity and planning. That feeling of “tension unresolved parts” which guides our hands to the conclusion of the painting is the happy discomfort or uncomfortable bonus of the creative process. Some days it propels us on, and other days it sends us screaming to the kitchen for some cookies for comfort!

  3. I think of myself as a process painter/collage artist. I respond to what is happening on the surface, with a very global idea in mind, a message, but its pretty esoteric. Ron Ranson taught a class at the same time I took one from Eydi Lampasona, in the same setting. He is very traditional and excellent at what he does. But what works for him does not for my style. Bob, your work is strong. What ever you are doing, it works!

  4. Ian-

    One thing I like about monoprinting is that a lot of what happens is almost by force accidental. Makes it hard to do much planning or to repeat something you liked in another piece. Not a process for one who likes to be in complete control!


    Thanks for the kind words! Your work is inspiring (love the haiku connection!). As Susan says, I suspect the ideal model is one in which there is a bit of planning and spontaneity at work. I’m still looking for the balance that feels right to me and I’m not there yet.

  5. It’s rare that I stick to a plan with my songwriting. My most effective tool is spontaneity. My album from 1994 with my band at the time featured only one song that was intentionally “built” from the ground up, and, whilst it is interesting, it lacks a certain immediacy that the others have. The song idea I’m working on from Susan’s lyric is proving to be interesting. I set out to try and maintain one criteria, that I would deviate from the words as little as possible. that means, Susan’s lyrics, coupled with my poem that just tumbled out in response, had to dictate the flow of the song. The song style has been very natural, I had though to do it one way, and as i sat down to play, it came out in a completely different genre! So, the sum total will probably be a merging of “forced” structure and random ideas, a foot in both camps. is this the onset of schizophrenia? Probably! Happy New year to you and yours Bob.

  6. I’m definitely a Tanguy guy…We do THINK too much in art and that is always visible… In his book the spirit of Zen, allan Watts has a very interesting chapter about the zen attitude to making art… I,ve read it many times, always with profit (even if that,s kind of thinking… but not when I draw or paint…)

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