Levels of complexity


Dear Artist,

During the last week I’ve been back in the studio preparing for a solo show. I’m in here at about 6 in the morning and generally stick-handle through to about 10 in the evening. Sometimes there’s a short mid-afternoon snooze — almost always there’s a ramble with Dorothy.

But mostly it’s just easeling along, sorting out problems, taking half finished works in and out of frames, painting steadily with a fair degree of simultaneity, trying to decide what to do next. As they say, “It’s a wonderful life.” I’m sure the “high” is similar to dope. I can convince myself that this is the most evolved way of being. Studio happiness seems to have something to do with the levels of complexity that engage and challenge. This complexity in turn leads to a type of concentration that keeps you on form, inside your processes and on the cusp of “the joy mode.” Also, small, self-imposed, mini-deadlines help to keep the power up. The revved machine can accomplish quite a bit.

The revved machine also enhances multitasking. As in time-and-motion efficiency, reference materials come more readily to hand and creative expediencies materialize out of the studio clutter. A kind of “grab and do” excitement prevails as one painting leads to another. Concert pitch makes for a sweet kind of sweat. At the same time each painting has to be thought out on its own. There’s a worn path between the working stool and the contemplation chair. It’s fun to feel this yin and yang. Phone calls are taken in the contemplation chair. Some of the better decisions are made by another part of the brain while talking on the phone.

Yesterday a young friend brought in a bag of California raisins. “For energy,” he said. He was a bit depressed and wondering if he was an artist or not. His work is understated and what I like to call “pure.” I suggested that he try to notch up his complexity. I told him that it’s the complexity that keeps an artist interested and involved. Complexity wards off the blahs. Complexity leads you to find your style and voice. Complexity, when mastered, makes you feel good about yourself. Complexity in the studio keeps you off the streets. I also suggested that he might try to keep it simple. We forgot about the raisins.

Best regards,


PS: “Out of intense complexities, intense simplicities emerge.” (Winston Churchill) “Paintings come out of themselves.” (Lawren Harris)

Esoterica: One of the joys of show preparation is the revisiting of the better experiences from over the past year or so. I generally call my shows “Recent Work” because I never know, in the fury of the last minute, where the work may lead. The potential of the end game should not be underestimated. I’ve also noticed that second generation motifs can be the richest. It’s no wonder that for many of us, “best in show” often goes up wet. “If it wasn’t for the last minute, a lot of things wouldn’t get done.” (Michael S. Taylor)


Productive slow-drip of endorphins
by Allan O’Marra, Ajax, ON, Canada


oil on canvas
by Allan O’Marra

I would beg to differ that the multitasking method of working is the most productive, the most endorphin-producing or the best way to garner a sense of accomplishment. I prefer the methodical, meditative, one-foot-ahead-of-the- other, stroke after stroke Zen-groove method of working, neither achieving lengthy highs nor, as is always the compensation, low periods of inspiration and dissatisfaction. I practice awareness of a wonderful sense of what I have accomplished, a happy sense of present activity and an excitement about future challenges, all held with a slow-drip of endorphins in a present state of equanimity and limitless space.


Complex but not confounding
by Carol Lyons, Irvington, NY, USA


“Something Cosmic”
watercolour painting
by Carol Lyons

As Robert Browning said, and he was the first, “Less is more, Lucretia…” I buy that. Sometimes I have to work through the complexities to get to the “less.” My images are often complex, but I do not want to confound, but rather amaze, firstly myself, and then anyone who enjoys coming along for the art ride.

One of my early art teachers said to me decades ago, about one of my compositions, “I can do without that line”. In my inexperience I said to myself, “But I can’t”. Now I look back at that image and realize he was absolutely correct. If I had asked the question, “Why?” I would then have learned a valuable lesson.


Technique a mere tool
by Grace Cowling


“Passions Embracing”
watercolour painting
by Grace Cowling

For painters who hold a passion for detail, technique is a mere tool by which complexity can be accomplished. Whether complexity be of shapes, textures, colours, values or combinations thereof it is virtually the contrapuntal qualities of a painting.

While a subject may be interpreted on canvas by simplicity of shapes, it still remains a complex creation in terms of elemental substance. The subject’s spirit or soul may be obscure or apparent but is nevertheless present. If complexity is lovingly accomplished by the painter, the viewer is drawn into the work to share the spirit, soul and contrapuntal cadences to be enjoyed therein.


Studying the Work In Progress
by Brad Greek, Mary Esther, FL, USA


“World Peace”
original painting
by Brad Greek

I agree that the more complex the subject the greater the reward. Simple paintings don’t have the same impact on me as do those that I’ve taken to a complexity level that I haven’t crossed before. The contemplation chair is also a must! Most of my process is from across the room looking at the work in progress. Just by studying the WIP, more ideas come for other paintings, along with how to complete the one I’m working on. I work with the best results when I have several paintings going at once. And when the creativity is flowing, I can complete paintings that I’ve started but couldn’t find a finish for or whip out a complex problem that may have had me blocked.


Complexity established with time
by Annette Waterbeek


“Tofino Exploration”
original painting
by Annette Waterbeek

The first go at the canvas I’m trying to establish life with all the thoughts about what makes a good painting. The second go is trying to pump up the good parts. The third go is trying to correct the problems. With every go after that I find the life starts to diminish… efficient levels of complexity will be established with time spent on the canvases.



Power of Play
by Margaret Coxall, Western Australia


“Fall in time”
original painting
by Margaret Coxall

As I write this I am preparing for my first solo show in a new location and am facing quite a few old demons. I find that becoming intensely involved in interesting processes and new toys seem to be the way that I stay engaged. I worry that not enough ‘serious’ painting gets done but in a way the very word ‘serious’ scares me. The “why not try this and see what happens” seems frivolous but the more I do this the more I stay utterly engaged with the subject. Funny thing is that the paintings are better for it too, even though they are quite often dealing with ‘serious” subjects. The next workshop I run will of course be called “The Power of Play.”


Stretching time
by Mary Klotz, Woodsboro, MD, USA

Often, I encounter descriptions and discoveries that, given sufficient perspective, can be seen as entirely separate ways to view, experience, wrap words around the same phenomenon or idea. All the blind men describing the elephant — if only they discussed their experiences among themselves, the larger picture could be put together!

A book I recently studied, Your Sixth Sense by Belleruth Naparstek addresses current theories in quantum physics, and how they might relate to/explain our perceptions, in particular, intuitive insights. She speaks of oscillations, synchrony and still points, and how (theoretically) at the still points, we are able to access the expanse of all-that-is. She describes a theoretical synchronizing of body oscillations that has the effect of making the still points longer – it stretches time. Those hugely productive hours sound similar to those spaces of concentration/joy mode studio work, full of insight and progress, the revved machine. A certain state of personal synchrony, giving access to a special expandedness for a while.

Thanks for the nuggets. They frequently arrive with a certain synchronicity to other of my encounters. I enjoy moving the ideas around in my brain, like holding a melting sugar drop in the mouth. It sometimes seems that if one tries to save the nugget, it just gets gummy and linty on the shelf, but try to really taste it, and it becomes elusive, begins to vanish, faster the more you chase it with your tongue.


Busy mind, busy paintings
by Sharon Williams


“Life’s like that”
original painting
by Sharon Williams

I create almost all of my work from chaos, and really enjoy the sense of discovery as images emerge from the paint. It allows me to enter into a true dialogue with the work. The problems happen when I try to take total control back. The dialogue must continue, a give-and-take of control and authority. It has allowed me to learn to “trust the process” to tune in spiritually to what is flowing through me at any given time.

The problems I run into generally involve having a final image that is very complex, with a lot of semi-hidden things and suggestions of other things. I can’t seem to paint a “simple” image with this approach. I always have an area that is more developed, larger, etc. as a focal point in the image, but I think I am doomed to “busy” paintings. I have tried to own this as I realize that this is who I am. I have a very “busy” mind. I have added to an old expression which I have taken as my own. It says, “Busy people are happy people — and I am ecstatic!”


Artex colours for murals
by Sally Pollard, Weiser, Idaho, USA

I have been using Artex Nova Color acrylic artist paints since putting up a mural in Long Beach, California in 1985. I think they are as good or better than Golden at a fraction of the cost. I am now a humble easel painter in Idaho and these quality paints from Artex still do me proud. Artex Nova Color is a small manufacturer of muralist colors based in Los Angeles, California. You can buy colors in small 4 oz. containers or up to 5 gal. For folks playing with papers and mediums, 5 gal. of medium is the way to go! I have even embedded negligees and other pieces of clothing and cloth with the medium on board or canvas. I wove with commercial paper towel on a loom and then coated the 4′ x 6′ pieces with medium then painted on them. The medium is great stuff making anything permanent and strong. They have a nice selection of various thick and thin mediums and gels and pearlescent colors too. They will send you a color chart if you request. They have a whole line of excellent mediums, gels and retarders. They also carry an excellent washable sealer to protect murals from graffiti. Nova Color comes in jars rather than tubes and has a creamy consistency. They tell you what pigments are opaque, translucent, etc., and the permanence. I use these colors for outdoor murals with good success.

One thing that should probably be addressed about using acrylics that come in jars is keeping your paint source clean. I learned the hard way. Do not dip your brushes in the jars or they become contaminated and will mold. I cleaned up my act and now transfer what I need for painting to a palette with a clean palette knife. I also like to remind artists who live in wintry places to protect their paints from freezing. Titanium, whether in acrylic or oil will harden and be ruined if it freezes.


Pressure of exhibitions motivates
by Linda Blondheim, Gainesville, FL, USA


“Street Near The Thomas Center”
oil on panel
by Linda Blondheim

Studio time is challenging and fun. The more exhibitions I have to do the more exciting it is. I am constantly guilty of overbooking shows. I have trouble saying no. This year I’ve about gotten myself in trouble, nearly running out of work. The pressure of constantly showing work motivates me to paint every day. I’ve always suspected that if I didn’t have to show and sell my work for a living, I wouldn’t produce much.



Show time
by Marilyn Hunt

I have been painting professionally for about 15 years and have never had a show in a gallery or on my own. My work has been featured in several galleries and I have sold personally and done commissions. I am very versatile artistically and cannot seem to manage myself to focus on my real passion, and that is my canvas work. My reputation in the world of murals and decorative design got out of control and I was almost working full time in this area even though it started as just a side job. I have committed myself to my studio now and plan to have a show in the spring.

My questions are regarding the success of a show in one’s own home, and also, should I include everything that I have done over the past ten or more years, even though my style and subject matter may have changed. I would so much appreciate some advice from some fellow artistic soldiers.


Shifting sands of taste
by David Lloyd Glover, Hollywood, CA, USA


“Midnight Blue Lake”
original painting
by David Lloyd Glover

Today I am packing the suitcases to head off for my next exhibition in Tokyo, contemplating how many brochures should I drag along for my customers. Printing out some new business cards with my latest images — just in case I run into someone of interest or opportunity. This is my eleventh year traveling to one-man shows in Japan. On my very first trip, my then agent was accompanying me on the voyage and said that it was his 17th trip to Tokyo. One thing my agent had come to realize was that the more he went to Japan, the less he understood the Japanese people. At the time I thought that was a ridiculous notion, how could you not understand a culture the more you were exposed to it?

I too crossed the threshold of 17 visits a few years ago and realized there was truth to that statement. In point of fact I have come to realize that we westerners really are “Lost in Translation” like the movie said when it comes to the wonderful world of Japan. My understanding of the style of paintings that appeal to my customers, I thought was clear and concise. My years of creating and selling works had given me focus but then I came to realize another phenomenon. And that is the quickly shifting sands of the tastes of my collectors. Imagery that was once sure fire in generating a sale is now considered passe. Good grief, reevaluation, new directions, new palettes only to shift and change again. So here I go, off to Japan to meet a few thousand collectors and find out if all my new paintings are on the mark.






Late Autumn

oil painting
by Edouard Efanov, Ramon, Russia


You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2004.

That includes Shirley Domer who wrote, “I think of complexity as being in the groove. Everything flows, comes together, diverges into new paths. I work best in clutter, elements of which emerge as distinct, harmonious entities.”

And also Jeanine Fondacaro who wrote, “Some of my best work comes in the flurry of electricity, that special energy that comes from having a deadline and wanting to dig a little deeper, show something new and undiscovered about yourself and your work…”

Also Stan Arnold who wrote, “While at Parsons School in New York I sat next to Jasper Johns.”




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