11 February 2012


by Andy Weddington
Saturday, 11 February 2012

"Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication." Leonardo da Vinci

Not too often do I choose to write about painting. But today, this Saturday morning, a short presentation about the creation of a recent painting, and a big lesson learned, that has applicability to everyone whether interested in painting or not.

That lesson? Realizing sophisticated simplicity from simple complexity--an achievement possible in all disciplines of the arts, sciences, and everything in between and beyond, and in all walks of life; you just have to painstakingly search for it, and then recognize it when you see it. Easy? Not so easy. Difficult? Yes, absolutely difficult. But beautiful and rewarding when achieved.

For about six weeks now a small sketch hastily scribbled with a heavy black marker, in a minute or two, in my sketchbook has haunted me. Odd how a few marks on paper, and they not be school grades, can be so troublesome. Day after day, over coffee in the morning and Scotch in the evening, I've studied the sketch and at day's end closed the book not so much in disgust but frustration only to still be troubled and not knowing exactly why.

The quick line drawing was made 'en plein air' (from life) and was the essence of a view looking toward the Atlantic Ocean from the side of church on a tiny cay in the Bahamas. It was not the view, per se, that intrigued me but the design of the space--a design combining the work of God's eye and hand and the work of man.

And it was the design of the space, in life and on the paper, that would not let me rest.

The thumbnail sketch done one afternoon in late December...

"Reef" black marker sketch

A few days after completing that marker sketch I turned to paints. The result was a 16 x 20 (inches) acrylic on canvas. The painting is simple. Some may conclude unremarkable. But there is a complexity to it (like the sketch) betrayed by apparent simplicity. Anyone who has seen that particular view would recognize it immediately. Those that saw the painting taped to the wall in our cottage did so.

"Reef" 16 x 20 acrylic on canvas

For me, that painting only served to intensify the haunting. The painting was a decent representation of what I saw, and the marker sketch, but it was too literal. It was simple but not as simple as the sketch and not simple enough. It needed to be simpler than the sketch. It needed to be simpler than what I saw. The problem was simple--the shape of space and color was not simple enough. The solution was not so simple.

Six weeks after completing the above acrylic, and still haunted daily when looking at the sketch and painting, late the other night I turned to iPad to start problem-solving. Two questions were the root of experimenting: 1) How can I make this wonderful design of space (breaking up space on paper or canvas, simply, is the most difficult of feats) simpler?; and 2) How can I simplify the colors?

The iPad is an incredible tool for problem-solving. It saves time. It gives the capability of practically limitless possibilities sparked by the movement of a finger or two influenced by billions of brain cells and decades of experience, and it saves lots and lots of paint (i.e., money). But it is just another medium. Nothing more.

After a few hours, the anwer came to me. I saw it. I knew it instantly. It'd not been an easy road. It was difficult. Now the solution seemed oh so simple. Below is that iPad sketch. The frame, too, an important variable for analyzing its success.

"Reef" iPad study

That iPad solution came late at night. I went to bed and slept; peacefully. The next morning I looked at the iPad sketch again and with a cup of coffee in hand headed for the studio. With a larger canvas (24 x 30), a handful of acrylics, and a great big brush--size 14--I painted as if it were an emergency. It was.

The final painting, titled "Reef," now sits on the easel. It is one of the most complex paintings--in concept and design--I've ever done. But it's simplicity, masking it's complexity, was not easily realized. 

Five shapes. Five colors. Harmony. One shape and color--the powerhouse--key.

The simplicity is easily seen.

But do you see the complexity?  Think!

"Reef" 24 x 30 acrylic on canvas

Compare the original marker sketch to the final painting. Note subtle changes in shapes--in design. And note the changes in shapes and colors between the two acrylic paintings--arguably only achieved through experimentation on iPad.

The haunting has ended. I'm happy! At peace. And tonight I'll sip and savor a glass of single malt Scotch while studying the painting--not to forget its lesson(s).

Tomorrow it's on to the next painting--the next struggle toward simplicity, toward sophistication.

That life's lesson for all?

In the words of Thoreau, "Simplify. Simplify." It's a mark of the sophisticated.

Post Script

I have many 'artist' friends--painters and sculptors and poets and writers and musicians and storytellers and inventors and screenplay writers and actors, too.  And more still. And I wonder if any of you see the complexity camouflaged, perhaps accidentally but done intelligently nonetheless, by the simplicity? Your observations and comments welcome, of course. As are welcome the opinions of all.

Author's Endnote

My tribute portrait, "painted" on iPad, in memory of Steve Jobs and his marvelous inventions--namely iPad; which has turned everything I ever learned, knew, and believed about painting upside down and inside out.

Steve Jobs was a complex human being. Steve Jobs mastered simplicity. Steve Jobs mastered sophistication.

How fortunate our complex world benefits from his simple, sophisticated genius. 'Apple'--his, and another Steve's, creation--makes perfect sense. How tragic he'll not see what's created by means of his creation. Or might he? And it's only beginning...

Steven Paul Jobs, 1955-2011

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