Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Origin

Someone recently asked me "Where did you learn to paint like that?"
to which i replied:

i learned on my own, well sort of

as far as i can remember I've always been drawing, where i work i have papers full of doodles and sketches that i usually throw away.

at a place i worked at, one of my friends there was a painter, his name is Tom Balderas, and we would always talk about art and stuff.

Tom Balderas 
(Tom Balderas, "Interior with Seated Figures")

One day i asked him to give me some tips on how to paint, what to look for when you paint, i figured since i had been drawing all my life, maybe painting wasn't that hard.

I had a few painting sessions at his place, but i couldn't get it, it was so difficult, i didn't understand it, the colors were all wrong, and working with the paint was very hard to control.

(One of my first paintings, done at Tom's studio)

i kept telling him i couldn't figure it out, and he kept telling me to look for relation between the colors, look for areas of warms and cools and relate it to each other, this is what worked for him, it's how he learned, but i was blank, i couldn't see it.
To this day when i see those first paintings i made over at Tom's place, i get frustrated, i hate those paintings! they look nothing like what i was trying to paint, all i was trying to do was imitate Tom and not see what i had to see.

I even went with him to a class with the guy who had taught him, Joseph Mendez, he gave me some advice, but what i was making looked horrible, i wasn't learning anything, i was just getting frustrated cause i couldn't paint!

(one of my paintings done at Joseph Mendez studio)

One of the things that kept bothering me was that i couldn't figure out what colors to mix to get the color you needed, i didn't want to paint how i felt when i looked at an orange, i wanted to learn how to put down the correct color to make it look like an orange! I wasn't learning, i wasn't allowing myself to learn because i couldn't get passed this block in my mind, and when i would ask Joe how to do it, he would come over and show me, he would paint part of it as i watched, but even then by watching i couldn't get it, he wouldn't explain exactly what he was looking for before he decided what colors to mix and what mark to put down, it was very frustrating to not know.
Just as with the paintings done over at Tom's, all of the paintings i made at Joe's were horrible to me, i can't stand them, yet i keep them around as a reminder of where i was when i started.

Several months passed after trying to learn and i gave up on painting, then on one of my many depressed days at home, i was looking at all my supplies telling myself "man, you bought all this painting shit, and you're doing nothing with it!"
i told myself to forget everything i had learned (or not learned!) with my friend Tommy or his teacher Joe, and start again.

I made a project for myself:
using my color palette, i only use 6 colors, i started out with 7 which are:

Titanium White (White)
Cadmium Yellow Light (Yellow)
Cadmium Red Light (Orange)
Alizarin Crimson (Dark Red)
Viridian (Green)
Cerulean Blue (Light Blue)
Ultramarine Blue (Dark Blue)

but now i don't use the Viridian (Green) anymore

i setup a canvas with a bunch of squares drawn on it, and i filled a row of squares at the top with each of the colors i used, then under each square i mixed half and half of the other colors to see what color they would make when mixed, for example, the first column on the left is Ultramarine at the top with the other colors mixed half with Ultramarine for the rest of the squares in the column, I did this with all the colors, original at the top then half and half all the way down, and when i finished i had a color chart of the mixed colors.

(my color chart)

This helped out so much! i finally had figured out how to get the colors i needed out of my paints.
From here i was able to see what would happen if I mixed the light blue and orange, which came out as a dark grey/brown, and what would happen if i then added a bit of white, or any other color to it, or if it was more blue than orange, etc.
The possibilities are endless, you can get any color in the rainbow by adding the right combination of these colors with each other. You need an exercise like this to see what can be done, i highly recommend it.

So now that i had the colors figured out, how do i start out with a painting?
i used a picture i had taken from my cell phone while i was in traffic and used it for my first actual painting.

Once again i told myself to forget what i had learned and see it in my own way, especially now that i had sort of figured out the colors. So i looked at the picture and stared at it for a while, i was able to see that if you look carefully, everything breaks down into shapes of color like a big puzzle, so i looked for the biggest shape and started with that, then when i finished with that i put in the shapes of color around it always comparing the size of the shapes to the other, i kept working like that until i finished.

The Beauty Of Traffic
(my "first" painting)

When i was done, i had this amazing feeling when i looked at the painting, sort of like a "fuck yeah!! i made that!!' to this day whenever i finish a painting i get that same feeling, it's like seeing someone that you love!

Now that i see the process i go through, i paint like the way i draw, because when i draw i do the same thing it's not a chair or a house, it's a bunch of shapes next to each other.

Since I'm still learning, and always will be, most of the time I'm not happy with the results, I'll get to a certain point in the painting where i won't like what I'm seeing and I'll paint over everything and erase it, then start again or watch a movie, eventually getting the painting the way i want it and be happy with the results. There are of course those times when everything flows perfectly, like it is painting itself, I'll be somewhere else in my mind and next thing i know, the painting is done.

it does take practice, you have to see what you're doing wrong in order to do it right, and the more you practice the better you get at anything.

so that's how i learned to paint, i had to figure out a way to paint where i liked what i was doing, and the images that come out are the result of that process


  1. Oscar, good to see you posting!
    It's wonderful if we evolve as artist and are able to look back with understanding. I agree with you that the basic color palette is essential for a beginner to learn as well as being able to render what you see. Those are crucial skills. If the foundation is strong you will always succeed. I remember those days of mixing 3 colors and your right about how it helps to harmonize the painting. However you won't find me going back to that anyday soon. I like the readiness of my palette. It's also essential with Acrylic because of the fast drying.
    Hope all goes well with The Show!