Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Spontaneous Painting

Karin Kowalinka has a discerning eye for color, movement and form. Though classically trained, she enjoys working with paint freely and spontaneously to create abstract, organic paintings. Recently, I had the opportunity to take a class with her.

Karin sees the possibilities for paintings often before the student does and often shares her thoughts from many years of making art.  For devotees of the Artist's Way by Julia Cameron or Life, Paint and Passion by Michelle Cassou, it's a different approach to creativity. While there is play and spontaneity in the class, there is also assessment.

Painting with a huge housepainting brush. 

Different brush strokes, finger painting and splattering.

Repairing a painting by using paint as glue.

Latex gloves, essential for messy painting.

For me, the class raised as many questions as the technique answered. When does a painting work (meaning when does it click, look complete)? When to stop painting? Is this a good painting? Do I need outside approval?  How receptive am I/should I be to external guidance?  Is it possible to paint a good painting with splayed out fingers making parallel lines and curves, the same gesture as fingers scratching on a chalk board?  Is purple such a difficult color for a painting? Is repetition bad?  Is it ok to be boring?  I found myself alternately seeking and shunning external approval. I saw my work as both wonderful and awful at the same time. I found myself grappling with my own creativity demons as much as with technique.

The technique is deceptively simple, and yet not simple. Simple in playing with paint, but then getting out of the way to let the painting do what it will do, and not being too attached to details or colors or forms that will inevitably get painted over. There is both acceptance of inevitable change and attachment to keeping particular details untouched. There is the caution of avoiding repetitive motions.

Tempera paints

Paint can be splashed, drizzled, rotated, dripped, brushed on thickly or thinly, in continuous or broken up motion, wiggled, flicked with hands and moved by fingers. Karin encourages doing motions that are different from what the student may automatically feel most comfortable with. If a student is doing smaller, shorter brush strokes, she will encourage doing longer, continuous brush strokes. If a student is moving the paint quickly, she will encourage the student to sloooow down. She pushes past the comfort zone so that each student can try out a variety of movements and brush strokes. Karin gives each student plenty of attention, and reminds us to walk around the painting and look at it from all angles.

Our paint was liquid-y and gloppy... the brushes were big and thick, like caveman brushes, and the paper was pink, showing under the first layer of white paint. One doesn't always need to start off with blank, white paper. Initially, one plays with the paint, and then looks for forms and a composition to emerge, and then has to make choices - which color to do next, what shape to develop, whether to create more of a symbol or a pattern. While the course can be for beginners, it is also appropriate for experienced artists who want to do something very different. We met at Rebecca Lowell's studio, a beautiful space with white walls and plenty of light. It was nice to meet Rebecca too and watch her style of free from painting.

One of Rebecca's paintings in the background, also at Aloha Cowboy in Makawao.
Rebecca's spontaneous painting

One idea that I did take from class is that a painting can give energy. It doesn't have to be pretty or beautiful or pleasing. It can be intense, like a bolt of energy that can make one jump out of bed. Maybe I need some paintings like that. The paintings can be intensely personal and raw, kind of like childhood.


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