Pryor Fine Art
Helen Shulman
Unlike many of my artist friends, I listen to news all day while I paint. It seems to occupy one side of my brain so the other side can be freed up to think without words. That side is both day dreaming—I feel and see myself taking walks by brooks, picking up stones, gazing up at the endlessly shifting clouds, sitting in shaded glens and hiking for hilltop views—and thinking about all the basics of image making—layering colors, deciding on composition, making marks, looking for contrasts.

Much of my recent work, including Real Deal and Way to Go are part of my “At Dusk” series. Each painting in this series attempts to express what I experience at the end of the day when I relish sitting by our pond in Vermont or on the beach in Florida. I watch the brightness of the day fade. I feel the productive, external focus which seems to be demanded by sunlight ease as the sky dims and the details of the landscape blur. My shoulders drop. I exhale deeply. My gaze shifts internally. I often feel a harmony that is fleeting but entirely satisfying. I hope those who connect with my work feel similarly.

Starting, Stopping and what Happens in Between

Building a painting, like an architectural structure, starts from the inside and works out. Developing a relationship with a painting, like a friendship, starts from the outside and works in.

When I start a painting it is my job to create an understructure that is stable enough to sustain subsequent layers. When the painting is complete I want it to have a beautiful enough skin to invite people to linger and an interesting enough interior to retain their attention.

To build the framework I start with a landscape based on one of the dramatic paintings of the Hudson River Painters, a seascape or marsh scene by Martin Johnson Heade, a sketch I’ve done outside or a figure drawing from one of the many life drawing sessions I attend each year.

The middle of the process isn’t particularly tidy, but in general form it’s quite predictable. It always involves as much staring at the picture as it does applying paint. It always involves a lot of sanding, scraping, adding paint, scraping again. It always involves a lot of avoidance techniques, drinking coffee, checking email, pacing about, making phones calls, searching for chocolate. And, it always involves an endless loop of “wow, look at that, I’ve got it right!” followed by “you’re such a loser, you can’t do anything!”

Starting the painting is more intellectual; ending is more emotional. I can clearly describe how I start, but I stop when it feels right, when the surface is rich enough, the light defined enough, the palette pleasing enough. When the eye is encouraged to travel around, when the imagination is put into play, when separate sections work independently and the whole works together, then it is finished.
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