Smoke And Mirrors


Last week I wrote about Scott’s ability to throw six color notes on a canvas and convince me from 12 feet away that together they create a perfectly executed cow. Or wave. Or tree on a hillside.

There’s a pragmatic mystery involved in the making of this magic. How can he know if those abstract strokes will “read” (meaning: are believable to the eye) from 12 feet away when, by necessity, he has to be within arm’s reach of the canvas when he paints them?

If it were me, I’d be making sure the little cows were as bovinely divinely perfect as I could make them from two feet away, right down to their glossy brown eyes and six-inch eyelashes. After all, my brain would insist, if I intend the observer to see a cow, it should look like a real cow from where I’m standing as I paint it, right?

Ha! I’d be known as the “Where’s Waldo?” of the oil painting world.

Even without picking up a brush, I know this would be an issue for me in painting, because it’s what I already struggle with in writing. Keeping it loose, man… Folks need the white space.

But how do you get that enviable looseness without turning painting into an aerobic experience as you scuttle those 12 feet away from and back to the canvas between each brush stroke?

Well, spending 30 years developing compositional competence helps. But there’s an actual object that I hadn’t thought of before as also being an important part of an artist’s tool kit.

It’s called a “mirror,” and it’s not used just to check on your cows, either.

Scott will move around a painting for a while, and then turn to the mirror to check on what patterns are shaping up, where tensions need to be balanced, or how the variety of temperatures are reading. It helps bring the whole into view, and reveals to his eye what is cloaked at arm’s length. In his own words, “Orchestration is key, all the parts–drawing, composition, color and its temperature, values, value patterns, etc.–need to work together as one great whole.”

Okay, so I get how using the mirror assists with that. But no matter how often I watch him paint, the part that still eludes me, and everyone else too, apparently, is the smoke itself.

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