Paintings for a dear friend

We’ve been staying in Tampa with our dear friends Ying and Ståle, and I wanted to make them some artwork. They said I could paint anything I wanted, but I know Ying’s taste runs to the abstract, so I thought I’d try some of that.

Abstraction is hard for me. I think my approach to drawing is closer to illustration than to pure expression — my favorite subjects are people and decorations — although I’m not really interested in illustrations unless they’re also highly expressive. But even when my drawings come out stylized, I like to start with something concrete; I have a hard time just doodling. But starting with an idea can make it difficult to translate that starting point into abstraction without getting literal about it.

I told myself that for these paintings I would just experiment. I would play with colors and textures and not worry about the outcome. The office window has a lovely view of trees and grass and the neighbors’ pool, so I thought about the water, sky, and greenery I’d seen around the area, and went from there. I made a blue and green wave, sprinkled it with salt, and then washed the top part with blues and golds.


Later we decided it looks more interesting flipped, so that’s the way it’s displayed right now.


I thought that painting was too obvious — water, sand, sky — so I tried a second one, but that came out even more representational. Sometimes I think my own efforts defeat me, and it’s better if I simply don’t think about what I want a thing to look like.


For the next piece, there was an experiment I wanted to try with drips and plain water, so I played around with that for awhile, layering it with other things and trying a funny trick with plastic wrap:

process animation

I like the playfulness of it, though it reminds me a little too much of the personalized name art sold on beach boardwalks and the like.


Right after I finished that painting, Ying came home from a meeting and had time to sit for a portrait, so we did that. I find that my portraits very much show the influence of whatever I was drawing or painting right before doing one. In this case, I’m a little out of practice drawing, but I’ve been making all these abstract, colorful, experimental paintings, and I think that shows in the portrait — not just in the colorful background, but in the ease of my brushstrokes, especially in the hair.

Ying's portrait process animation

For the background, I borrowed the print off Ying’s dress, and rendered the dress itself in solid blue. The actual print is a bit different from this, but I loosened it up and made it a little more retro and tropical. I think it’s a fun look, appropriate for Ying and for Florida, and quite a change from my usual plain backgrounds.


It doesn’t entirely look like Ying, but it doesn’t not look like her either. She looks younger than this, and is always animated (in fact, she would only sit still for ten minutes at a time), which is unfortunately hard to capture in a seated portrait. I think the portrait conveys something of her beauty and intelligence, but not the unique energy that makes her unforgettable to nearly everyone she meets. Ah well. We’re talking of visiting again next winter, and if we do, I will try another portrait and we will see what a difference a year makes!

We head home tomorrow.