Dreaming in Light and Dark

“Painting is always about design, whether you work in a very realistic manner or completely abstract,” says Thomas Schaller. “When I sit around with my painter friends, somehow or the other, the conversation always ends up with there. It’s the abstract collision of lights and darks, big and small shapes that make a painting good or bad, effective or ineffective. It’s always on my mind. I don’t think there’s any right way to do it. I just try not to repeat myself. I try to always find new ways of arranging those shapes on a piece of paper. My method, and it’s not a lesson, it’s just an anecdote, so if it works for anybody, please feel free to steal it: I sit and doodle constantly. I make abstract shapes of dark, light and mid-tone. I even dream about shapes of light and dark. I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and I’ll just sketch them in a sketchbook by my bed. And it’s amazing how many of these informal abstract scribbles end up becoming paintings.

“Red Barn” (watercolor, 15 x 15 in.)

“With design, the artist has the ability to orchestrate the viewers experience. And the only way to do that is to pull them inside your painting and gently suggest a way that they can move around it to have an experience that you might want them to have, or maybe one that you you never planned. But it’s really all about the design of the darks and lights and the shapes. I always say if I live long enough, I’ll be an abstract painter. I think I’ll need about 100 more years, but that’s the direction I’m headed in.”

“Red Barn” (watercolor, 15 x 15 in.) by Thomas W. Schaller won Best Plein Air Watercolor & Gouache in the April PleinAir Salon competition.


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