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Megan Hinton

Paintings, Drawings, and Prints

When is a painting finished? When can I stop painting this surface?  Is what’s troubling in the composition ok to let go of and leave as is? Is it ready to hang on the wall for the viewer to see?  These are the age-old questions for painters regarding finishing a piece.

This question is always difficult to conclude. There are many stages of a painting and just one stage is completion. That is harder to declare than the initial tint that leaves the surface open to many possibilities.

The Initial Canvas Tint, A Beginning

Then there are the in between stages. A session spent, a time put away to dry, a period of observation before the next work session, the editing, and the changing of other aspects based on the initial editing. When one thing is changed it forces other aspects to demand revision. Between realization and finishing can be chaotic. Sometimes a painting paints itself efficiently and the declaration of finishing is not so far fetched.

Detail of the Beginning Stage

What about those paintings that demand many layers, multiple reworking, and time faced against the wall as not to be bothered by their lack of resolve? These are the paintings that require perseverance and patience. In the end, if there is one, a piece displays layers of time, labor, and a history about painting thought.

I have hung paintings in exhibitions and looked at them knowing something could still be accentuated, highlighted, darkened, glazed, defined, or taken out. Paintings live around my studio that I have been meaning to change over the course of some years. Currently I’m working on a large-scale piece that I started ten years ago on unstretched canvas. I stretched the canvas on bars some months ago and am still working out the color, composition, and essence of the subject matter. It is taking shape and maybe almost finished. Tomorrow though I could have another look and declare it far from resolved.

The resolve of finishing a particular painting changes daily. This is why I work on multiple paintings at a time. After a session with one I can move to another, to get closer to finishing a piece and a body of work.

Detail of A Finished Painting

A good painting instructor and well-established artist, Maureen Gallace, spoke wise words to me once. She said in regard to finishing a painting “If just one or two things are bothering you let it go and declare it finished.”  Excellent advice as over finishing and too much time spent on one piece can lead to ruin and lack of prolificacy.  Good painting means not only knowing when to stop but also when to continue.


For some years now I have had an unused fan brush in my paintbrush container. I purchased the fan as a younger artist thinking it was an essential must have brush for any painter.

I remember watching Bob Ross on public television magically use his fan brush to create “happy little trees”.   His paintings have always appeared trite, but I was fascinated with the ease of his application with the fan brush and other painting tools he manipulated. Perhaps associating the fan brush with the Bob Ross cliché made me avoid this painting tool for so long, until recently.

I now use a fan brush as one of my main tools in combination with other applicators like traditional, household, and sponge brushes, palette knives, cotton rags, decorative painting tools and other experimental non-traditional implements.

The fan brush can be used for blending, scumbling, filling in, creating a line, and applying a decent amount of paint to the surface. In fact I’m surprised by its versatility.  Applying paint and blending areas with this tool also feels incredibly satisfying.

A couple of examples of how to paint with a fan brush on You Tube will lead you to the painter Tim Gagnon on how to paint grass. He demonstrates applying perfect blades of grass to the foreground of his realist landscape. Most importantly suggesting the use of an old fan brush with the bristles missing to create blades of grass with depth and texture. I personally can’t wait for my fan brush to become worn out and over used. I believe it was the late abstract expressionist painter Milton Resnick who said something like every brush at every state of use, from brand new to dried out bristles, serves an application purpose. The idea being that in painting a variety of applications makes for a dynamic picture.

The artist Elizabeth Reoch shows her use of the fan brush in her painting tutorial video “Taking Flight”. She approaches her initial painting with a fan brush to blend the various darks and lights of a green monochrome under painting in what she describes as Abstract Realism.  You can view her finished painting from this demo on her website. In the end she applied many more layers that had to be achieved with a variety of tools. Her entry into the painting relied on the fan brush to intuitively lead her around the canvas, laying out a substantial field to further construct.

These days I get a kick every time I decide to use my fan brush as if I have reclaimed it as painting coinage. It adds a welcome nuance to my process. This very reclamation of the tool makes me realize how important it is to change one’s approach and process from time to time in order to freshen up and make discoveries.

The fan brush no longer just paints “happy little trees”. Although Bob Ross was on to something because I find joy in using this tool.  To all my fellow painters unfamiliar with the fan brush’s capabilities start using yours for the first time, bring it out again after a long hiatus, or purchase one at your supplier. See how it can regain your painting.

Megan Hinton, "Fan Brush", 2011, ink on paper

Jardinau Palais Royal

In between painting, drawing, and all the prep work involved with making art I often spend time with other artists work in museums, galleries, and from my collection of books and catalogs. This is an important time to be inspired and to discover different approaches and possibilities in painting.

            About two years ago I was visiting one of my favorite New York Galleries, Tibor de Nagy. I discovered the work of a painter named Biala. Her work was not hanging in the gallery at the time, but I found a catalog of her paintings that struck me. From the cover image I could instantly see that she was painting in that realm that attracts me, somewhere in between figuration and abstraction. Biala was clearly making decisions based on looking and then transforming shape and color into unique painterly excursions, unlike what’s seen in the actual world.

Biala was born 1902 in Biala, Poland as Janice Towrkovska.  She and her brother Jack changed their last name to Tworkov when the moved to New York City in the 1920s. They both attended the National Academy in New York in 1923 and shortly after were introduced to the artist and painting teacher, Charles Hawthorne, in the historic artist colony of Provincetown, MA.  In 1930 Janice changed her name to Biala in order to not be confused with her brother. In the same year she left for Paris with the novelist Ford Madox Ford. The couple cultivates friendships with such notables as Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, Henri Matisse, and Constanti Brancusi.

Biala continued to have a long painting career until her death in 2000. Her association with the abstract representational painters of Europe in the mid 20th Century and the New York School of painting influenced her particular style.

Biala is known for her loose dreamlike paintings from her travels and of important friends. What attracts me to Biala’s work is this unique regard for realism that occurred during her working life when non-objective abstraction was dominating the art world. It seems as if Biala was the type of painter who very much enjoyed what she interpreted and was not exactly invested in particular trends, but her unique vision. When viewing her work I see she liked to draw, paint, observe, imagine, recreate, and transcend what was already accomplished. Her acute sensitivity of color relationships stand out as compellingly beautiful in a way that is not sentimental or even pastoral as a landscape painter. These unexpected color relationships and relaxed approach to interpreting realism define her work as one of the great Modernists. It’s amazing that Biala has not received more attention and exposure for her work.  After studying painting for many years it is only until recently I discovered her. This is the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

Untitled (Lagune et la Douane), oil on canvas, 45 x 57 inches,

Janice Biala and Ford Madox Ford

Studio, 2011, oil/paper, 8 x 9"

After writing a course description for an upcoming summer workshop called “From Drawing to Painting”, I began thinking about my own process from medium to medium. Recently I painted 21 oil paintings on paper, each measuring 8 x 9″. I painted them in a grid format on the wall of my studio. I was working on all the individual images simultaneously by jumping back from one to another. The images ranged from figurative, still life, and landscape imagery which has been apart of my repertoire for some years now. Some photographs that I shot were used as guides or reference for laying out the imagery, others I did from line drawings. One of the attractive things about this process was the informality involved with this type of oil painting. I was working on inexpensive paper instead of expensive stretcher bars with linen.  I also had no expectation that these would be seen by the public in exhibition format. They were simply  for my own experimentation and guides for larger scale work. Consequently I began to feel that they were more like drawings than paintings. This is because of the informality involved, the size of the pieces, and the fact that I was treating them as studies. Another idea comes up though, just as it did in my course description today, about the difference between painting and drawing. Or is there a difference? Of course historically in art drawings were used as studies to work out ideas for finished paintings. In today’s contemporary art world though drawing is also a finished art piece. The ideas and methods of drawings carry over into painting, in terms of the use of line, shape, value, texture, etc. One might argue that the difference between painting and drawing is the use of color or the use of paint rather than a drawing implement like a pencil or ink stick. I believe they are one in the same. Sometimes my paintings are much more involved because there’s a bit more to prepping a canvas, laying out color, and the physicality of pushing around oil paint. There is more to that process than a simple ink contour drawing on a white piece of paper. In the end though it is the same engagement, where intuition and a sense of playfulness, shutting out self-conscious thoughts, and to “just be” in the process is the same whether  you are using a paint brush or drawing crayon . My little 21 paintings on paper remind me of a process state I’d like to reach when working on a large-scale oil painting, without a feeling of preciousness, but rather an informality that ultimately leads to truthful and emotive expression.

Reader, 2011, oil/paper, 8 x 9"

Landscape, 2011, oil/paper, 8 x 9"

After drawing the pile of ink and white gouache drawings, in an attempt to loosen up and start with a more lyrical approach to painting, I began to question the bigger picture, the subject matter. Why was I drawing landscapes, windmills, masses of forms clumped together? Perhaps it’s not important to know why. Maybe that’s the responsibility of the viewer or the art critic. The viewer can determine the meaning or an interpretation. This was justified after I read some of Robert Motherwell’s writings. He quoted Picasso who said “Everyone wants to understand art. Why not try to understand the song of a bird. One loves the night, flowers, everything around one, without trying to understand them. While with paintings everyone must understand. If only they would realize that an artist works out of necessity…”  Moving through the drawings, quickly, without trying to care about outcome or meaning, did bring about an informality that I was seeking originally. As usual I decided to draw what interests me visually, but this time without looking directly at a reference point. Some of the drawings worked well, others were unsuccessful. That outcome says quite a bit about the process. Painting and drawing does not always create some sort of magical or sublime result after the artist moves the implement around the surface to create marks. Rather it’s about about trial and error. More trial sets up the possibility for less error and vice versa. The daily practice and perseverance eventually draw out the sublime moment of discovery. Albeit a rare occurrence, it’s something to keep working towards. Perhaps that is overall the “Why?”

Artist by Philip Guston

Recently I started drawing again on a daily basis. After doing a full body of paintings for an exhibition this summer I need a temporary break from painting. I want to distance myself briefly from the formality and physicality of painting.

I continue to look at Philip Guston’s work. He was Neo-Realist or New Image painter who did a major body of paintings and drawings between the 1940s and 1970s in America. His drawings are simple linear ink attempts that plant the viewer into an abstracted reality portraying the human condition. Shoe souls, sleeping beings, and a single hand holding a cigarette are some of the images he portrayed in a mainly  monochrome red palette. His association with the New York abstract expresssionists  of the mid 20th century influenced the process oriented aspect of his work. Quick lyrical painterly marks make up these compositions.

I see Guston’s drawings as a guide for my own. For the first time I’m relying on internal imagery to draw representational subjects. So far I’ve depicted piles of buoys in charcoal, dark ink splotted sea ponds, and a swimmer  in gesteral ink marks moving through a field of white gouache paint. The material application and the imaginary imagery leads to abstraction.

The drawings are informal. I’m able to stack them on top of each other. If one is not successful it’s possible to move onto a new drawing immediately and discover something that’s working. I plan to have a pile of drawings finished before starting the next series of paintings.

Pile by Megan Hinton, charcoal on paper