True Stories: Some of Art's Lighter Moments

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ˇ True Stories: Welcome
ˇ That Awful Orange
ˇ How I Started Painting the Golden Gate Bridge
ˇ Muh-therr!! or The Garden Path
ˇ But Artists Are Supposed to Paint When They're Miserable
ˇ I Thought I Was Discovering a Starving Artist in a Garret

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How I Started Painting the Golden Gate Bridge

If anyone in the 1970s had told me I'd soon be painting pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge, I'd have told them they were crazy. I'd never seen a really good painting of that bridge by anyone over nine. Kids get right down to basics - simplified form, energetic color. Conscious control hasn't set in yet. Once it does, a painter is on the way to great command of a medium. Control is essential, but it has a side effect if we don't watch out. The side effect is butchered imagination. In the case of the Golden Gate Bridge, I'd never seen a painting of it that avoided being trite or sentimental, so I supposed it was not possible to depict it in any terms except the insipid.

In the fall of 1980, I started a technical writing job in the Berkeley flatlands. Determined not to neglect my art, I kept a sketchbook with me. I had a game going with the sketchbook. On any page, no matter how brief the drawing, no matter how few the marks, I wanted the composition to look finished. Every page. Every time. I'd studied a few Chinese and Japanese quick drawing methods. I wasn't quite flying blind.

I took my sketchbook to Aquatic Park and the Berkeley Marina, where I saw the Golden Gate Bridge from the side. I fell in love. Fog, sunset, wind, rain, I sketched the bridge. I kept sketching it long after my job changed. I was there the first day Humphrey the Whale came in. I was there in the severe storms and high tides of the early 1980s. I was there when the gray ships came in with fire boat salutes for Fleet Week. I was there when the Marina dog run opened north of the fancy restaurants.

I still paint the bridges - and the freeways that connect them - in my own fashion, after my own taste, often from a location reached by foot. Not the overview from the tourist bus. The overview is fine for openers, but I paint something else, something less often glimpsed. The results are what led media critic, Matt Mylar, to say my work in this style looks like "Joan Brown meets Wayne Thiebaudt." I was pleased.

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