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Responding to Music with Paint!

Author: Larry Seiler, Contributing Editor

I know that from time to time...some artists find themselves in a rut. I know first hand that often experimentation can be a good time to experience the possibilities of medium; its mindless serendipitous carefreeness can be stress relieving, fun, and like a cup of water on an ole' hand pump prime all sorts of new ideas. Join with me in such an exercise I had the pleasure of seeing young people in grades 4 thru 9 do this past week.

Many here at WetCanvas! know that I am both a musician and an artist. I approach both with a passion.

Often when I'm listening to music, I am aware of the voicing an instrument such as a guitar has, and the sustaining warmth of bending notes creates for me specific emotive responses that as an artist in closing my eyes I can feel and visualize. For quite a few years, I was the frontman of a late 80's rock band...and my specific talent was writing lyrics. Strangely, as we would find time to simply play, (or "jam" as musicians refer to it), and new things would come together...I could feel emotions coming together that would paint images. Some might be of sorrow and loss. Some of warmth and passion. Others of great joy and energy. Crazy, but often all three or four verses would pour out of me and come together in 15-20 minutes. I think that thinking visually as a habit, increased my ability to do this.

This week...I chose a couple selections of music to play for my students. One was a Celtic song called, "The Storm" by Morning Hearts; and the other was "Smooth" by Santana, featuring Rob Thomas. I compared some of the basic components similar to both music and art such as rythym. A percussive repetitious beat for which a melody will be played over, highlighted by harmonies and various interesting accents. In a painting, this can be lines, shapes, or even colors that repeat throughout the work. So...we began, by closing our eyes and listening.

Imagine your hands and arms creating a whole new signing language, trying to mime or sign musical sounds and patterns.

As the students painted, I too painted...and here you see my version of the Celtic song. We used Crayola Black Tempera paint.

Caution has to be followed to not overstate your interpretations. Like blues music, "less is more!" Anticipate, that color is going to be laid in the spaces surrounding the black lines. With experience, you incorporate a sense of pictoral balance, your dancing lines may diagonal to encourage the eyes to move throughout. You respond to percussion. A change in rythym. To unique instrument soloings such as saxophone or guitar, etc.

After you are satisfied with your work, let the paint dry, and then next...allow yourself to imagine what colors best represent the mood of the song. We know that bright warm colors often depict joy, warmth, passion, exhuberance....and that dull cold dark colors can represent sorrow, loneliness, and so on.

This piece was the one that I demonstrated, listening to Santana.
The song has a lively beat, unique percussions, and of course Carlos' wonderful guitar dancing throughout. I chose to use warm colors, offset with the slightest cool color notes. The cool color notes help actually to make the bright warm colors appear even brighter and warmer by comparison.

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