Hello, Little Tomato

November 11, 2020

"If Eights Are Crazy, What About the Tomatoes?" -- acrylic and mixed media on birch panel, 2020, 24" x 24"

When I’ve been asked about my “process,” I fear I’ve stammered inarticulately trying to convey the somewhat haphazard way I paint. But as I finished my latest painting, I realized it had pretty much typified my process—such as it is—so I jotted down creation details, hoping the exercise might help me more eloquently answer future questions about the art I make and how. So, here’s the making-of story: “If Eights Are Crazy, What About the Tomatoes?”

This one started as a “trash board” where I indiscriminately dumped leftover paint from my previous few paintings. When it graduated to my easel, the 24-inch-square birch panel was laden already with probably 10 layers of colorful acrylic paint in varying thicknesses.

When I start a painting in earnest—whether on bare board or messy trash board— usually my only plan initially is to add lots of paint (or even more paint). However, when I move from addition to subtraction, I tend to get more deliberate—eventually. Through scraping and sanding, pieces of previous layers appear and start speaking to me and begging (figuratively) to be left alone as my slaphappy creating continues.

I love that viewers’ interpretations vary so wildly with abstracts. You and I will see different things in any piece, even one of my own. Which is great. This time as I scraped, one of the first things I saw that I felt affinity for is the small red circle with green blob.

“Well hello, little tomato!” I said. (Yeah, I talk to my paintings.) You might have seen a sea creature, or something else, or nothing at all. But I saw a cherry tomato. It was the first section I declared off-limits for further obscuring and the one that dictated the ultimate theme, color story and title.

The process went something like: Tomato-ish circle motivates me to paint a more deliberate tomato (a green one)… which leads to other round, curvy shapes in varied colors and sizes… which, for balance and contrast, beget squares and diamonds… which influence the lines and textures I etch into wet paint…. You get the idea.

A photocopied, collaged passage about the 1899 U.S. tomato crop helps reinforce the theme.

Even when I end up with a painting that somehow looks harmonious despite all the wild melding of disparate layers, sometimes a title inspiration eludes me long after I complete a piece. Not this time. After the first tomato and “8” appeared, a title popped into my head. I spoke it out loud as I continued to paint: "If eights are crazy, what about the tomatoes?” Over. And over. I suppose repetition helps me test and reinforce a creative theme. And in this case it birthed the idea to collage in a passage about the U.S. tomato crop 121 years ago, from the “1899 Yearbook of the Secretary of Agriculture” (a long-ago antique-store purchase).

Every painting is different, of course, as is its journey to completion. But this one—with its messy, ignoble start; all those layers of colorful paint and texture; its many cycles of addition and subtraction; random shapes that appear and influence those to come; the strange, whimsical title—pretty well captures my painting process. 

Such as it is. 

THANKS for reading.