Air Brush Graffiti

Today’s watercolor experiment:

Today’s experiment is a rendering of a trompe l’oeil mural that is based on a photograph I took in Midtown Manhattan in 1989. I was wandering around, enjoying the sights at the Memorial Day block party. I wasn’t thinking in terms of graffiti when I took the picture, but it fits with my graffiti series of watercolors.

‘Trompe l’oeil’ is a term means a visual illusion intended to trick the eye into perceiving a flat surface as three dimensional. I’m sure it is not appropriate to apply this term to a watercolor or even a photograph of a trompe l’oeil mural. But I digress…

I sketched the scene with a pencil, as I usually do, except I used a .3mm mechanical pencil to accommodate the fine details. After inking the pencil outlines and watercoloring the mural and surrounding wall, I streaked the mural with white gouache and provided emphasis with strokes of my fine-tipped pen, to imitate the photograph.

Watercolor: Airbrushed Graffiti - trompe l'oeil

Air Brush Graffiti
6″x4″ 140# Mixed Media Paper

Unlike the photo and watercolor of yesterday, where the pattern on the wall is ambiguous, today’s photograph is very specific. I do like today’s photo and watercolor, but a bit of ambiguity goes a long way.

Photograph: Airbrushed Graffiti - trompe l'oeil

Airbrush Graffiti – Reference Photo

4 thoughts on “Air Brush Graffiti

  1. Deconstructing ambiguity is not easy. It is the nature of our visual processing that it is possible to create optical illusions. There is no doubt the challenge of a painting a day has strengthened your expression. Flipping back through the days here the development is not ambiguous.

    Practice. Practice. Practice. The challenge of a painting a day for me, is not how to hold my brush. First, it is the challenge of being able to sit down, sit still, and focus on one particular, each day. Every day. Second, it is bringing myself to the event once I am there physically.

    We live in a world of comparisons. This is ambiguous too. No two any somethings are the same in the same space at the same time. Probability. Statistically, comparisons are ambiguous. Quieting my mind and heart of the comparisons: Am as good as yesterday, I am not as good as Jack, I will never be as good as Leonardo Da Vinci.

    I am as good as me, however. And of course everybody else gets credit for being as good as they are. What we take away, what is heritable for us, for others, for our collective pool of goodness, are the details in the practice. The transparent flowering of technique and style, overcoming personal challenges, and when it all comes together for the eye, heart and mind we declare, “a good work” or “a valuable work” or “a masterpiece.

    Declarations are ambiguous, too. I cannot tell you exactly why, but I see this watercolor of yours as a watershed in your expression. Do you have a teacher? Did you study under a teacher for a while? And maybe the silliest question, how did you find a teacher or what were the criteria, or with what attitude did you seek to find a teacher? — THGg

    • Thank you, THGg. Sitting down every day to write, draw or paint has been a goal of mine as well. I don’t always achieve it, but have been doing well lately. Feeling well physically has a lot to do with it. I’m not sure I would be able to achieve my goal if I didn’t feel well. On the other hand, achieving my goal does make me feel good. It is a positive feedback loop.

      I don’t have a teacher for painting, but I have taken dozens of courses in photography from well-known photojournalists and artists. One of my teachers (from whom I took a week-long course), was Mary Ellen Mark. She just passed away, but she took an interest in my photography of my brother. She advised me to spend 24 hours with him and document his life. This was one of the most difficult things for me to do, but it forced me to confront some of my weaknesses. Her strength was to observe my work, see what was missing and formulate an assignment based on her experience. That’s what I would look for in a teacher: someone who, after hearing about one’s goals, is able to provide guidance to shore up one’s weaknesses to allow one to do better work.

      I think that another important lesson to learn is how to look at things, seeing design, not only in nature, but in whatever presents itself to the eye. I have also done a lot of reading and practicing (as you mentioned, practice is essential). Also, critical evaluation of one’s work is very important as well in order to learn from one exercise to the next.

      Thank you again for your thought provoking comment.

      All the best,


      • Jack. I have given some careful thought to your words. My painting and photography are the ways I am able to unlock, or access, the means to connect a chain of concepts with words. It is a state. Arriving at this state is a process that takes all of me, but of course requires a lot of details of my brain that are difficult to manage sometimes.

        Some of us begin with great challenges finding the ways to express our interior perceptions to others. We all meet ourselves in the challenges of our lives. I sense myself gathering strength of expression as I become more practiced at creative discipline, too. Not only overcoming illness or diminished capacity. Some of us live in states of more physical or psychical pain than others. We all have states of pain. We are all human.

        My photography has developed my seeing, very much. In college, I was the college sports photographer. This kind of photography is very challenging and I would keep about 1 in 300 on a good day. I laugh now. It was all black and white film. The education in composition, reflex, story telling, graphic contrast and movement remains priceless.

        The best things in my life have come to me because I have waited (patience is also a practiced art). My stride was thrown by a recent relocation. Well worth the stress in comfort and beauty. I am going to have a go at my watercolorings for another year, day by day. It is not just the practice of sitting down. My visual processing and fine motor, eye-hand coordination, have a long way to go.

        Thank you again for your inspiration. Steven

        • That is the struggle, Steven. To find the connecting link between what’s inside, through the muscles of the hands, ultimately to the paper. For singers, it is the link from the ‘visualized’ sound in their heads, to their vocal cords, to produce sound that others can hear. Dancers must train their whole bodies to realize the movement envisioned in their heads. All this assumes that one has an articulate vision to realize. Not to intellectualize, but it is interesting to note that (as you know) the mammalian nervous system has motor and sensory divisions (sensory neurons emerge from the dorsal aspect of the spinal column; motor, from the ventral). The brain is organized the same way. It is interesting to consider how inner sensory sensations, such as those that arise from thoughts of visual, auditory or other imaginings, make their way out through the motor nerve system – the only way others can possibly know what is inside us.

          Very interesting to consider, and yet still very much a struggle.

          It is great chatting with you, Steven. Thank you for keeping in touch.

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