Sunday, September 27, 2015

It ain't over till it's over

Purple Life Vest
30 x 30 Revised
Previous incarnation 
A painting is only done when the artist says it's done.  And even then, the passage of time can turn a previously "done" work into a starting point: a foundation for more thought and experimentation.

Purple Life Vest was the gleeful product of a fascination with pink.  I painted it swiftly, intuitively and without censoring myself a few months ago, and I liked it.  But it wasn't ready to go out into the world; the thought of sending it to a gallery didn't cross my mind as it was so different from my usual palette.  Still, there was something there that I liked, so it hung in the studio as a joyful recollection of summer.

Then I did the big painting purge of 2015, and it was one of few paintings to survive the overhaul and avoid landfill.  In my newly orderly, newly painted studio, it also became fair game for more paint.

The first thing to change was all that pink. When I'd painted it, I thought it might be the first of a series of pink-infused images, but it didn't come to pass.  I just needed to get that one out of my system, and then I moved on.  And now it was time to sober this piece up and see if it could say anything new to me.  As well, I thought the image lacked space, and the figures were too defined.

When I make changes, I try to confine myself to doing one thing and stopping to evaluate its effect, before making a second change.  That way I don't go past a good stopping point inadvertently and create a whole new set of issues to overcome.  So the first change was to cover most of the pink with a greyed warm and to extend the blue water into a simpler, larger shape.  Instantly, the flow of the painting improved and I found I had also figured out how to create space.  The blue, heading up to, and partially obscuring, the horizon did the trick.

As to the figures: they suddenly felt less firm in this new and improved background, so I mainly worked along their edges, breaking into them with background colour to reduce crispness and contrast.  Most needed little work -  it turns out they weren't as bad as I thought (proof that tackling only one thing is sensible) - but I repainted a great deal of the hat-wearing lady and lowered the contrast of the child in the life vest.

Then it was time to hang the painting for a rest and some thinking.  Luckily, during its rest, a friend who is both an artist and a collector, came to my studio and fell in love with it.  She'd seen it before the changes and hadn't felt a pull, but its new incarnation touched her.  So it will have a new home, and that means that I won't be making any further changes.  That's a good way to discover that a painting is really done!

Happy painting!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

The workspace helps create the work

8 x 10
The only constant in life is change, and the act of making art is no different.  The works that I loved when I made them, seem filled with flaws once they've been signed (in fact, I often sign a painting in order to speed the process of flaw finding.  It seems to be a catalyst for major changes); and the technique that felt exactly right suddenly feels wrong headed and ineffectual.  The key to dealing with the awareness of something being wrong is to accept that it's valid, live with the discomfort, and, when it's unbearable, do something that feels like it may alleviate that discomfort. So this summer I was deeply uncomfortable, and then I made some major changes.  The result is amazing! 

Beginning a few weeks ago, I changed most everything about my daily practise.  I slashed and trashed more than 50 paintings that had languished on my studio shelving.  They'd been waiting for me to become skilled enough to get them out of the stalemates that they were in.  But, on looking at them with a dispassionate eye, I decided that life was too short to address them, and they were a psychic weight that I no longer wanted to carry.  Taking a car load of sliced canvases to the dump and hurling them into bins was cathartic, and spurred me on to more changes.  

The middle grey mixing palette was replaced by a white one, resulting in - well - ongoing confusion, but I think it'll be a good thing when I've adapted fully.  My aim is to find new ways to use colour and the mixing surface is the first step toward that. 

But the biggest, and I think the most effective change, was repainting the interior of my studio.  The walls used to be a fairly dark, muted red.  When I had my studio built, I painted it that unorthodox colour because it was the same colour I'd been working in inside my house for years.  I couldn't imagine working in any other colour space. With 3 skylights, 3 big windows and a glass patio door, I didn't think the dark walls would be an issue.  But, over time, my intentions and aesthetic have changed and the walls had begun to hinder my development.  The studio felt dim and it was affecting my colour/value mixing.  

Research devoted to the "ideal wall colour" for a studio came up with the usual suspects: white, mid grey, warm, cool..., but nothing that resonated, until I came across a phrase in a blog to the effect that if you want to paint dark paintings, paint your walls a dark colour.  Ah ha!  A light bulb went on! 
Dark paintings are emphatically not what I want, so I had my answer.

The new colour is a cool grey in a value just above pure white (it's a 2 on a 1-10 scale).  Suddenly, the space appears large and airy.  The walls now bounce so much excellent light, that I'm stunned by how much was lacking in my life before this.

Next, I had my handy son build a massive work 4 x 8" table on wheels.  With its huge storage shelf  it allowed me to consolidate a lot of bins of supplies out of sight and to take down some shelving that had lined the walls.  The energy and flow of the room improved immediately, and I find I'm painting in parts of the room that I've never stood in before.  
Wheeled greenhouse shelving as large as a wall, picked up all of the stretcher bars, frames, packaging supplies, still life objects, and general "stuff", that had been stored in myriad, smaller units along the walls, and by covering one side of the shelving, I could both block the unsightliness of the load and create a screen for a lot of wall storage behind it.  Eventually, I'll hang white-painted plywood on it and create a wall to hang paintings on, but I'm fine with it for now.  When the discomfort builds, I'll get to it.

It's been a lot of work involving my least favourite thing: repeatedly lifting and shifting heavy things, but it's been worth it.  There's more to be done, but I feel able to move forward, and, wonderfully, I feel energized and rejuvenated as I head into fall.  I think that good paint will happen in that space.

Stay tuned, and happy painting!