Monday, April 25, 2016

Finding a painting's path

Bread and Tea
18 x 24
Every painting has its path and, for me, the struggle comes in being patient enough to find that path. This painting went through several incarnations in which I emphasized different aspects of the work and then changed my mind and focus.

At first, it was about broad, bold treatment, and the objects were much looser, but, gradually, it became a painting about light and colour.  The brushwork became distracting and I reigned it in, finding more edges and defining the complex arrangement more overtly.

Originally, it was also much more a painting about mid tones,  but I found it didn't feel as light and airy as I wanted until I broadened its tonal range to include some serious darks.  They anchored the subject, and allowed the many mid and high key elements to feel even more luminous.  This approach doesn't always work.  Sometimes adding those darks makes the piece feel weighted down and lifeless, but, in this case, it was a happy addition.

There were a lot of other changes (finding that green thread to weave through the shadows was a nice moment), but, for me, the important thing was to stick with it until I could discover what those changes should be.   I'm often tempted to call a painting done and let it leave the studio, but that closes off a lot of potential for a richer, more interesting image.  So I'm practising patience, letting each work sit on the shelf for long periods, and repeatedly reworking until I feel I've said what I want to say with it, and can't see anything else that needs changing.  It's slower painting, but it's satisfying.

Happy painting!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Big changes

Chinese Teapot
30 x 30
This painting has had a lot of revision; most recently and most constantly, in the orange drape under the teapot.  It used to be green - as it was in life - and I just couldn't make it work.  All the parts were there: the green had good illumination, the shadow was accurate, but the painting didn't sing at all.

Finally, when I cut it loose from its source - the objective still life - and treated everything as open to change, I began to enjoy it more, and could make some major changes.  Changing the drape to a warm orange helped life the painting into a more inviting space, and I no longer disliked the sight of it when I entered the studio every day.  There was already a lot of orange threaded through the painting, and this gave a pleasing completeness in my eyes.

While it's liberating to change what is, to what you want it to be, it's a hard leap for most painters to make.  Whether we work from life or from photos, we tend to mine the reference for as much information as possible, and, if the painting is failing, we look for more and more information in the vain hope that detail will save the work.  It never does.  My most successful saves happen with a big brush and a big change.

At the moment, I think it's done, but that could change, too.  I'll keep my big brush handy.

Happy painting!

Saturday, April 2, 2016

It isn't overworking; it's just working

D in the studio (in progress)
40 x 30
I'm becoming more patient as I age.  I used to want to finish each painting on the same day that I started it, but, in the past couple of years, this has changed.  Purely alla prima work sometimes looks raw and barely begun to me.  Increasingly, my eyes are drawn to paintings that appear to have been modified, layered, corrected, and touched over a longer period of time and with constant thought and scrutiny.

Alex Kanevsky is a case in point with his many iterations on the same canvas (have a look at his "progress sequences" on his website to see his willingness to address a single painting over and over until it becomes a rich, multi-layered presence).  Other painters that I admire for the way they develop a piece are John Murray, Martin Campos, Scott Smith,  Ann Gale, and many other social media connections that I look at on a daily basis.  They are painters (though Smith is mostly posting complicated, constantly revised and in-progress drawings lately) who revel in the act of painting and for whom a final mark seems almost a secondary aim.  They appear to love the process.

Or maybe I'm projecting my own feelings onto these artists.  I don't know them in person, but I admire their courage in pushing a work beyond the first, simple layers.  It resonates with what I am enjoying more often in the studio.

The painting above is in its infancy.  I honestly don't know when or how it will be finished, and that's no longer the worry for me that it used to be.  The process is endlessly engaging.  The model is a friend of my son's who has stilled her active body to sit for me.  She's been in for 3 sessions so far, and I've been working at a leisurely pace, with much time spent thinking, looking, and revisiting areas.  After she left yesterday, I photographed the painting, and then scraped a lot of the body and background down so that I can continue to alter it.  I'm using a very coarse linen that takes a lot of abuse, and that requires a lot of paint on its surface before the colour and consistency look rich.

You can see from this picture, that the first layer was just a way to place her figure on the canvas and establish a sense of the colour space.  I figured out basic skin colours and temperatures and noticed the essentials of her clothing and surrounding colours.  The face was a simple separation of shadow and light, full of hard edges and showing no dimension.

I didn't photograph the second sitting, but the third shows how much the face has altered as I scraped, layered and revised it.   (It's not this warm in person, but there was a lot of sun yesterday and I couldn't avoid it in the photography.)

What I hope you can get a sense of is the amount of attention that's been paid to the building of paint volume and how often I've gone back into the edges to settle them into the painting.  It looks more like her, but that wasn't the point: I wanted it to look more like a 3 dimensional person, not a 2-D cartoon.  It could all still change.

There's much to do in the weeks and - maybe - months ahead, both with and without the model present.  At this point, I feel I'll be braver with her out of my sight.  I can alter the work more substantially if the reality of the model, the couch, and the white curtain are not always in my view. Maybe I'll get in the studio and give it another scraping because I think I was too timid yesterday, trying to save too much that actually needs to be sacrificed.  And that's ok.  It's all part of the process toward achieving something that pleases my eyes - as they are at this moment.

Happy painting!