Saturday, February 18, 2012

When is a Painting Done?

My daughter posed for the portrait group on Friday. You'd think I'd know her face very well but in the process of studying her face while painting in pastels I was reminded of just how pretty she can be. Of course she's not so pretty when I'm nagging her to do something. :o)

I could have quit after the first 20 minutes with a satisfactory sketch but I wanted to try modeling the face more. Sometimes I start off really strong and then end up over working a piece and wrecking it.  In fact I've done this so often that people will tell me, "stop and start another one before you over work it".

There's something to be said for the quick sketch, though 20 minutes is hardly all that quick.

This photo of the first 20 was taken inside without a tripod so the whites are dark but you can see how I start a portrait. I tend to do it traditionally by making small marks for the top, then the chin, and how much of the neck and body I want to show. Always aware of how I want it to fit inside the first lines of the page borders. Next I mark where the eyes sit, then nose, mouth, and general shape of the head and hair.

I have to remind myself that the eyes tend to sit right in the middle of the head.  Then everything is a half way distance from there on down. Nose half way between eyes,  mouth half way between nose and chin. This is a formula that works fairly well as long as one continually eyeballs if features are a bit higher or lower.

Most of what I look for are basic negative and positive shapes. As I model I look for similar planes and how the light falls on them.

How do I know when I'm done? Usually when I get bored with it or run out of time. When painting gets tedious it becomes work and unless someone is paying for something more finished I rarely take it as far as I feel it could go.  What I need to remind myself to do is keep things simple and not tighten up on every detail. Details can be nice but they can detract from the whole. The design of shapes and the way light hits them are the most important things for me. Things I'm still trying to master.

I tend to like the vitality that looser paintings have. IMHO, I can render with the best of them. But who wants to paint a photograph? These days I find myself wincing if someone says one of my paintings looks like a photograph. Hey if you consider photographic looking art to be the hallmark of great art then why not just frame a photo? Right?

Photography and Painting are representations of reality not actual reality. Is one a better representation of reality?  Which better expresses the artist's vision of what they are trying to portray? Both are crafts that require a certain amount of skill and I love both mediums.  It's easier for me to say when a photo is done than a painting. Very rarely do I take a photo and find it needs no further fine tuning. Sometimes I have to combine several exposures of the same shot to get it the way I experienced it.

Painting takes much more time to get to something I consider close to complete. Especially working in acrylics. If I'm doing a digital painting it goes much faster because I have the undo and history buttons. Plus there's all those layers one can experiment with. Experimenting is something I need to bring back to my painting.

Art seems more alive when you can see the artist's strokes. So though I consider myself a realist I don't hold photographic representation as the ideal. Personally I'd much rather gaze and a John Singer Sargent painting than a Richard Avedon photo. Both are masters and I'm a huge fan of both. I just tend to prefer painters. Prints tend to distance the artist from the medium where as painting you really feel ans see the artist's touch.

Pastel of Wayne as a Pirate
So when is a painting done? Usually when I get tired of working on it. Anything that takes longer than a day get's tedious. But , , ,  that doesn't mean I think they can't be improved. I'm constantly reworking older paintings. The reality is nothing is ever going to be perfect. But some times I'll see things I'd like to do to a painting to improve it. Sometimes I ruin it by over experimenting. Sometimes I paint over such paintings because I need a fresh canvas and am out.

The important thing is to enjoy what we do in life and art. I'm relearning the joy of making art and even when someone commissions a piece I try to keep it fun. The challenge of creating something from nothing is always rewarding. Not always easy but then if it was easy it wouldn't be as rewarding.

I've got a lot of landscapes I'm anxious to share but have held back because I don't feel they are where I want them to be. When they become tedious I start a fresh one or go out looking for new inspiration. It's that beginning process when everything is fresh that I enjoy the most. It's that freshness and vitality I admire in the masters that I want in my art. It's the rendering that tends to kill it for me. One day I'll figure it out.

No comments:

Post a Comment