Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Art Question: What Do I Do When A Painting Is Off to a Bad Start

I have not painted a flower-painting-of-the-month for August and here it is September already. So I thought I would paint a vase of flowers from the Farmer's Market. At the market I didn't see any flowers that grabbed me, but I figured I could do something with what was there. I brought a bunch of flowers home, divided them into groups for three different vases. One I gave to a friend as a house warming gift, the other two I sketched from. I had been at Mallard Island a few weeks back and busy as a bee upon my return, so I had not been in the studio for the last two to three weeks. So, here I sit with a bad start to a painting. I could tell that I haven't been in the studio for awhile; the flow wasn't there, I wasn't sure about my decisions, I seemed to be using the wrong size brushes and I didn't have an overall idea of what I was going to do.

Here is the image of the painting I have begun. Even the composition and concept are weak to me. My attempts at painting were clumsy and ineffective. My color mixing was like flatulence. Very little in this piece is working. By the time I was wrapping up for the evening I felt I was finally starting to have a feel for where this might go. I might be able to save it next time I paint, which I hope will be tomorrow night.

What to do when a painting starts out badly
There are two approaches to take when a painting starts out badly:
1. Walk away from it and come back later with fresh eyes. I actually went over to a friend's house for dinner after my bad start on this piece. Upon my return I had no clue as to how to make it better, but my mind was in a calmer place to make better decisions and to focus. Having not been in my studio for awhile my focus was not there when I started.  It is much easier and better to start out focused then to try to recover later.

2. Work your way through it until something happens that you like.
Once I returned with a better mindset, I was able to doodle with the work until I started to find something that was working for me. I started putting in the dark areas and fixing up some edges. I now feel that I will be able to apply some lines and paint over some wet areas in order to improve it and figure the next steps from there. Most paintings go through a stage of uncertainty that just needs to be worked through - sometimes you have to work really hard.  When the uncertainty is at the start of a painting you have to work even harder.

If I never feel good about a painting, I will wipe it off with a rag and start from the beginning. Most likely, a completely different subject.

The important thing is to come to a place where you are in the moment paying attention to the paint, the color, the object. If you can get to that place while painting you have won 90% of the battle. So much was going through my head while painting that I couldn't paint well. Having some dinner and enjoying some time with a friend and his daughter put me in a better place to pay attention - to paint. Part of the reason I believe I can save this painting is that I have begun to knock the rust from my painting muscles after some time off. I will probably be in a better place from the beginning next time.

Update: The painting was a complete loss. It went nowhere even with some work and I ended up painting something else on the canvas - oh,well.  This canvas helped me get back my focus - a small sacrifice.

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