Monday, August 12, 2013

Risky Business

Two big challenges face us when we work. Tackling them requires a pre-existing plan, wisdom and courage.
Many, many things are happening when you paint. As you endeavor to convert 3 dimensions into 2 so that it looks like 3, your mind has to be both in the present and the future. You must be totally in the moment as you process the information and translate light into pigment, but you can’t lose sight of the final painting. The final painting will stand alone. If it doesn’t work, you have to deep six it, even if you’ve spent a LOT of time and effort on it.

So the pre-existing plan: to go for the most excellent product possible. Wisdom is required to remain objective in your judgment, and courage, to do something rash if the work does not meet your pre-existing plan. If you aim for nothing, as they say, you will be sure to hit it.

The two challenges then are, do not let any work become too precious to you, and do not over-work a piece. These are both lethal to good painting. If you grow fond of a passage that is holding the rest of the painting back, you will be reluctant to sacrifice it for the good of the painting. If the painting is not working, over-working is not necessarily the best solution. Sometimes you have to just scrape a painting. If there's a question, answer it honestly. I tell my own self, "When in doubt, scrape it out." 

Dan Gerhartz tells a story about painting with a friend for an afternoon. When it was time to wrap it up, he could hear, scriiiitch, scraaaatch, scriiiitch… He realized that his friend was scraping his painting off, and asked, “Hey, what are you doing?” His friend replied, “Well, my palette knife isn’t sharp enough to slash my wrists so…” It makes me laugh because I know exactly what that’s like.
Last Friday, our group had a lovely girl in a Greek costume posing for us. At the end of a very engaging 3 hours, I had a painting that maybe I should have left alone; it was only an exercise after all. But since I had a reference photo, I decided to use it and fix her crossed eyes. Once I started, I saw that really, she was all wrong, and Richard Schmid’s voice was whispering in my mind, “Never knowingly leave anything wrong on your canvas.” So I wiped from her eyebrows down and started over. The photos show the original work in progress, then the re-entry as I began the make-over (you can see how terrifying this step is, haha!), and finally the painting as it was when my time ran out. My favorite way to work when I'm doing portraits is to start from life, spend some time with reference work, then finish from life... but since this is only an exercise, I'm stopping now.



  1. Bravo! End result correct and beautiful...and NOT overworked! Such a good lesson to teach and to learn...thanks!

  2. Oh boy, have I been there! Love this post, and your revised version - beautiful!

  3. Meaningful and encouraging! And coming from you guys... all the more.
    Thank you so much.