Thursday, June 10, 2010

There is no right way

Up 'til now, I never knew how many decisions were needed to make art that was anything other than realism. Before, working in a realistic style, I had only one goal: make the art look like my reference photo. I found that very easy to do. Now I'm intending to go in a looser, more abstract, and much larger direction and it's making me uneasy. I have worked a couple of long days on this piece and I've realized that it's still turning out way too realistic when you stand back from it. I blocked out the values and painted them in with jagged edges and murky colors. When I photographed the progress, it looks 'very nice' on the camera replay. NOOOOO... that wasn't what I wanted it to be. I was imagining something so vague that you wouldn't really notice a likeness to anyone. Granted, I still have many things planned to 'muck up' this piece, but I seriously have to remember with the next painting, that I don't need to start out so neatly! By the time I start slathering messes of paint all over the place, it will change drastically and the first layer's neatness won't matter.
So here it is so far, in all it's likeness of a paint-by-number work of art:

I should've taped a dollar bill to it so it's size/scale would be more obvious. It's 38 inches tall and totals about 70 inches in width. I have an open palm planned for the left side of the piece, sort of a 'talk to the hand' gesture.

Here's my frustration. It's way too commercial/graphic art looking, and I expected to work less tidy and more painterly. So I have a long list of possibilities to employ that should 'mess up' the image. I might smooth over the hard edges of each value block with some horizontal pinstripes that will 'stitch' the areas together. Those stripes will be varying colors, many that aren't naturally on a face. But the values will average themselves together and still end up making sense on the image (when you stand back and squint!) Also, I plan to create patterns and textures here and there in the areas of more solid color, especially in the dark area off to the right. Also, I think some glaze layers are necessary to add some mottling. I won't even mention the spray paint idea I'm deliberating over. Ha!

So I have made some tape marks on the floor where the tripod will stand, and after each painting session, I will set up the camera and take another shot. Eventually I'll string them all together in an animated gif that will show the time-lapse progression of the painting. This is going to be way more interesting to you than having me babble on about what I did. But at the same time, it's pretty scary for me because I'm in unfamiliar territory without a map, and I don't want anyone to know I may be lost! And SEE?, that's what I need to fight. That phrase right there is saying that I assume there's a right and wrong way to do this and I may or may not be working correctly. I really have to break out of my current tight-working style. My friend Kim told me this story one time (I assume it's true, but I didn't learn it myself in art history class) about Andrew Wyeth. Now, I appreciate his work and have always admired his sensitive, realistic portaits and images. Well, the story goes that one day Andrew was having a particularly frustrating time working and he flung his materials (paint, or brush, or whatever) at the canvas and walked out. The next day when he returned to the piece, instead of lamenting the damage or feeling that he had ruined it, he felt like it was the best thing he'd ever done. I don't know if he managed to incorporate the 'mess' into the realistic image, or covered it up, or exactly what the outcome was. The point is, the action of loosening up that much to fling something at the canvas in some kind of a climactic release didn't ruin the painting or end the world! It worked into the scheme of things and was greatly freeing to the artist. Now, I've never yet been able to do anything close to that. I'm still hovering a few inches over the work, holding my breath, going over and over the areas to solidly build up paint and work out all the brush strokes. Yikes! Get over it!

With all this admission of uncertainty, I must clarify that I can picture working through all these dilemmas with this first large painting and should be able to bypass much of my current hesitation in subsequent works. But the act of capturing all this with the camera as I go along is unnerving, to say the least. Still, I want to do it. A few years ago, a friend of mine was starting to paint and she said she felt like she was showing her bare butt to everyone. I thought that was an extreme way of putting it, but she was so hesitant to show her work at the time and felt very vulnerable when the pieces were done and needed to be exhibited. I really couldn't relate to those feelings then, but I can now. Since I am documenting all the steps along the way, it's not even like the instant exposure of a flasher... BAM! Nope, it's like everyone is warned of what's coming, they are watching and waiting, they see me undo the snap and reach for the zipper... okay, enough! I'll just keep telling myself there is no right or wrong way to do this. The decisions I make along the way are a result of a pretty good base knowledge of art fundamentals and of the materials I'm working with. Therefore, though I could go in any number of directions with each brush stroke, the ones I choose are the ones I choose... that's it. No right or wrong.

There's a neat paragraph in one of my favorite art books 'Art & Fear' by David Bayles & Ted Orland. It goes like this: '...the first few brushstrokes to the blank canvas satisfy the requirements of many possible paintings, while the last few fit only that painting- they could go nowhere else. The development of an imagined piece into an actual piece is a progression of decreasing possibilities, as each step in execution reduces future options by converting one- and only one- possibility into a reality. Finally, at some point or another, the piece could not be other than it is, and it is done.' (and I noticed that there is no mention whatsoever about any brushstroke being right or wrong, or anyone's embarassing nakedness showing. Whew!)


  1. I'm loving it. If you stopped right here, not going any further, I think it would win awards. Now, I know you have your own vision; every artist does, but the viewing public is an ignorant bunch. If you say, this is finished, then they'll go oooo, and ahhh, all over the place.

  2. Deb- I appreciate your nice comments, and you are right, an artist can usually convince others of their vision if they try. And I DO like this painting so far, but since I've never worked like this before, I don't yet know the possibilities. I've just gotta get in there and smear around, and make a mess, and hopefully after all that, I can still sell the idea that I meant for it to be that way!