Posts Tagged ‘school of oops’

Culling, culling, gone!

Monday, October 15th, 2018

The time is approaching to tackle one job that’s never much fun: (Have you guessed it?)  Identifying and ridding my studio of all those paintings that “didn’t quite make it.”

It isn’t easy. And it’s certainly not fun to recognize (and admit) that not everything is saleable … or should even be kept. Some pieces that seem to have made the grade a year or two ago, upon later consideration may not live up to current standards. So it’s time to do some aggressive culling.

When too many recent paintings are culled, it’s a warning signal to me that I may be getting careless and not giving it my best effort.

I tend to hold onto paintings for which I feel a personal sentiment–usually of family members or those with special personal significance to me–despite any compositional weaknesses.  But those don’t remain available for public consumption.

Yet the temptation is to try to salvage some of those other “almost” efforts, as well. Though it is occasionally possible to correct or overcome a weakness, it’s usually better to face facts and to put on my Critical Teacher cap.

At the top of the agenda is identifying specific weaknesses and acknowledging yet another lesson from The School of Oops: Were the colors poorly chosen, or wimpy, or overstated? Was the value pattern weak or too busy? Could the compositional design have been stronger? Was the perspective a little off? (If you’re looking for an example of how I critique, you may want to sign up for my monthly newsletter “Around and About,” in which I always include a painting critique—what works, what doesn’t, and how it might be improved.)

It’s worth spending time on an in-depth critique to figure out not only what did work well but exactly what went wrong with each one and why it didn’t make the grade. Only then can I consider modifications. If a piece is going to be culled anyway, I might as well play with it, experiment, and try retouching it to learn what I can from it. Yes, it’s gratifying to be able to salvage a cull or two.  But they’re the exception, and the rest must be dispensed with.

The culling process also brings to my attention that, while I may have succeeded in my primary focus goal (this year it’s been on small, plein air watercolors), I may have neglected other areas. (This year, for instance, I’ve done fewer figurative pieces, larger-sized paintings, and oils.) These are areas I will need to consider giving more attention to in the coming year.

Another benefit (and greater comfort) as I face another session of culling is recognizing once again that although not all my work may live up to my highest standards, it’s because those standards are continuing to rise that they become more difficult to meet.

No matter how good our work may get, the artist’s challenge is always before us:  to observe more closely, to stretch our skills, and to strengthen our work overall. So … onward! Are you with me?

Giving it a lift

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

Despite my best efforts, watercolor paint, by its very nature, frequently goes where I don’t intend it to.  Sometimes that’s okay and results in a serendipitous event that adds texture and interest to the painting.

But sometimes it spoils the effect I’ve tried to achieve.  In that case, I may try to repair the damage by lifting some of the color back off the paper.  While the paint is still quite wet, I can sometimes remove it by sucking it up with a “thirsty” brush, one that is damp but thoroughly blotted so that it attracts more water to itself than it releases whenever it touches the painting.  After each touch used to lift the wet paint, the brush needs to be thoroughly blotted so it will be ready to pick up more moisture with the next touch.

If the paint is still damp, I can either blot it immediately or add clean water to the misplaced paint and then blot it to remove most of the color.

If the paint has already dried, however, I can use a clean brush, moistened only with clear water, and gently stroke the color away, lifting the paint into the brush.  The brush needs to be rinsed and thoroughly blotted after each lifting stroke to avoid spreading the remaining color further afield.  For me, this method works best with a pointed “round” brush in very small or confined areas, such as when I want to lighten the vein of a leaf.  It can also be done with a mask to create or maintain a hard edge along the side of the lifted area.

This method of lifting is not only used for rectifying mistakes.  It was part of the original creative process when I used a small “liner” brush to lift out pigment to create whiskers on Boots & Bandit (#100305)

Boots & Bandit detail

For larger areas, I sometimes use a specialized “scrubber” brush, shorter and stiffer than a typical round brush, to gently scrub the color off the paper’s surface.  “Scrubbing” must be done very carefully to avoid roughing up or otherwise damaging the surface of the paper.  Referring once again to Boots & Bandit, I used a scrubber to soften many of the hard lines within their fur.  And I applied it again when the cats’ owner asked me to extend the area of white fur on Boot’s chest, more in keeping with his usual appearance (since the groomer had recently trimmed it uncharacteristically short), and to soften and add characteristic tufts to his paws.  (I also added black tips to his ears, which I’d overlooked in the shadows in the reference photos, and darkened the eye linings.)

Boots & Bandit detail, before

Boots & Bandit detail, after

Although all of these methods of lifting paint work well with non-staining colors, none of them works so well with staining pigments.  For this reason I generally prefer to use non-staining paint whenever I can.  The adjustments I made to Boots & Bandit would not have been possible if I had used staining pigments.

Beginner’s luck

Saturday, May 15th, 2010

Watercolor paint of any quality tends to lighten somewhat as it dries.  But the high proportion of water to paint in many of my early paintings caused the color to pale out markedly as the water evaporated.  I didn’t realize that I wasn’t using enough pigment to sufficiently coat the paper.

Seamstresses

In rare instances, it proved serendipitous, actually working to my advantage.  In “Seamstresses” (#070601), I wanted to show the silhouetted figures sitting in a dark castle room and backlit by the bright window.  The high water content of the paint left a wonderful effect of light reverberating around a dark and dusty room, catching on dust motes as they hung in the air.  Notice how the upper part of the wall over the central figure is grayed out, along with the women’s skirts and the hassock beneath the game board.

The colors in the lit portions of the figures are considerably stronger.   Because they were painted with greater detail, the pigments in the focal area are more concentrated.  The wide dispersion of pigment occurred in areas where I used a broader stroke and less detail.

Despite its technical flaws, “Seamstresses” still remains one of my favorite paintings.

Sleeping on it

Monday, April 19th, 2010

Most of the time when I “complete” a painting, I feel pretty excited about my accomplishment.  But I can’t really consider it finished at all until I’ve “slept on it” for awhile.  “Getting Acquainted” (#090502) is a case in point.  Here is the finished product (so far).

Getting Acquainted (revised)

But before giving myself time to carefully evaluate it, I was content with poor value contrast, as you can see below, merely because the likenesses to my daughter and new grandson were good.

Getting Acquainted (before revision)

Some of the spontaneity of brush strokes was lost in the touchup, but I’m convinced that the overall painting was improved by the revisions.  In any case, I learned something in the process.

During the time the bulk of the painting is being undertaken, I usually focus too closely on details to regard the overall composition with a very critical eye.  I almost invariably find that my work can be improved if I take time to distance myself from it and then look at it again with fresh eyes.

That’s why I try to give a painting several days’ rest before evaluating it for touch-up.  Perhaps I can add a greater sense of depth, or the perspective needs to be adjusted.  Sometimes a touch of color will enrich a “flat” area, an area of contrast needs to be exaggerated, or a highlight needs to be brought out.  In this case, the background needed to be lightened behind the profiles, the whiteness of my daughter’s teeth needed to be toned down, and deep shadows needed to be strengthened.

When I’ve given the painting a rest, and my mind something else to think about, a piece I had once been satisfied with might suddenly appear to me like a product of “the morning after the night before.”  Or I realize that a piece I had considered unsalvageable isn’t so bad after all.  In either case I take brush in hand again and do some corrective work.  In this case, I experienced both ends of the spectrum.  The painting sat, flat and unsatisfying to me, for over a year.  When I picked it up again and held a mat against it, I liked it for the first time.  But I became too eager.  It took just a single night more to reveal to me why it had been unsatisfying before and how I could improve it.

I hate to admit it, but some paintings require several touch-up and sleep-on-it sessions. (Amazingly enough, they rarely get wrinkled from all my nocturnal mental gyrations.)  In the long run, with a little tenderness and judicious tweaking (and maybe even a shot of eye-glass cleaner), we both usually come out looking better than before.

What is your background?

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

In order to feature the two figures in “The Challenge,” I decided to minimize the background, which, in the reference photograph, was a rather busy room.  I tried the same composition using both a dark (#090704) and a light (#090706) background.  The resulting difference was dramatic.  (This item is categorized under The School of Oops not because it was a mistake but because I learned a great lesson from my experimentation.  You’re invited to comment on the “lab” results.)

The Challenge 1

The dark background draws attention to the playing board, lit by a glaring, bare bulb almost directly overhead, which also fades the players’ features into shadow.  Focus is on the board and the impending move.  The question posed is “Who…or what… is challenging whom?”

The Challenge 2

The light background, on the other hand, draws attention to the two players, rather than to the board, and suggests a higher level of ambient light that reflects more color into the players’ faces.  The play here is only a moment away from that in the other version as the player in blue now contemplates the board.  Is he reassessing the position into which he’s just placed his opponent, or is he evaluating his own predicament?

Not only does the background I chose for each version affect how the viewer interprets the scene, but it affected my own approach and response to the subject matter as I painted.  My treatment of the details in the two versions is somewhat different, partly because of the tone set by the different backgrounds.

I would be interested to hear comments regarding your preference of the two versions and why you feel about each the way you do.