Still in the fruitful dark, though at present it does not feel so fruitful! I have two works in progress but nothing new to show yet, so I will post an old painting from my last fairly consistent run of oil paintings around 2005.
This painting is hanging in my brother’s house, and on a recent visit I sneaked a photo of it.
Last night I tackled the next stage of the painting I considered the easiest of the two works in progress I painted in this post. It was a total disaster. My immediate reaction was to sink down into despair amidst the usual thoughts “you have no talent”, “this is a waste of time”, etc.
But after cleaning up brushes, palette and canvas(!), I walked home, took out a few books and looked at what I was doing wrong in a structured way. My conclusion was that I was working without a plan. Because I am working on an invented still life, I have no source to compare my paint colour to – my only source is the emotion or feeling I seek to express.
And on closer questioning I realized in this case I had no idea of what I wanted to convey. I was simply slopping on paint in the hope that something will magically appear (to be fair, this has often happened in the past).
As a computer programmer, I know a term “programming by coincidence” – which means that sometimes we write a computer program that works, but we are not quite sure why (it happens!). We had a basic idea of what to do and when we compiled and ran the program, it worked, but we do not have a solid, structured idea of why.
So for me, it is going back to basics. This means a structured approach to painting. First: imprimatura using a beautiful, sensual colour. Next, drawings to create a concept of what I am after – the emotion or mood I seek to bring out of me. I have to see that picture quite clearly at the start, even though it may change drastically later on. Next: underpainting followed by more developed value painting, and finally adding colour and highlights with a limited pallet. Accept that this may take several days – in my case, it is probably best if it does take several days. I work in a more calm and focused way and don’t hold my breath for an hour while I “go for it and see what happens”.
I know this sounds like a recipe and can restrict growth, but I need to fall back on this until my confidence builds up again.
I noted above that the image I see in my mind at the start is very important, but that it could change a lot later on. To show just how much this could change (and still lead to an outcome I like), compare my final Painting #38 with the one below, which represents the painting in it’s initial stages:
As you will see if you compare the two, the images are very different. One is stormy and the other more serene. But somehow the essence of the painting, the mood I was after, is already there at the start. If it is not there, and if I have no clear idea how to go from a blank canvas to that imagined ideal, then I am lost.
As always, the danger for me is there to take all of this too seriously. Always I remind myself too lift my head and notice the stupendously beautiful world that is around us at times. It is truly a Blessing, and can be found anywhere:
A BlessingJust off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.And the eyes of those two Indian poniesDarken with kindness.They have come gladly out of the willowsTo welcome my friend and me.We step over the barbed wire into the pastureWhere they have been grazing all day, alone.They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happinessThat we have come.They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.There is no loneliness like theirs.At home once more,They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,For she has walked over to meAnd nuzzled my left hand.She is black and white,Her mane falls wild on her forehead,And the light breeze moves me to caress her long earThat is delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist.Suddenly I realizeThat if I stepped out of my body I would breakInto blossom.
James Wright, from Above the River