Over the years, I’ve accumulated a lot of paintings that are not bad enough to throw out but not good enough to put on my website or, perish the thought, sell to anyone. If I don’t want it hanging on my wall, I don’t want it hanging on theirs. So what’s an artist to do?
Last month, Frank O’Cain did a demo in our Abstracting from the Model sketch class at the Art Students League that gave me an idea for at least some of those poor old paintings. First, Frank did a wonderful charcoal, pastel and gouache sketch of the model. Then he proceeded to cut it in half down the middle and pasted the two halves together but not aligned vertically (one side higher than the other) on a larger sheet of colored paper. He then continued the demolition and reconstruction of the painting by cutting out and replacing pieces of the painting … sometimes angled slightly … sometimes in a completely different location. Here and there the addition of more charcoal, gouache and voila, a new and even stronger painting.
Well, if he could do it, why couldn’t I at least try? First, the original painting. I liked it, but it had some problems that I didn’t know how to solve. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to scan the original before I started cutting it up. First, I cut it straight down the middle and shifted the right side up and the left side down.
Then I cut out the yellow and white section in the upper right corner, tilted it and cut out a small rectangle in the center of it. Then I cut out the same yellow white section on the lower left and tilted it. Then I cut an arc out of the lower right and tilted it. The I elongated one of the blue stripe panels in the upper left so it jutted into the main green area. A few more changes followed.
The end result: Rapunzel.
Well, if it worked once, maybe I could make it work again.
Here’s the original. I had already made the center cut, but pushed the halves back together for this quick photo.
Next, I cut out some of the pieces and rearranged them. It was starting to look really good, but it had one major problem.
My eye kept going to what looked like her right lavender boob. (Actually, the boob was a problem in the original, but in with the other problems it didn’t stand out as much.) I knew it had been the V-neck of her sweater, but that didn’t matter anymore. It looked like a giant boob. It had to go.
So here’s the result.
I like the way the curves flow into each other. My original painting was of a strong, robust woman, and then she became a warrior.
There are a lot of these not quite ready for prime time paintings in my document files. I think I’m going to keep doing this and see where it goes.
Artists know that before they consider a painting done, they often need to give it time to rest, to germinate. Put it aside for a week, then look at it and see if you still think it’s done. Turn it upside down, does it need anything? The last thing I do before declaring a painting done, is scan it into the computer. When I look at it on the screen, I see it differently. Often, my reaction is, “OMG, how did I miss that?!”
In this latest example, I knew Lightning still needed work, but wasn’t quite sure what to do. Looking at it on the screen, what was needed became immediately obvious.
I had to dramatically tone down the three strong blue strokes in the bottom right corner. My eye just kept going there and stopping. Not only were they way too strong for the rest of the painting, not only were they way too strong in the bottom half of the painting (a Frank O’Cain no-no), but they were also the same width (another Frank no-no). In my defense, I originally painted this vertically [the three blue strokes were originally in the upper right corner]. But when I decided I liked it better horizontally, fixing those blue strokes was no longer an option; it became mandatory.
My next example is a painting I’m calling Gnats.
Just looking at the painting, I knew the orange block in the center was too strong. So I blotted and softened it. But the computer image told me I also had a problem with the repetitive blue brushstrokes. First I toned down the bent blue stroke in the center left area (the model’s leg). That was better, but now the repetition in the blue strokes on the right side bothered me. So I blotted and blurred those.
Now the painting is much better balanced. My eye moves around the painting without being held too strongly in any one place.
Isn’t it amazing what relatively little changes can do? Amazing also that it was the scanned image that enabled me to see most clearly what each painting needed.
Did you ever wonder why paintings in museums are often such odd sizes? I have a theory based on my own experience, the advice of a carpet cleaner and my Art Students League instructors.
First, the carpet cleaner. Years ago, I was working on a large watercolor painting and having some difficulty with it. The man who had come to clean my carpet confessed that he was also an artist and offered me some free advice: crop off the part of the painting I wasn’t happy with. In fact, he suggested that I should always work big: with a big painting, there should always be some part of it that would be okay to frame. With all the arrogance of youth, I dismissed his advice.
However, since then, I have had my own direct experiences with liking a smaller subsection of a difficult to successfully finish painting and deciding to crop off the offending part, often at the suggestion of my ASL instructor.
My latest example of this:
Námafjall is a high-temperature geothermal area in Iceland we visited earlier this year. I created this painting a few weeks ago but, even after several changes/improvements, wasn’t happy with the result. The large mustard color area in the lower half of the painting was simply too dominant; my eye kept going there and staying there. Not good.
So I did what I often do when I don’t know what to do: I showed it to an artist friend at the League. After a lot of discussion, she simply covered up the bottom half of the painting and voila! Problem solved.
My teacher, Frank O’Cain, agreed that this was a good solution. And then we discussed other ways of solving the problem … by creating a new and different painting (one with all the elements, perhaps more abstract and hopefully better balanced) … possibly the subject of a future blog.
Now I’m not saying that all the odd size paintings at MoMA are the result of the artist cropping off his or her mistakes, but maybe some of them. I know I’m not the only artist to save a painting by cropping it. My League instructors, artist friends and that long ago carpet cleaner are all in agreement.