Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Fine Art of Screwing Up... the Evolution of a Painting

"Vein of Gold", 30x30" Acrylic on Canvas. Available.
The nice part about having a piece that has gone thorough as many transitions as this one is that the canvas is
now beautifully textured. And you can see hints of what has gone before... in many of the grey areas you can
see the green hiding underneath. Oh, and that browny looking colour is metallic gold, in case you couldn't tell.
I've been asked many times how I can tell when a piece is finished. Usually, it's not that hard to tell… or at least with the figurative pieces. If the people look "right", there's nothing there that bugs me, and the attention is in the right spot, then I'm done. It's not so easy with the abstract stuff… I'm not as well versed in the language of abstract art, and sometimes there will be something not quite right but I just can't put my finger on what it is. If I'm being completely honest, it also happens with the figurative pieces from time to time… sometimes I need a second opinion to figure it out, and that's where my artist friends are invaluable. I will struggle with something for weeks, and one of my friends will look at and say "it's the mouth", or something equally obvious. Pretty sure it has something to do with not having looked at it for seemingly endless hours at a time...
Lately I've taken to posting working photos online. It can be a bit daunting, since I know that every painting, without fail, is going to go through a phase where I want to toss it. I've been painting off and on for 20 years, and it still happens. All the time. I've been told that my honesty about this is helpful for beginner painters... they see someone that has more experience and still screws up, so they can be a bit more forgiving about their own mistakes.
I started this painting in August. It's now December and I JUST finished it. And it took a lot of twists and turns to get to where it ended up. I had some idea that I wanted it to be somewhat neutral with a hit of bright colour somewhere, thinking either a blue/grey or green/grey kind of thing. I'm more of an intuitive painter than the kind that plans every detail, but after years of classes and reading and looking at art, I have a pretty good idea what makes a decent composition, and I have fairly good colour sense... even if it doesn't seem to make it from my head to the canvas with any kind of predictability.
In the end, in order for me to get something I was happy with, I had to be willing to let go of the bits here and there that I liked, but weren't working with the rest of the piece. That is not easy. When I get something I like my instinct is to protect it at all costs, to the point where I'm afraid to do anything in case I wreck it. Problem with that is the piece never actually gets finished.

There are all kinds of articles online about how you should give yourself permission to make mistakes. I'm a bit of a perfectionist.... more than a bit, actually. I get frustrated when I screw something up, and then I will make an even bigger mess trying to fix it. It took me a long time to get to the point where I will just paint, and be ok... pleased even ...with the result. Especially if it wasn't what I envisioned when I started. Stepping outside our comfort zones and trying new things is how we grow. How we get better. Perfectionism is a mental barrier I had to get past before I could get to the next stage. I think over the last few years I've managed to embrace screwing up pretty well. And I've progressed. So to all you other painters out there, go ahead and make a mess. Screw up royally. Try something you've never tried, and push the limits. After all, it's only paint.