Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Finishing paintings 3

Above is a Carl Peters. I will do much more on him, but I have a lot of art history to churn through before I get to him. Below is Celia Thaxters garden as painted by Childe Hassam.

I have a number of questions In ask myself about a painting when I am intending to finish it in the studio. Here are some that come to mind. I am not particularly talking about adding detail, though some of that might be necessary, nor do I mean tightening up the painting, although sometimes that is necessary too..
  • Is this MY painting, or could it have been made by someone else?
  • Is there anything in the painting that accidentally looks like a fish or a goats head?
  • Are all of my shapes varied and interesting?
  • Does the main line of the painting guide the viewer the way I want them to go?
  • Have I got good contrast in the painting? Do I need to add more light? Strengthen my shadows?
  • Have I drawn everything well enough?
  • Are all of my edges handled well, soft or hard?
  • Are any of my light passages, such as the sky, dirtied by careless smearing from a tree or other neighboring mass?
  • Are the lines in my buildings vertical that need to be vertical?
  • Are my colors right, do they relate well to one another?
  • Have I got consistent light, in direction, color and temperature?
  • Is the overall tonality of the painting working?
  • If their are technical details are they correct. For instance, is there a boom crutch on that catboat? Are the tops of the windows on the house above or below the returns on the gables? Is the girls sweater correct for the period of her hairstyle. All of those things matter if you are selling a painting to a sailor, an aficionado of period architecture or a woman who loves fashion. If you paint boats, your customer likely knows and loves them.
  • Are there any problems with the surface? Do some brushstrokes catch the light in an unpleasant way. Does the picture need retouching varnish. Is it tight on its stretchers?
  • If there is a body of water or a horizon line is it level and straight? Do the subjects in my painting perspect towards it?
  • Would the painting be improved by adding a figure.? A walrus?
  • Is it signed? Is the signature level? Unless you sign on an obvious diagonal, a crooked signature looks amateurish.
  • Are there little spots of canvas showing at the edge of the canvas that didn't get painted?
  • Did I look at it in a mirror to see if I missed anything?

Sometimes I will sit down in front of a half finished picture and write a numbered list of everything that needs to be done to it. Then I check them off on the list as I go.

The list above contains typical entries and I could probably double its size, but you get the idea. It is a self critique to find the errors in a painting and fix them.



Bill Guffey said...

Hey Stape. Each one of your points could make a small chapter by themselves. A question on one of the points...When a painting gets loose on the stretchers do you remove the entire thing and restretch? Or do you loosen part of one side and stretch and rotate?

Honor Martinez said...

Thank you! Thank you! I will use the list to examine my own work.

Gregory Becker said...

That is the list of a pro. I am going to be adding quite a bit of your list to my list.
BTW the questions and comments from the last post are still making me laugh.

Susan McCullough said...

"Is there anything in the painting that accidentally looks like a fish or a goats head?"

This makes me laugh because it happened to me this winter- I had painted a plein air called Creek at Amalia- and I was sitting in my kitchen and it was drying across the room. I looked over and could see this huge face in the bank on the side of the creek - some rocks were the eyes and - it kind of looked like a fishes head- I had to work on it for quite awhile to remove that huge fish face staring back at me!

Thanks for the checklist- I will be using it!

Tom said...

Some more great reminders.
You could tack Louie Armstrong’s statement onto that, "It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing"

Mary Brewster said...

This is a great list! It is a very helpful movement beyond do I like this or not. I am printing it and posting it on my wall.
Thanks again.

Jeremy Elder said...

I am printing that out and sticking it to my easel.

Deborah Paris said...

Excellent stuff, Stape! And I think that your points in previous posts about size are relevant here too(the history of impressionism is not written in 5 x 7s- I love that!). These are questions that can sometimes be overlooked or fudged at a smaller size but which demand answers for successful larger paintings. I will never forget a very well known (western) landscape painter telling me about twenty years ago that he didn't feel comfortable going any larger than 18 x 24. I knew right then and there he could never teach me how to finish a painting.

Lisa McShane said...

Great list. I photographed a painting I'd 'finished' yesterday and then realized the wasn't level. Good lord. It's level now but sheesh.

Philip Koch said...

I like the part about making "to do" lists sitting in front of your painting in progress.

Sometimes I get lucky and a certain amood settles over me in the studio where I get a lot of good ideas about how to take a painting to a higher level, but they come to me all at once, too quickly to actually execute them all. I sit down and take neat, organized notes complete with diagrams in my sketchbook. Then I go through the list, putting the idea into paint.

Other times I use my secret weapon, my wife Alice who isn't an artist but who has a heck of a good eye. I'll ask her for suggestions on a difficult painting and I write down the ideas she comes up with if they sound plausible (most of them do).

Mary Bullock said...

Hitting my print button right now!

billspaintingmn said...

The awareness of this list will keep ya on your toes!
A Generals inspection of his troops before they go in to battle!

Celia Thaxters garden is Beautiful,it's a success in battle!

Stapleton Kearns said...

I undo two sides one at a time and pull it taught. I am painting everything I can on panels these days though.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Don't forget the mirror

Stapleton Kearns said...

That is going to be a long list.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Gotta watch out for those fish heads.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I forget who said that, I didn't coin it. I think I may have heard R.H. Ives Gammell sasy it.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I hope it is useful.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Stick up high so the baby can't get it!

Stapleton Kearns said...

I have felt that way too. I think that there is a lot that you can finesse in a very small or very loose painting that needs to be reckoned with in a larger or more finished piece.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Lisa: I always have to measure those. I have a trick for doing it though.

Stapleton Kearns said...

The cruelest thing a wife can say to her husband is uhhhhh.......whadja do to it?

Stapleton Kearns said...


Stapleton Kearns said...

I have no toes.