Thursday, February 25, 2010

More about finishing pictures.

Boldini image from

There are several things that have to happen before I call a painting finished. I take a picture of it with my digital camera and and either look at it on the computer screen or better still, print it out. I figured this out when I would see my work reproduced in magazines. I would often be surprised at how they looked reduced. Sometimes paintings that I though were fine had faults in them that I only noticed when I saw them shrunk down, Now that photography is digital and so instant it is any easy matter to check your paintings this way.

I generally let a painting sit around the studio for a week or so if I am not on a tight deadline. I also show it to my wife, or my kids, whoever, to get their opinion. Sometimes something will bother them about a painting that hadn't occurred to me. I ask them, does anything jump out or bother you?

There is an odd phenomenon I have noticed when doing this. Often they will be bothered by an area of the painting and say something is wrong with it. Often there IS something wrong in that area, but they are pointing at something else. They know the general area but not what the problem is.

After the painting has sat around in the studio for a week or so it should be dry enough to shoot with retouch varnish before you send it out to a gallery.You will also be able to look at it with a fresh eye after that much time has passed. Maybe something will jump out at you then. It is essential to fully troubleshoot a painting before it goes out into the galleries. I have gotten a few paintings back, and thought "what was I thinking". I had the painting out in the gallery for a year and all along it remained unsold, possibly because of one error that I had missed.


Did I mention that?

In art class they tried to be nurturing, and told you that there were no rules. Many art students don't want teachers telling them anything unfavorable about their art. But some pictures ARE better than others, and you want to be the one making better paintings. You may say, and I hear amateurs say frequently, "I don't want people judging my art". The only way you can avoid that is to put it in a closet. People will judge your art. When they do, the greatest compliment they can pay you is to buy it.


Mary Byrom said...

Stapleton, Great posts on finishing. I also noticed the reduced picture of a painting worked too. I'd see a photo of a painting and think what the heck ? Why didn't I see that? Also a little time & distance from the painting helps...I don't seem to be so buried in the decision process and can see it better. Its the relationships and transitions in the large ones that get me as each decision I make leads to the next decision and that leads to the next decision and when its working thats fine. Its when it was working and then it is no longer working that backtracking to that wrong turn in the road can be a daunting task. I shoot pictures of the bigger ones at different stages in the process and look at them at night after work. That can really help sometimes.

georgiegirl said...

Great post Stape. I feel that last 5-10% of a painting is the hardest and usually by that time i am numb to what needs to happen to get it finished...I also take a photo with my iphone and it usually is glaringly obvious what i need to do next when you see it that way. There is something about seeing that small image and not thinking of it as 'the mess you have been working on', rather as shapes and values in a more objective way. Looking at it the next day with fresh eyes is also helpful.

Nita Leger Casey said...

Stape,Your statement about showing your painting to your wife and kids , that is the way to get a true critique , I remember years ago the kids used to come home from school, looked at my painting even before their book bag was off their shoulder and say to me that looks wrong or stupid , and I would get defensive, and said no that's right!after they had left I would look with a different eye, they were right 99 percent of the time. Never underestimate the kids blunt critiques , they have a good eye ! great post as usual.

Unknown said...

This whole series of posts has been extremely helpful and informative. Just when I thought it couldn't get any better, it does!
I'll do the photo thing also, and additionally put it in photoshop and both reverse the image(like looking in a mirror at it) and put it in black and white. Those two things usually catch the biggest errors.
There are free options for Photoshop that will do the same thing. Gimp is one of them.
I can rarely get my husband to say anything about a painting other than "looks good". He once, however, said "That's AWFUL". I knew I was in trouble then!

R Yvonne Colclasure said...

NO ERRORS, a goal worth shooting for. One will always get up more times than they fall down if they ALWAYS get back up.

Deborah Paris said...

Another great post, Stape. The trick for me is to have that extra week or two that is needed to gain perspective. I always seem to be up against it with deadlines (but that's another problem and another post, eh?). You are so right about your observation that people often get in the neighborhood of what is wrong but don't exactly identify it. My husband, who has a great eye, will invariably say "its A" when in fact the problem is B, which is nearby or related in some way. But, he always gets me looking in the right direction.

And the digital camera is such a great tool! Last year, I realized I often liked the reduced versions of my paintings better (tightened up) which made me realize I really needed more finish- a direction I am still pursuing-trying to balance areas of tonalist mystery with more finish in certain parts of the painting.

Tom said...

Great post Stape, it is amazing how someone can walk into a room look at your work and say one thing like that doesn't look right and you can see what you have been ignoring for a week. They are almost always right. Just like when you have done something good people almost immediately respond with some positive affirmation, they almost can’t help themselves. Another way to tell if your work is not going well is if someone walks into your studio and says nothing, there is no response. To me that means nothing is happening and it is time to go back to the drawing board.

I am starting to find if I think of myself as communicating to other people via my work, the work starts getting clearer, stronger and more purposeful. When you are outside on a beautiful day its hard not to feel good about everything including your so-so painting, you can loose that critical eye.

Did you see the Renoir article in the Smithsonian this month? I think this is interesting in regards to finish, he said after his years of impressionism "I could neither draw nor paint."

Anonymous said...

It's been my experience that when I remember that each painting is just one small step in my overall career as an artist it makes it easier to tear up a piece that just doesn't make the grade. It also keeps me from getting too rapped up in a piece which leads me to over work it. I think it's what he meant when DaVinci said that a "painting is never finished, only abandoned." You say what you have to say and then move on to the next piece. And that's key - to have something to "say", a destination in mind when you start a painting - then you know when you are there.

Lorna said...

Why are you using 'retouch varnish'?

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks, I should try that. I have done it to document their creation for the blog. Digital artists can go back and pick up their work before they made an error.I hate it when I suddenly realize a piece has gone wrong.

Carol Nelson said...

It's an odd phenomenom. With my current portrait project I notice it a lot. I paint the portrait, photograph it, upload it to my blog, see an error, fix the error and repeat.
On one painting of my 93 year old aunt, I did this SIX times. Sheesh. I don't know why I can see errors on the monitor that I can't see in a painting right in front of me.

YOUR portrait, by the way, was a one shot job. You were easy.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I hadn't thought to use my phone camera!

Stapleton Kearns said...

Yeah that's nice dad.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Welcome back, I missed you. What is gimp, other than the fine decorative binding on the edge of an upholstered piece of furniture?
( you didn't know that did you?)

Stapleton Kearns said...

None at all.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I am always against deadlines. So having time to study a painting at leisure is a luxury.

Stapleton Kearns said...

That is what Ives Gammell called"a fresh guy with a fresh eye".

Stapleton Kearns said...

I have made a lot of paintings, some of which I will regret my whole life.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Retouch varnish is used because portions of paintings dry with a matte finish, it restores the gloss and brings back the faded color in those areas.

Stapleton Kearns said...

That happens to me after I photograph a painting I see the faults in photoshop when I am supposed to be dealing with finished work.

artybecca said...

When I view the photo of my piece on the computer monitor, I zoom in on it. When I can only see a part of it rather than the whole I always see problems that I didn't notice before. (Usually because I'm in love with some other part of the picture and ws too focused on it.)
My "helpful critic" is my brother the laywer. He can't draw or paint, but his eyes work and he loves to tell me all the flaws he can see!