Tuesday, February 23, 2010

More on finish in impressionist paintings

Above is a Pissarro courtesy of the artrenewal.org.

I have posted this Pissarro because it is an example of an impressionist piece that has a good degree of finish. it isn't tightened until all the life is gone out of it, but it is all well thought out and resolved. There isn't any passage that doesn't work. It contains no errors. Every bit of a painting has to be right.


I finish my paintings in the studio. If the outside work has gone well, the inside part is pretty easy. Sometimes I bring home a painting that isn't worth putting any more effort into as it is just never going to be any good. That happens. My father was an eye doctor. Every morning when he got to work, he knew how to be an eye doctor. It wasn't as if some days he showed up at the clinic and had no idea what he was doing. That's not the case with me, some days I get killed out there. You'd think I would know how to do it every day. But I don't.

Usually though, I return to my studio with a painting that needs to be finished. I am going to try to explain what I do over the next few posts. I have shown my process on the blog before, but I hope I can figure out how to tell you how I do it.

Often I bring home a painting that has a lot right about it, but it is what I call, a "picture with a problem". That is almost always a design problem. I look at it for a while and decide if there is a way I can fix it. Sometimes there is, and sometimes there isn't. It may be that an element in the painting is unnecessary, or there is a problem with the way the viewer is directed through the painting, or the painting doesn't balance well. Often I can fix those things.

I tend to paint in a lower key. Working in a lower key gives me the ability to use my pigments more nearly as they come off the palette. Every drop of white you use is a drop of color you don't.
When it works I get rich color. When it doesn't, my paintings are darker than the inside of a cow. When these paintings arrive in the studio it is often easy to bang some lights into them. I will return to this idea in a later post.

The most common problem is that the painting is well enough drawn and looks like where I have painted. But it isn't interesting. There are lots of paintings in this world. The world doesn't need another average one. Because I have painted so many years, pretty much everything I do is professional in quality, but that doesn't mean they are good art. Sometimes these paintings can be made more interesting. I might add contrast, or increase the power and color of the light. I might add a sunset or eight tiny reindeer. Whatever it takes. However a lot of paintings with this problem get culled.

Culling paintings is good, it is integrity. You should be throwing art away, at least if you are an outdoor impressionist painter. The academic guys can avoid this by doing lots of studies and throwing the worst of those away before making a painting. If you think everything you do is good, you aren't reaching to be better. Its over. Get a straight job. Go dig a hole in your back yard and pull the dirt in on top of yourself.
See you tomorrow.


billspaintingmn said...

Now Stape..did you ever really paint eight tiny riendeer into a painting!?
"A good painting should contain no errors!"
That's tuff love.
"But if you think your good, go bury yerself in the backyard!"
Wow, did somebody smoke your last cigar? You sound mad.(ha)
Actually sounds like you sincerly care if we become better artists.
That's noble Stape.
I hope to be a better artist. I have a ton more paintings to do, I seem to cull everything. Darn-it!

Gregory Becker said...

I do this quite a bit. I stoke up the backyard firepit. Once my shoebox of drawings get full.(I do about 1 or 2 shoeboxes each year)
I am pretty free with my drawings and I know enough about the way I gather Ideas to look at something I did 6 months ago and know what I was going for.
After the fire is going I just start tossing. There are drawings that will never mean anything to anyone. I know that beacause the ideas are all over the place. Some I keep because I like the compositional elements for future work those I set aside along with the ones that really evoke a feeling. The rest go.
I have quite a few saved drawings that I haven't looked at in years.
The world really is too small to have all that bad work lying around. Besides I am sure I am not the only one who puts their best foot forward.
Come to think of it, It may be time to stoke up the fire pit again.
Great post.

Billy Guffey said...

Looking forward to the continuation of this subject. And really looking forward to what you mention here... "When these paintings arrive in the studio it is often easy to bang some lights into them. I will return to this idea in a later post." I often bring paintings inside only to look at them and wonder where the "punch" is.

mariandioguardi.com said...

Goodness, I love the smell of Napalm in the morning (quoting from Apocalypse Now). Slash and burn those mediocre and error filled "paintings". It is very exhilarating to be freed from the tyranny of a painting that can't and shouldn't be saved. If you haven't done this, try it. It's one of my favorite sports, as it's pretty much what happens to all my landscape paintings. "If you are not failing, you are not trying hard enough".

R Yvonne Colclasure said...

I have often wondered why I don't know how to paint some days, and it is usually after one that went well. I don't know whether to be encouraged that you still have those days, or depressed. ;) I am definitely looking forward to the next posts. Thank you.

Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

Excellent posts on finish, Stape. I also like the explanation of why one might want to paint in a lower key. Looking forward to seeing how radical some of your fixes are in the studio. Are they minor scrapes followed by a bandaid? Or major wipeouts?

Philip Koch said...

Yes, isn't it amazing how one can do fantastic work one day and the next you can't even tie your shoes. Two things in life have taught me humility- painting and raising kids.

Also getting rid of paintings that just aren't up to your best level is good medicine. I've always thought Cezanne was a good painter but that he could have been far more selective about which pieces he let survive (of course I know someone one day will be saying the same of me).

Jesse said...

Great post Stape. I needed that!

It seems like I have about a 50% keeper rate. It can be depressing to scrap half of the work you do, but I hope to get my rate up to 75% or so.

Generally I take the bad uns, and cover them with white or a light neutral and try to give them a new life.

barbara b. land of boz said...

Stapleton, had to play catch-up on your post. I have found that you are allowing us to make our own decisions in our painting styles. All the while giving us the tools that will make this journey more pleasent.

Just hearing that you also have "growing pains" in your everyday life helps. You do know how to bare your soul. Prehaps this is a lesson in being brutily honest with one's SELF (something easier said then done).

I had a comment on the post from a couple of days ago. It is on the Pissarro street scene. When I enlarge the painting, it almost looks like a very shy style of pointillism. I love his colors and how they melt into one another.
Do you know if this was a style he tried?

Thank You for all the time and effort you put in this blog. WE can only hope to make you feel it is worth it.
barbara b.

Deborah Paris said...

This is perhaps my favorite early Pissaro-thanks for posting it. Even those of us who paint indirectly crash and burn with great regularity. In my case, because most of the brushwork (yes, there is lots of brushwork in my underpaintings, no licked look for me) and information, drawing, etc is in the underpainting and shows through the transparent glazes, if that's wrong, then I might as well get out the lighter fluid early- And I do- early and often!

willek said...

I hate to throw anything away. I find I just lose interest in bad starts. Sometimes, if the paint is not too thick, I pallett knife on a mix of titanium white and medium with a few drops on cobalt dryer in it. The canvases that are loaded with paint, I eventually strip them off the stretchers and staple on a new canvas. I have a big pile of those loose pictures. Every year or two I go through a few to see if there is anything of interest, but so far...uh, uh.

willek said...

I, honest to God, just today, put a wagon and a team of horses into a weak painting and it is a total success. Tiny reindeer are only a heartbeat away.

Scott Boyle said...

I must meet you in person one day. You are a riot. Thanks for all these great posts.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Oh yeah that's me...tough love! Better than no love at all.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Sometimes I think quality is made in the fire there.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I do the same thing. I will do a post on "punching" a painting.

Stapleton Kearns said...

There are many stories of artists, particularly Redfield, burning paintings.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Whats that old quote about getting up more times than you fall down?

Stapleton Kearns said...

Could go either way.

Mary Brewster said...

Thank you for this post! I often do not know what my paintings need when I get them home. I put them up on a molding at the top of my studio and look at them once in a while. Unless I know they are beyond hope. I have some boxes of those.
For a long time, I thought that if I were good, or got good, that it would seem easier to paint. Sometime this year, I realized that the paintings seemed to be getting a little better but the process was no easier.No correlation. Good thing it is so fun - or addictive - or both.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Philip: What will I have to do to get some of that hoomilitee? I have raised kids and painted. Maybe a dance exercise class?

Stapleton Kearns said...

That works if you don't have ridges of paint in the image. It wouldn't do to have a rowboat showing in pentimenti in the forehead of a pretty girls portrait.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Towards the end of his life Pissarro actually started to do some nearly pointillist work. I don't think it was his best stuff though.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I wouldn't have guessed that!

Stapleton Kearns said...

Shingle your garage with them.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thank you.

Stapleton Kearns said...

William Paxton said; Paintingi s so difficult no one would do it, except it's so much fun.

Philip Koch said...

About Pissaro, I seem to remember he did pointillist work for about 8 years or so near the end of his life. He came to regret the direction in the end and declared it had been a diversion from what he should have been doing. I agree with Pissaro's assesment. Generally it's not a smart way to work for most purposes.

Love2paint said...

Stape, this was a highly entertaining post! I will admit, I have done the psycho act on a good number of my paintings 10 years ago. They needed murdering, LOL! It was good therapy to release my anger and frustration that way. When the painting was destroyed, I felt lifted and could move on. My kids would say, "Are you alright now mom?" I don`t destroy them that way anymore, I must`ve been going through the early years frustrations of trying to get it right. I moved about 8 months ago and have gone through many more paintings and cut them up with a good pair of scissors. I`ve calmed way down or got older and the arthritis kicked in. I`m not a madman or madwoman anymore. No temporary insanity acts. Now, I keep the smaller boards to use as workstudies someday for larger studio paintings. Once you blow it and see where you didn`t succeed, the crappy little paintings can be kept to remind you of how not to blow it next time.