Thursday, June 7, 2012

Restarting a stuck painting

Sometimes a painting gets stuck, sometimes you realize it is going backward rather than forward or at best it scuttles sideways. Here are some tips to get a painting out of the doldrums and moving again.

  •  Restate your lights and darks. They can get tentative and mushy as you work on a painting 
  • Soften your edges, often your edges are all that is wrong with a painting, are they too "hard"? Often as we work on a painting we make our edges harder and harder, rather than keeping control of them. Uniformly hard edges damage the cohesion and flow of a painting and give a naive or primitive look.
  • Look at the painting in a mirror. Often mistakes you have grown accustomed to seeing will jump out in a mirror image. Hold a small hand mirror up to your forehead so you can look up into it, then look at the painting upside down and backwards. Our eyes get tired and begin to accept errors that we would otherwise spot. That's is one of the reasons why painter can so easily spot an  error in someone else's painting. A mirror will give you a fresh eye and often a mistake you have grown accustomed to seeing will jump out at you.
  • Turn the painting to the wall and don't look at it for a few days. This is the same idea as the mirror. It often is a shock to return to a painting days later and realize what you had been looking at without seeing.
  • Look at the painting upside down, another way to get a fresh eye. Again you may see some errors you had missed.
  • Get the books out. Find examples of master painters ( ideally dead master painters) and research how they handled the same problems that you are confronting.
  • Take a photo of the painting and view it the size of a postage stamp. Often errors, particularly design errors will be easier to spot in a reduced image. There are such things as reducing glasses. They look like a magnifying glass but do the opposite. Billboard painters used to use them, but you can still buy them online,  here   They shrink what you are viewing . It is like running back about a hundred yards to view your painting. This does about the same thing as looking at a reduced photo .
  • Ask yourself "what can I take out? Are there things in this picture which are extraneous? Are all the items in this picture really serving the collective?  If not, purge em!

 If you would like to know about the upcoming July workshop in New Hampshire please
click Here. I have included the cost of the workshop and information on the location in the White Mountains. I can teach you a whole lot, and probably save you years of screwing around. Why torture yourself ? Don't get left behind! You are worth it! Everyone's doing it. Act now.

I have been developing a series of painting exercises to teach root skills. I have a bunch of them now and am adding them into the workshops. I set my easel up in front of the class and lead them through a painting exercise that will clarify either a skill, technique or principle. I will be presenting one of these each day at the July workshop.


Tim said...

Excellent post Stape, these are great things to do. Another thing I do from time to time is to take my camera or my phone and switch it to black/white. Not only will it automatically reduce the painting to as you said the size of a stamp, the overall value relationships will become clearer. Some might argue this is "cheating" and isn't building an skill (squinting) but I bet that's what Lorrain heard when he used his concave black mirror. The camera wont be able to reproduce all the subtleties on its tiny LCD screen that the eye can see anyway so its still up to the craftsman to iron it out.

Philip Koch said...

Great post, once again! Laughed my head off when I came to the line about looking a how master artists (ideally dead ones) handled similar problems. Sometimes it's just to painful to look at someone alive and kicking pulling out fabulous painting after fabulous painting. said...

Hmmmm struggling a bit with the one I have ondi my easel.
Did everything listed with some degree of forward momentum. Tim, I'll give the B&W thing a try.

Also I like going back to basics and mixing up three values only and using them. If the values turn out right I can manipulate the colors just fine.

Jean Spitzer said...

Great reminders. Just happen to be stuck on a painting. Thanks--very timely.

Bridget Hunter said...

Great post. Thankyou.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the wonderful advice. So what do you do when the painting has been "dead" for days or weeks and all dried up? Do you do bring it back from the dead with a lot of scraping and medium when fixing?

Sidharth Chaturvedi said...

"Restate your lights and darks" is simple advice, but I definitely needed reminding of it. Keeping in mind has actually really helped me rescue a painting since your last post, so cheers for that.

Funny thing about soft edges. Once I learned how to make one, I completely forgot how to make a hard edge and for the next year my paintings took on that dull, feathery look that you see all over art schools. That was a dark time.

Anonymous said...

yes. this is very helpful. :) thank you! I hope you don't mind that I shared this article on my blog :B I linked back :)

Steve Kohr Fine Art said...

Thanks, excellent points here! I now see what I can do to a few of my paintings to improve them.