Saturday, March 23, 2013

Odds & Ends

Picking up some threads....

A friend asked me yesterday why I posted half-finished paintings (including some that will never be finished), and why I would post photographs of paintings with which I was having difficulty. I knew he meant the portrait of the young man, and the disfigured cow, in particular.

I replied that I think it's important that readers know it doesn't always go well, or even at all. What one sees on most blogs are finished paintings, all glossy in their party clothes. One could easily get the impression that it's always easy, always a joy. I think it's tough when one is struggling with one's work to see seamless masterpiece after seamless masterpiece. One begins to wonder if this craft can ever be learned, and "what's wrong with me?!!"

The truth is that I don't know a painter, no matter how accomplished and successful, that doesn't turn out duds. The trouble is they never show them to us. But take heart! It's true, there are lots of misfires by painters you admire. 

In my particular case, I show these things to demonstrate that the road isn't always straight and the solution sometimes doesn't come, or comes haltingly. The funeral service we held for the young man is proof of that. So I'll continue to bring you stumbles, in the hope that you will benefit from a little bit of schadenfreude, and that you will realize that paintings that don't work aren't only happening to you.

In the Q&A post, a few days ago, I wrote of red in shadows, caused by light bouncing up from the lit parts and penetrating deep into what would otherwise be gloom. I said that I often use brownish madder to invade that gloom. Coming across a particularly dramatic version of that yesterday, I've decided to send it along. This is one quarter of a larger canvas that I divided into four parts in order to make some small demos. It was begun during a class last summer. 

This is as far as this one got at the time. I've not touched it since and probably won't. But I think it's a good, though extreme, example of the bouncing light effect. As you'll see, this is in a very early stage. I've done a cursory grisaille in burnt umber and ultramarine. Over this I've scrubbed a bit of prussian green in the rear tree masses, and I've quickly brushed in some brownish madder in the under planes of the bush. 

Now, almost at the end of March, our ground is still half-covered with snow. But when I look at this slight sketch, the warmth of summer and of that particular day floods over me. Of course I would introduce other colors into the foliage of the bush, and tame the edges of the cast shadows, but I think you'll feel the heat of a hot summer's day.
It's been a while since I posted the painting with the two cows. I've not yet introduced the third cow, but the painting is coming along. Like most of my photos of large-ish paintings (42x48", 106x122 cm), the top is a bit too light, and the bottom, especially on the left, is a bit too dark. Perhaps we should nickname this the Goldilocks Effect?
In any event, much remains to be done. I need to further develop the farther bank, and entirely paint the near one. The edges of the trees' foliage must be dealt with. You'll see that I added a tree on the right, and one in the distance. The water must be painted to reflect (ha!) the changes I have made and will make. Some skittering lines of very light ripples and eddies must be included. So there's lots to be done.

For the moment the working title---while there are still only two cows---is Jezebel and her Sister.

This photo is much more monchromatic and more contrasty than the actual painting, as well as being both a bit blurry and a bit blotchy. The field in the distance, lit by the bright overcast sky, is a pale greenish-yellow. Ah, well...I give up.
For B.T., J.M., and S. W. : I do know her head is STILL too narrow. I'm working on it.



  1. Looking back over you blog - which is already quite hefty! - it's becoming a great source of reference - what's good is there's an aspect of thinking/dreaming about things - not just pure cut and dried technique. And that's what I love about your work - the poetry! Many thanks - keep going it's fascinating and a great pleasure. Jon

    1. Thanks, Jon. Veiled Sun makes it all worthwhile!

  2. Another extremely thoughtful and informative post, Donald. I heartily endorse your rational for showing the struggle as well as the perfection. It has certainly given me hope.

    1. I'm glad it has some value for you, Bruce. A student has mentioned that my blog posts sound exactly as I do in person. So you know, already, what you'll be dealing with in June. Good luck to you.

  3. It is good to hear someone like you still encounters problems with paintings... and sometimes the problems are intractable. So thanks for the honesty! and all the painting information you dispense in this excellent blog.