If you’re an artist, you probably have a large stack of paintings that don’t measure up to your standards. The longer you paint, the more this becomes a difficult thing to deal with. I learn something from every painting I do and my skills continue to grow accordingly. As artists, we are the keepers of our creative destiny and get to decide what to keep and what to toss.
I’ve read about painters that save all of their “failed” artwork and use it to create a bonfire every few years because the paintings don’t live up the artist’s own quality guidelines and they feel that this would degrade the scope of their over-all work.
I know artists who never sell their work because they feel that a piece of their soul is tied up in the piece.
Sometimes I’m just gobsmacked when a piece of art I really didn’t like sells quickly, and the prints from that painting continue to sell, consistently. Over time, I’ve learned that what I like and what someone else likes won’t necessarily be the same thing. Over that, I still shake my head sometimes, and that brings me to my next point.
Someone somewhere is going to love that painting that I just can’t stand. Every painting exists as part of my body of work, as part of my artistic journey. I learn at least one thing from every painting that I create. I’ve only destroyed one painting, and I regret it. It wasn’t finished, and at that time, I didn’t think I could do anything with it. I had fallen in love with a stone wall in Kainaliu and taken a picture to paint just before an earthquake took it down, and here it is. This photo is the only proof that this painting ever existed.
And, I regret it. This was very early painting days for me. I put a lot of time into this painting. I outlined each individual rock in black. What did I learn from this painting? So much.
That I could lose myself in my work
Never lose track of the big picture
Paint things that move you
Rocks are never entirely one color
Get the entire canvas covered with paint before you make any major decisions about a painting.
Don’t outline rocks in black!
Things are never as bad as you think they are
Now, I could have done so much with this painting and turn it into something spectacular. I may paint it again someday because I still love the wall.
So tell me. If you’re an artist, what do you do with your “failed” or what you consider sub-par paintings?
As always, the caveat is, it’s done for now. I’m happy with it, in fact, I’m so happy with it I want it in MY ROOM. I seem to have this belief that I can’t really paint people well, and then I’m surprised when I do. Hell, I’m surprised when they are recognizable! *Shakes my head…* Sometimes the inside of my head is no place to be.
Have I been comparing my work to other artists’? Yes. Sigh.
Does my art continue to improve? Yes!
Do people enjoy my work? Yes!
Do I still love what I do? Yes!
Then I’m on the right track!
One of my goals for this blog is to point out that becoming an artist, frankly becoming anything, isn’t a straight line. I’ve seen so many blogs where everything is sweetness and light, and everything moves along swimmingly according to the “Master Plan.” This certainly hasn’t been my experience, and it is how we handle these challenges that make us who we are.
Most of my paintings feel like ongoing problem-solving sessions. The last thing I do each day is to create a punch list of what I want to accomplish the next time I sit down to work on it. Creating this list gives me a good starting point. This continues to happen until I near the end of the process and THAT is when I usually start to feel the energy of what a painting can become. My teacher, Rose Adare, hits this point before she even puts a mark on the canvas. (That’s why SHE’s the teacher!) I’ve only managed that a few times so far, and each time resulted in a spectacular piece.
It is important to become aware of what your process is. Everyone has rituals that they go through as they work on something. Become aware of your self-talk and recognize what you are saying to yourself. Find a way to check criticism, self-doubt, and judgment at the door. All that negativity does is make the process take longer to accomplish something that was going to happen anyway. This painting took at least twice as long as it should have because of all the negative self-talk I was dealing with. In some ways, it is a reverse Dorian Gray. All the angst, frustration and judgement went into this painting and came out as a sense of peace. It was worth the journey!
I’m learning a lot as I go along. One of them is figuring out how to divorce myself from the picture and paint what I see. It can be an emotional thing to do a self-portrait. You almost never appear in a picture the way you see yourself. I now realize that I picked challenging lighting and a difficult pose. Oh no, nothing straight-forward for me! During this process though, I find I’m making finding some peace with myself.
I’ve gone from age 16 male to 30-something female so I think I’m making headway. I haven’t come up with a good idea for a background yet so I just threw something in there. Uh, take it from me and don’t do that. Especially don’t make it flat black. Sigh. Every time I think I’m “growing up” as an artist I go and do something childish. Focus and paying attention are so important. When you strive for realism you need to paint what you see, not what you think is there. If you have to make it up, have a plan in place. In my experience, “winging it” rarely works in my favor. Not with realism.
Here’s my other painting. I’m still moving forward.
Toning down the entire side of his face made a huge difference. Even with half of his mustache and beard missing it “reads” as being there because the colors are correct.
Many people have probably used this color scheme, but it is most widely know to be used by a Swedish painter named Anders Zorn who was known for his portraits. Here is an example of his work:
I’ve been spending a lot of time in my head trying to figure out how to map out the colors of a Zorn palette, Ivory Black, Titanium White, Vermilion (or Cadmium Red Medium), and Yellow Ochre. There is no blue used on this palette, the black is used as a blue. After a lot of looking around, this was the best paint chart I could find for the Zorn palette. This shows not only the primary colors of this combination but also the secondaries mixed with their complements and tinted white for additional colors. What it doesn’t have are all of the non-tinted colors mixed with varying degrees of black. For this palette, the black only applies to two-thirds of the palette. This was the best representation of available colors I could find that made sense. I found this on Pinterest and the website that it originally came from was not listed.
The colors are fantastic. Using a limited palette like this makes it much easier to figure out how to mix the colors you need. Does it need to be cooler? Add black. Lighter? Add white. Warmer? Decide if it has more red or yellow tint and adjust accordingly.
I expect I will continue to use the Zorn palette for portraits for a while since it is so perfect! I can always add other colors as accents later The great thing about this palette to me is that it limits the amount of “color” you can use and it makes you focus more on your values. I need to say that again for the painters out there…
” The great thing about this palette to me is that it limits the amount of “color” you can use and it makes you focus more on your values. “
If you want to be a good if not great painter, pay attention to your values. Values are everything. More than one famous painter has stated that if you have to get one thing or the other correct, make sure it is value rather than color. Color can’t fix the problem. If the value is correct, the eye will see what it needs to in order to make the painting work.
This task threw me for days. I doubted myself. I doubted that I could do it. I wouldn’t even start for the fear. Isn’t that silly? Now I think it is, but then, well, I guess I just wasn’t thinking. I was feeling and I let it get the better of me for a while.
We had to choose an image to work from in class and to do a self-portrait looking in a mirror. Here’s what I came up with:
I’ll tell you right now, glasses are a bear. I’ll remember that for the future! I don’t know who this gentleman is, I just loved the picture.
It took me a while to find a pose of myself that I was comfortable with. I’ll admit it, I’m vain.
The first step is the drawing, and then stepping away to come back and find any errors that have to be corrected before the drawing is “fixed” to the canvas. There are a couple of ways to do this. The first is to spray the drawing with a fixative such as Krylon Workable Fixatif. I prefer the next method. Rose showed us that you can also fix a drawing by painting over it with thinned paint and wiping some of it off. This leaves your painting tinted with an undertone, which can be very helpful if it is one of the skin tone colors. From there, you can wipe-out highlights (as long as you do it before the paint dries) and that gives you the start of your painting. Here’s an example of that on my self-portrait.
Here is the start of my other painting. Drawing is in place and I’m starting with color. I wasn’t happy with where this was going, so I went in a different direction, putting in a basic background first. That allowed me to better judge my colors. Then I started putting in some of the darks and the whole thing began to make better sense.
My next post will be about the Zorn palette, which is all I’m using to do these portraits. This is a combination of Titanium White, Ivory Black, Yellow Ocre, and Cadmium Red.
When you are aiming for realism or an accurate rendering of your subject, there are many ways to check the proportions in your drawing. Here’s a list of the ones I know (and I am sure that I’ve left out a few):
Stand back and compare the subject to your drawing. The greater distance will make many errors visible quickly.
Take a picture with your phone for comparison. Seeing a miniature version of your work usually makes things stand out.
Look at your work in a mirror. Using a mirror converts your subject to shapes instead of things and it is easier to spot discrepancies.
Turn both your subject and the painting/drawing upside down. (This really only works if you are using a photograph or a picture as your subject.)
For subjects that are mirror-images on both sides such as a vase or a bowl, you can use a mirror or a piece of glass to check and make sure that both sides match.
For the above, trace the outline of your drawing and fold it in half. This will show you where the drawing is out of balance.
Look back and forth quickly between your subject and drawing. This technique blends the two together and shows you what needs to be corrected.
Check your angles and the length of your lines. Using easily recognized points, determine key angles and make certain that these angles are accurate in your drawing.
Try using a proportional divider to check your measurements
Rulers work too.
As do skewers. Measure, measure, measure.
Measure twice, draw once!
Did I mention measure?
Step outside and look at your work through the window. Somehow this puts it at a remove as if it was someone else’s work.
If all else fails, and you can’t figure out what is wrong, take a tracing of your subject and place it over your drawing. This will immediately show you where your drawing is off. If you are drawing from life, take a picture of your subject and print it out. Yes, it has to be the same size. Is your subject too big? Print out your problem area only. There’s no need to do the whole thing.
Walk away and look at something else for a few minutes and you will be able to look at your work with fresh eyes. Do this at least every 15 minutes.
Don’t forget to look at your subject. You can become too familiar with your own work and mistakes will begin to look correct.
Remember, all these suggestions are to improve the accuracy of the drawing. If you are doing quick studies or gesture drawings, that’s a completely different thing. Those are about loosening up and finding the rhythm of a pose.
Many weeks later… I am so sorry it has been so long. Frankly, my painting class is kicking my butt. I have so much to learn in such a short time and I keep getting in my own way. I have trouble finishing my homework in the time allotted.
Weeks 4 – 6 were spent working on a still life in class and another one at home using only Burnt Sienna and Ultramarine Blue tinted with either Titanium White or Ivory Black. I’m apologizing in advance for my paintings because they aren’t finished. This way you will at least get to see what I have been working on. In time I may finish them. I find, going through this process, that if I have managed to learn what I think I was supposed to get out of that particular exercise, that I’m okay with not finishing it.
These assignments built upon the skills we learned in the drawing class: sight-sizing skills, general drawing skills, and lost and found edges. The primary focus was to help us to develop a better understanding of warm and cool tones; when to use warm or cool shadows and warm or cool highlights. This skill is paramount to developing realistic art.
Warm and cool highlights and shadows are, to advanced color theory, as counting to ten is to imaginary numbers. I’m finally learning the stuff that I knew was holding me back. I’ve learned plenty of other wonderful things about drawing and painting that are important, but this, this I knew I didn’t know.
The other pieces that are making a huge difference for me:
Access to a teacher to answer questions quickly. When I get stuck it is nice to have someone to go to that can help me figure out what I’m doing wrong. With a glance, Rose knows what isn’t working and gives me a list of things to tweak in 5 or 6 seconds. The even better part of this is that if I can’t figure out how to fix it, she will show me how, and why it isn’t working. This is the important piece I can’t always figure out for myself.
Input from other students. We all see things in different ways. When we team up and check each other’s work it allows us to practice the problem-solving skills above. When you see that something isn’t quite right, how can you check to see what it is? We have many different ways of doing that now and it is easier to practice these methods if it isn’t our work we are checking.
The quality of the work in class. I am a strangely competitive animal. There are people in my class that graduated from art school and they are very good. (Those words need to be underlined, bold, and italic.) Having them in class makes me want to work harder at my own work. I need to do better or tackle something more complicated. I’m also watching how other people handle paint. Some use a lot of paint, and others use very little. Some are tight painters (like me most of the time) and some are very loose. There are times when I wish I could spend the entire class watching others paint. I would learn much from that alone!
Other topics we are covering in these classes include such things as mediums, painting surfaces, different types of brushes and bristles, thumbnail sketches and poster studies.
I know it seems like I’m cheating here, but we ended up working on the same pieces for three weeks in a row. Work in class was painting a cast using one color, Titanium White and Ivory Black.
I have to admit it, I was dreading this after the last cast I tried to draw. However, this turned out to be a much faster process for me. Instead of using a pencil, I did the whole initial drawing with paint and continued on from there.
In the drawing class I think all I managed was to complete the outline of the figure and one breast, so I’m definitely getting better, faster, and more accurate.
Homework for all three weeks was another nude. Once again, I feel that it needs more work and I will have to do that later if I can find the time. This time we were painting from a photograph instead of a painting. This adds a degree of difficulty because when you copy a painting, the shading and conversion of 3D to 2D has already been accomplished for you.
I’m starting to look for my lost and found edges. This photo had a LOT of edges! I still need to adjust much of the tone in this painting. One of the things I do when painting from a photograph is to laminate the picture so that I can put my paint right on the picture to check whether or not my values are correct. Many of the values in this painting still need to be corrected! I will talk about this in another blog post.
For this class, things got a little more complicated. We all chose a painting of a nude to work with and copy as a study. This time we were allowed to mix our paints. This was what I did in class:
And our homework was more of the same. I have to work on that definition of simple though because this was anything but. What I thought would be simple turned out to be 7 spheres, multi-toned greenery, and architecture. I still haven’t finished it, I ran out of time this week.
During Week 2 class we had to paint a sphere using umber, black, and white.
This was about learning how shadows work and the graduation of tone without having color confuse the issue. In fact, the first two-thirds of this class aren’t dealing with color at all! This is also about learning how to work with straight paint and solvent before we start adding mediums into the mix.
Homework was about applying this skill to a simple photograph.