Every artist book I pick up has something about how an artist is always learning. I'm okay with that - I'm one of those people who is never satisfied with what I produce and I'm always looking for improvement.
As I gained more success, I rewarded myself with books which I have long coveted: The Painter Joaquin Sorolla, by Edmound Peel, hardcover with dust jacket intact, and Sergei Bongart, by Mary N Balcomb, also hardcover and mint condition. And while I will always regret not acknowledging my artistic bent while Sergei Bongart was alive and teaching not more than a few hundred miles from here, I have been learning and following a self-directed path.
I shared with you the process of painting Tangerine Tango. Now, I want to share with you the learning process -- although it felt more like a mental battle -- that I went through this past week.
Yes, I was happy with this painting. Then I put it away. And read Bongart, then looked at Sorolla again, back to Bongart -- pulled this painting out and thought - "Egads!" Boring. (I actually sent this off to the OPA's critique service, I can just imaging what the "Master" will have to say about it - but that's for another post.)
I do think that this painting is nice. The color is good. The cloth is nicely painted. It reminds me of a yellow frog, his yellow bug eyes and nose, peeking out of a yellow pond...yes, perhaps the composition left something to be desired. My first decision was to take a risk. Do I just let this one be, probably never finding a home, or do I learn with it?
I started by looking at the values. Okay, the biggest criticism is that there isn't enough interest between the two tangerines. After looking at the Russian and Spanish Impressionist approach to paint handling, I knew I wasn't using enough paint, I was modeling too much, there wasn't enough visual interest with the color...
Oh, a big tip here: Another benefit of using really good canvases is that they stand up to paint scraping beautifully.
This is Tangerine Tango now. I will admit, there are elements in the first painting that I really liked and which I'm sorry I lost. But there is more in the second painting that I actually love. (there was an interim version which was scraped off, but which also gave me valuable information on color choice)
I love the warm/cool contrasts between the tangerines. I discovered the color I actually needed to use to cool down the left tangerine was blue/white, and that the shift into the shadows in the right tangerine needed to be more violet.
I love the highlights on the tangerines now. By scraping back the surface, I blocked in 3 values on the form, then after that had dried overnight I dragged color over the top.I think the surface of the forms are far more visually exciting this way.
I struggled with creating form without "airbrushing" the modeling. This is really
hard for me to do - I switched to some older bristle brushes, leaving
my beloved sables alone.
Here is a black/white image. I lightened the background, thinking color temperature, putting warm against the cooler light, cool against the warmer edge. I ended up totally abstracting the cloth and just working on the changing light. Do I like this version better than the first one?
Well, that's one of the side effects of pushing yourself to learn something new.
Yes, as a finished painting, I think the new version holds together well. The paint handing is energetic and provides variety across the entire surface, the color is better - more subtle in places, exciting in others. The forms have FORM and are not flat - one of my challenges. I learned something - a tiny bit about applying the paint in a different manner than my usual habit.
But I also love the color and the pattern in the cloth in the first version, even though I feel that the flatness of the tangerines left the painting with an *unfinished* feeling. And as soon as I began to repaint the tangerines...well, everything else had to change.
This is all part of learning, though, isn't it? The exciting, mentally exhausting part? You fall in love with that one tiny part and you hate like hell to give it up...but then you realize that maybe you have to in order to create something stronger. Taking risks...being willing to lose something beautiful in an effort to gain something else...all I know is that I have a long way to go and I'm going to love every minute of it, even if at times it is frustrating and feels counter-productive.
Just lift your glass in a toast to all the beautiful paintings you have loved and lost. And know that when your learning is self-directed - well, yes it's hard, but it's how you really grow as an artist.
Just make sure that's not turpentine in your glass! Just checking...I know how you are in your old age...
Click on the images to see larger versions.