Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Starting and finishing:

Nowadays, the beginning stage is definitely one of my favorite parts of the painting process. I used to hate starting something new. Well, not hate, but I did feel a certain sense of intimidation staring at a big white, blank canvas. This was probably due to the fact that some years ago when I painted in my figurative/abstract style, I was creating work without reference to much of anything, other than my own thoughts and ideas. I also used to stretch my own canvases, which were pretty darn large!! It took me so much energy and effort to build the stretchers, stretch the canvas, and then apply at least two layers of gesso, that by the time I was ready to paint, well, I'd better not mess up! Intimidating.


Now, with my landscapes, I always start with a beautiful, archival ready made canvas, and an idea or inspiration that is based on the natural world (photo or actual). With so much around me to observe, my ideas seem endless. The beginning stages are fun because, while I have a fairly well established starting point, I am constantly designing, tweaking, abstracting, and then bringing my design back into focus. I can imagine what it will look like, but not exactly, so there is a bit of surprise and excitement as I make the painting unfold.

I paint with large brushes for as long as possible and really get things going. As the painting advances, I continue to flesh out the values and colors, leaving the finer details until the very end. The details are necessary of course, but the challenge is to make them just enough so that they enhance the piece (a line here, a stroke of highlight there) but not enough so that it looks over-worked.

Often with smaller paintings, I can paint wet into wet, "alla prima" (all at once,) so finishing is really just the final note in a natural progression of observations and decisions. But when I have a large canvas, I can sometimes paint on it over a series of days. I may take it off of the easel for a while and just stare at it. Start another painting and then stare at the nearly-completed canvas again, throughout the day. What needs to be addressed? When is it finished? Often I can answer these questions pretty quickly, but not always.

So, any way, this week I have been so into starting paintings and I haven't done much finishing. I keep starting and starting. (I guess whatever keeps you motivated and working.) I think I have 4 or so going right now. Well, the time has come to start finishing some of the darned things. That's what I'll be doing today. Hopefully at the day's end I can emerge with the accomplishment of completion.

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