I have a pile of drawings I plan to complete eventually.
Let me tell you a little story first. I happen to live in a log cabin for now. I take great delight in placing surprises throughout the cabin. Its a bed and breakfast. Its how I earn my living, aside from my art. When someone stays here, I want them to see something new every time, to come back again, to walk through the door and feel like they’re home, to sit and talk. It’s a good place to relax and just “be”.
But now let me go back to the original conversation.
Drawing is the skeleton of a painting. I can draw pretty well, but, since I paint portraits, it’s important to me that the drawing and, thus the painting, capture the likeness and the personality of the subject. I think that drawing a likeness is a little hard. That’s not why I give up on projects though. At this point in the project, I can erase and redraw. Lately I’m coming up with some big projects – record sizes for me. I’m also doing more oil paintings than ever before. So when I finally get the thing drawn out, I’ve already invested quite a bit of time in the project.
I’ve finished the drawing and I start with the underpainting. This helps me establish the values and to map out where I want the focal point to be. I consider the path I’d like the viewer’s eyes to take. I want to keep the viewer in the painting and maybe create a visual path back to the focal point. I want the viewer to stay there, in front of my painting rather than moving on to the next item in the gallery. Just like with my log cabin, I want visitors to enjoy their visit, see something new, surprises, every time, and I want them to come back. The small section of a painting (on the right) is not my own, though I’d love to paint like that. It’s a section of a painting by an artist named Peale. It was painted in the 19th century and the things I love about it are the surprises. Within his face are many colors (even more than my cell phone photo reveals, actually). He has a couple of age spots on his forehead. There are nice lines that look like hair. Within his eyebrow, there are variations. He has ruddy cheeks. The area above his eyes have reds and violets. The iris of his eye even has some variation in color. The painting is exquisite. It’s what I’m aiming for.
For my own painting (on the left), doing an underpainting is pretty easy for me and I enjoy it. It helps get me past the white canvas.
Are you with me so far? I’ve got it drawn out and an underpainting completed. I started with the darks first, since it’s an oil painting.
Well, it’s time to start putting on the color. There have been two times when I’ve left a painting at the underpainting stage and called it finished. Normally, however, it seems like color tells the story best. I start adding color. I’m not very secure about this part – don’t know why. It’s not really the mixing of the colors. It’s the taking away of the brush and leaving the paint on the canvas, the way one brush stroke looks against another. I think I often overwork the paint. With this project, I started with the shadows of the boy on the far left. My next step was to do some of the lighter areas at the front of his face. My plan is to blend the darker, shadowed areas with the lighter areas, giving it that middle area. When I start doing that, suddenly I realize that I’ve forgotten where the shadows end, where the edges of the eyebrow or eye are. I’ve blundered and somehow the nose is a different angle. The mouth is smaller than it should be. What’s happened? Where’s my CTRL Z? At this stage of a painting, I feel as though I’m on the verge of losing it (the painting – not myself), of ruining it. I’m on the edge of forgetting that end-image that was in my head when I started and it as though I’ll fail.
This painting means too much to me. I can’t give up on it. So this time I keep on going; press on. The vision of what it should look like when it’s finished begins to fade away, getting swallowed up. My eye is focused on the end of the brush and my whole world feels like it’s there at the point where the brush touches the canvas. Its almost like the start of a faint. You get tunnel vision and it narrows, narrows, narrows, swallowing everything up. I keep going. Don’t give up. Then something happens and I’ve pushed through to the other side. That something was perseverence. I kept going, dabbing, smoothing. Then I look at the canvas from a step away and see that all is not lost afterall. It’s not finished, but it’s not lost either. It’s crossed some threshold and I see it’ll be all right. I move on and it’s okay. My vision is no longer on the end of the brush as it touches the canvas. I find my vision moving back and forth from brush tip to big picture and I realize I’m breathing again.The close-up of the two children is a step along that path. I went through all of those phases, but I didn’t give up. I pressed forward. The best things in life are worth doing well, worth sticking with and may involve some messiness on the way.
How about you? Tell me what you think as you move through the phases of your paintings.