I paint plein air often. It is a French term which translates as 'in the air' but the reality is not as glamorous. I carry all my gear for painting oils outside to a remote location and, in theory, create a masterpiece. But yesterday didn't go as planned. I ventured out to paint with a plein air group which meets once a month. The weather was cool but beautiful and I set my easel up in a lovely clearing at the edge of a pool of water. From the start I struggled, but finally at around lunch, I produced a painting which looked something like the scene I was painting. I had fun painting; it wasn't bad but this morning I wiped it down.
Early in my career I rarely wiped away any of my efforts, but in recent years I have become more and more critical of my work and willing to abandon paintings that are not working. I get a perverse pleasure in destroying a painting which I consider not good enough. My joy has to do with the knowledge that I am better than the failed attempt I just destroyed. I know that tomorrow I will paint something I like.
Setting a higher standard for my work has a number of effects. It has helped to improve my painting, I have a sense of satisfaction with the work I produce and I don't have stacks and stacks of bad paintings to store(not possible given the size of my studio). So what is the down side? There aren't any.
I am not suggesting that you destroy every painting you think needs some tweaking, I am talking about the ones which despite your best efforts are never quite right. It is better to move on to something new than waste hours trying to make something work that never will. The trick is in recognizing the difference.
But how does an artist decide if a painting is a keeper or one that should be destroyed? I think the key is to view your painting from a detached perspective. Compare your latest attempt to paintings you love. How do you feel when you look at them and then how do you feel about the painting you just did. If I start to list the things I need to change then I realize this is a candidate for the wipe-down. How many changes are on my list will decide if it is a keeper or doomed.
- The first and most important thing I look at is the composition. If I am happy with the composition there is a good chance the painting can be saved, if not it's adios; no exceptions.
- Next, I consider the values and colors. How strong are the values and do I like the way the colors are interacting. Again, if I need to redo too much of the painting to be satisfied, I figure wiping it down is easier than reworking the painting.
- Is the painting unique in some way? Is it painted in a location I have never been before or one I may never come back to again. Is there something unusual about that specific time? A unique storm cloud, a once in a lifetime event or is it just another painting of a nice tree.
The first time I ever wiped down one of my paintings was painful. I had spent hours trying, without success, to make it work. Every time after that I felt more and more empowered. I forced myself to understand the difference between what works and what doesn't and to act on that knowledge. It is a very important step to take. Being your own critic takes practise but it will accelerate the improvement of your work and who deserves that more than you?Comment on or Share this Article →
I hope you will take a look at all the winners. There is an overabundance of talented artists in this months group and it is a thrill to be included with so many outstanding paintings.
There are many helpful tools which I took away from the workshop, (my other posts are listed below) but I didn't yet talk about how surprised I was by Calvin's subtle use of color. Based on the paintings I had seen by Calvin, I had expected him to paint a certain way. Instead, what I saw was a complicated use of neutral shades. His use of color reflected the subtle shades of the overcast days in Laguna during the workshop, yet his paintings were never dull.
So here is what triggered me thinking about this again. I spoke with another artists who believes that all painting have to be predominantly made up of neutrals with only a very small amount of strong color. He even went farther by saying if an artists didn't paint that way the paintings where not any good. This statement got me thinking. I have concluded that neither is right or wrong but instead the use of color verses neutral is something that is flexible and should be considered with every painting. I realize that simply making a painting more colorful is not the answer but a balance of neutrals and color is required. The percentages can shift as I dictate, not because of any set rule. It is a valuable option which I have added to my toolbox.
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I hope you enjoyed this small summary of the demo. I had a great time. Thank you to Junn Roca and VAG for a wonderful event.
Today, I was able to see that great view and was included with the group who painted at one of these properties. The beauty of the gardens, the spectacular view and the details of the architecture where overwhelming. With so many choices it wasn't easy to just pick one spot. I finally decided to paint the wrought iron balcony which overlooked the Arroyo. The shadows which streaked across the wall of the home mirrored the flowers cascading toward the arches of the patio below. The shadow play was very fun to paint.
Brenda Swenson giving Critique
Painting at this lovely estate was a real treat. Many artists who haven't been out painting for months came out to take advantage of the day. You can see we had quite a crowd. I wish I could go back again and again but I will have to wait until next year.Comment on or Share this Article →
You have probably already seen the virtual museum website that Google has recently launched but if you haven't Google Art Project is a must see. The site allows you to walk through some of the worlds best museums. Many, like The State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, are museums I will never see so this is an amazing recourse. You can stop at individual paintings and zoom in on the works. Amazing. Give it a try. It is easy to spend an hour exploring. Here is the link: http://www.googleartproject.com/
My favorite museum is the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, which is also included on the site. It is the most comprehensive collection of antiquities, American art, Greek, Medieval, African; you name it the Met has it. When I lived in NY I would go there often. It is just too big and overwhelming to see all at once so the virtual tour is a great way to see the museum. Go to the floor plan and you can pick which area you want to view. Have fun.
She is one of the other artists who usually paints with the group so it was a treat to have her model wearing this traditional Mexican costume. I am hoping that I will be able to see her dance with her group and get some action shots. Wouldn't it be fun to paint her with all those colors flying?