When To Put the Brush Down...or
How To Ruin a Painting
This past Friday, in my Kaneville Watercolor class, I was in the middle of a demo painting, which is part of my instruction in almost every class session.
I wanted to keep this first wash abstract, using pigments that separate–to create texture without actually painting texture; to show reality without the painting looking like a photograph.
The second step was to establish the center of interest, and shape and form. Fortunately the first two steps worked out, which doesn’t always happen!
At that point, one of my students said “leave it alone, you’re done.” I hadn’t even started the planned Step 3. So I stopped, put my brush down, and we engaged in a discussion of “when is a painting completed?”
While this painting looked “finished” to some of my students, I knew it still needed more work. To strengthen the center of interest, I needed to make
the tree on the left a little larger. The area in the middle ground on the right looked like a vertical plane, not like “ground”, so I had to add some change of value to create a more horizontal plane.
Because it was a demo, and not a complete painting, I stopped with those simple changes. Ideally, I would have added more form and detail in the upper tree branches.
My students commented that the foreground looked like water–though that was not my intention! So, I would have gone back into that area to better connect the foreground with the plane in Step 2, making it look more like solid ground.
Every artist has their own idea of what a completed painting should look like. Some artists like to include a lot of detail, others, like myself, choose to leave something to the imagination. The discussion continues.
The photo for the next painting is from Bond Falls, Michigan. The photo reference is just that–the inspiration for a painting, not meant to be a copy of the photograph.
The drawing for the painting shows which elements I wanted to highlight, as well as elements that I added to create a stronger composition.
I most often start with a limited color palette, only adding other pigments for subtle adjustments to temperature and intensity. The primary pigments I used for this painting are Brown Madder, Burnt Umber, Raw Sienna and Ultramarine Blue.
The colors and values of the rocks and water in Step 1 are blocked-in, suggesting the background. Leaving portions of the water “white” necessitated painting up to an edge, which is always problematic, but in this painting it was necessary in defining the elements. I will paint the “shape” of the water later.
The middle ground was painted next. I wanted more contrast and intensity in all of the elements to create more depth.
Working into the foreground for Step 3, I increased the contrast and intensity.
So far, so good.
Step 4 is where I started to get into trouble. I wanted more contrast and intensity in the foreground rocks and water, but began to lose the form of each element. To achieve more form in the center of interest, I added color to the fallen tree trunks.
Step 5...and beyond. In an attempt to save the painting, I added more intense color to the water in the foreground. To get more detail in the center of interest, I “lifted” color from the fallen trees to give them more shape and form. To get better movement, I added more color and contrast to the rocks and water in the back ground. I did a lot of scratching in the water.
"I added detail. I took away detail. All of these adjustments resulted in the loss of the directness of the original application of paint. I created "mud".
If you are not sure of what to do in a painting, don’t do anything. Go back into your work only when you are sure that your next move will improve the painting.