The result: 5109
Here you see the final result of a reworked painting. Sometimes I’m not entirely happy with a painting for some reason or other. If I can pinpoint the problem I’ll fix it of course, but sometimes the unrest starts quite a while after I have finished the painting. Often, when I actually start reworking a painting, it just gets worse, so I don’t change my paintings often. I prefer to go forward and reworking a painting is just backward to me. Also I find that some paintings I’m not entirely happy about are just perfect for others. It just shows that if you like one of my paintings you’ll have to take it away from me to prevent me from changing it. But if you leave it with me I might change it some day. This was the case with 5009. This just had a certain gloom I was done with after about a year. At first I didn’t see the problem, but after a while I decided I needed to rework this one. I also decided the sun peeking through a cloud was just too tacky anyway. With the recent cold weather I had seen some interesting ice formations and made a little study(5106). Suddenly I realized this was what I wanted to change. I added the ice and shrubs, basically toned down the sky in 5009 and it changed into 5109.
The study: 5106
Covering the ears made no difference:
the noise seemed to resonate the body tissue from within.
A deep rumbling torture.
It was no use shouting.
Eyes, watering from metallic oil fumes and some undefined noxious stench, caused blurred visions of wheels and levers.
In the distance a few patches of blue laced the dark skies.
Far away windows to a tantalizingly clear stratosphere occurred.
Weary builders cheered. Another element vanquished?
The sun catches some rocks in a secluded canyon.
Finished this one. It took a while as I couldn’ t decide if I would ad more, but here it is. No more changes. I’ll back off now! Starting a new one…
The weather improves and the urge to be outdoors becomes very strong. So why not go out with the easel and box of paints and brushes? The colours and subjects are there right before you! No lack of inspiration to the “plein air” painter. Well maybe, but I’m not one of those. I see the colours and landscape, the sky and streaming sunlight, but to me they are not subjects for painting. They are elements for painting, but actually looking at a landscape and jotting them on a canvas ruins my view. I do want to go out with a camera and capture the moment, but in my paintings I need that other moment that is never actually there except in my mind or on my canvas. I can paint outside, but several elements form my landscape: a sky I saw yesterday, a building I encountered somewhere. Painting what I see makes me restless and impatient. To use the camera suits me at such moments. When I paint outside it is never the landscape before me. I can draw as I would draw schematics to remember the landscape or a composition, but later I might draw or paint my true impression of the landscape I saw. I will use the sky I saw yesterday, move the mountain to the centre, grow a rock or two and add an animal I know could be there somewhere. Meanwhile the outdoors is just another well lit studio.
Painting outdoors, but not the actual landcape.
While painting you could always technically improve your picture until at some time it might be “perfect”.
But sometimes a “flaw” makes a painting more interesting, so it is hard to decide to change something after a long time. Usually, I make small changes within the first few months. So when to finish?
I suppose this coincides with the stage where any improvement I try doesn’t really work. There’s this self portrait for instance where the rear of the room is slightly askew because I drew it like that in the sketch. Working on the painting I was on my way to correct this as I realised the “wrong” perspective worked better than the intended straight “horizon”. Perspective can be measured an any viewer who knows how to do that can find the flaws, so it is tempting to try and fix them all. It’s the same with wayward brushstrokes that I made while setting up the painting or smudges that are supposed to grow into an object. Sometimes leaving the brushstrokes or even blurring earlier details make a much stronger effect than completely working it.
I’ve heard someone say every artist should have somebody who takes a painting away before he works on it too long.
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The start of a 17/12cm
Starting a large canvas is a daunting thing. There are huge surfaces of emptiness to fill with tiny brushstrokes. Starting a small painting is the reverse: the small surface seems to small to give a good look into a whole landscape. The urge is to fill it with something small, like one bird or a far away view of a tree or building. It is hard to realise the small canvas is suitable for the same principles of composition as the large one.
50/40cm seems large enough
When the composition has been decided and while the painting progresses, something interesting happens: The canvas grows! The surface that at first seemed too small to even show a sparrow in some detail, turns into the window to a wide landscape. Obviously the small canvas has less room for small brushstrokes compared to the large one, but on a large canvas it is not common to use the same “resolution” anyway. We really shouldn’t be surprised by this growing canvas, because that’s really what happens when you print your holidaysnapshots on a fifteen centimeter wide paper. This size would be a miniature for a painting.
The average computer screen is smaller than most paintings and we are used to view large paintings as Da Vinci’s “last supper” on our laptops, while really it’s size is closer to the screen we see in a small cinema. This only shows how the human brain and cultural conditioning translates the elements of a picture of any size into a window into the artists world. It is even possible to make a large painting look small by using the appropriate elements. That is how we can accept a “budget print” landscape and a portrait of our beloved dictator spanning a stadium wall as a creditable rendition of reality.
I’d say the difference between a large painting or a small one only amounts to the difference between looking through a hole in the fence or over it.
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Imagine an artist working in his quiet studio, a slightly dark room with only one source of light on his painting. An easel, a small table with paints and one chair are the main objects in the room. Maybe there’s not even a chair because the painter works standing up. Maybe there’s his subject: a person or a slowly decomposing still life. But not much else, the painter works in silent solitude. This is what many people see when they think of an artist at work.
But in reality there will be few painters who still work like that. There will at least be modern lighting. A few good daylight lamps and more often a whole battery of fluorescent tubes turn the romantic studio into the modern workshop it really is. Some painters will work in silence, but others have a good array of audio equipment softly playing classical music or blaring loud rocktunes. I use daylight from my window, a few fluorescent tubes and at least one light bulb, so I can see how the painting works in common “livingroom” conditions. Up to this point it’s all at least forty year old technology. There might even be a telephone.
In my studio there’s also a computer and I bet there are quite a few computers in painter’s studios. I use it to store photographs. Digital Photography is great for subjects that don’t like to sit still or to show people all over the world what my paintings look like. Oh, but for that you’ll need internet and a website too. I also like to show people how the latest painting is going. There comes the weblog. When I forget to update that log I get emails asking if I’ve gone on holiday. So the modern painter can use email. When I finish a painting I upload a picture to my website and if it’s for sale it goes in my webstore.
I must say it is a strange contrast when I think about it. All those digitools don’t make a painting, but they are part of the world. Some would say a painter should move it out of the studio as painting is a purely manual occupation. The painter should climb his ivory tower, shut the door, grind up his pigments and oils and paint some esotherical images. Well if you’d like to do that I’m sure that will make for beautiful paintings, but my preference is to link up with the world. I find it is interesting how this digital technology has entered our world and the world of most people. I’m still convinced internet is a road to showing art to a larger public. I’m so happy to read comments from people far away or to see work from colleagues in places I had never heard of. I know people suffer from information overload, but I’m convinced that is just one of the teething troubles. People will learn how to filter the information they need or want. Off course we run the risk that information and products will be smoothed down to ugly mediocrity by syndication or advertising, so we need to make sure Internet will remain the free platform it is now, by supporting open source applications and creative communities.
I have no idea what the future of modern communications will bring us, but I am convinced I’ll be using them for a long time. In my studio, next to the ancient brushes and slowly drying oils.
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I don’t think so. By most accounts Rembrandt was a pretty effective artist in a time when there wasn’t much room for frivolities. A painting, mostly a portrait was commissioned and the artist was supposed to deliver the goods as ordered. It’s us modern artists who can fret and doodle as our whims dictate.
I can use the "Phase" to make a small painting.
Sometimes at the first stages of setting up a painting I will hit some kind of barrier. I’ll have to decide where certain parts of the composition need to go or where the light needs to come from. I can sit staring at the canvas for a long time and nothing happens. Well not on the canvas, but the thoughts race through my mind. It will take a while and sometimes it feels like a mild form of stress and I feel guilty for not being able to work effectively. Sometimes I decide it’s better to do something completely different like fixing a car or to go for a long walk. Maybe even writing for this weblog. I call this the “procrastination phase” . Only later I realise this phase is an important moment: I set the design while I “procrastinate”. It’s an essential part of my painting process. It’s not procrastination at all! It just looks much like it.
Procrastination is a type of behavior which is characterized by deferment of actions or tasks to a later time. Psychologists often cite procrastination as a mechanism for coping with the anxiety associated with starting or completing any task or decision.  Psychology researchers also have three criteria they use to categorize procrastination. For a behavior to be classified as procrastination, it must be counterproductive, needless, and delaying.
For an individual, procrastination may result in stress, a sense of guilt, the loss of personal productivity, the creation of crisis and the disapproval of others for not fulfilling one’s responsibilities or commitments. These combined feelings can promote further procrastination. While it is normal for people to procrastinate to some degree, it becomes a problem when it impedes normal functioning. Chronic procrastination may be a sign of an underlying psychological or physiological disorder.
A quote by Pablo Picasso : “There are painters who transform the sun to a yellow spot, but there are others who with the help of their art and their intelligence, transform a yellow spot into the sun.”
So there it is: One of the essential things a painter wants(needs) to achieve: transform a yellow spot into the sun, a blob of paint into a highlight, a set of lines into perspective, smears of blue and white into a dramatic sky. It sounds easy enough and sometimes it even is. But quite often the road to change that spot or line into the building block of your artwork is more of an anxious struggle.
I know, I do it all the time and I’m not often sure of the result until a spectator cries in horror or exclaims praise. The joy of finishing a painting is something I can’t explain. It’s there until I realize that now this project has finished there’s a new challenge coming. I need to start a new painting! I feel really lucky when the notion of a composition has come before I start painting. Sometimes this is followed by a frantic phase to record the composition and it’s basic building blocks on the canvas before I forget or kill it by a new train of thought. After that I can blissfully continue until I hit a snag that I haven’t anticipated. That is, for instance how to transform a specific spot of colour into the object I had envisioned in my compositional dreams.
There used to be a time I could just sit down and the picture would swim in place on my canvas and I would paint through the night to get rid of this torrent of creativity. To be honest these pictures didn’t appeal to many people and after a while they even bothered me, so the stream of feverish dreams stopped to be admitted to canvas. I had thought becoming a painter would be an inevitable destiny, but I just didn’t want to paint the way I had done and I couldn’t see another. So I didn’t paint much for quite some years and went away from art to pursue a business career. That went well and I enjoyed it a lot. Suddenly I found another urge to paint, I saw that I could spend my days painting and it was the right thing to do. And while I did this I found my mind had calmed in such a way that there were no torrents of feverish dreams to paint anymore but dreams I could translate in fantasies. It’s not all easy though. As I said before. And I think old Pablo is right. The hardest thing is to transform that spot into your dream.
Next time: the “procrastination phase”
This "Bibia" (1978 )is actually one of the old ones I do like.