Monica Burrow
Original Art from BC and Beyond

Blog - A Palette of Ideas - on being an artist

Our guild has an upcoming show in February called "The Changing Light" where we are collaborating with the local photo club. The photographers have submitted photos and all of us artists have chosen to paint from them.

A fellow guild member and a good painter has been getting back into it by coming to my monthly Acrylic Drop In class and mentioned she was doing a painting from one of the same photos that I chose.

The other day she emailed to say she was frustrated as she had ruined her painting.

I replied by asking what was going on and requesting a photo of said disaster.

She sent along two stages worth of her work and an explanation of what she felt had gone wrong. She also said she was thinking about pulling it out of the show as she didn't have time to fix it before leaving for a trip.

On one hand, I could see that there were differences in the two images and the two images differed from the reference photo. On the other, I could see that in both stages there were some redeeming qualities, but nothing to me that looked like it needed to be hung in a dark room or, according to her drastic strategy: gessoed over!

I had to think about a reply. There were a couple of choices open to me: one was to immediately launch into a critique to analyze the ways in which the image could be pushed or pulled in value and composition etc. so as to strengthen it and get back the things she felt were lost. Two was to take another perspective.

(She had already told me she was running out of time and had to pack for the trip. Such a circumstance is NOT helpful to the consideration and analysis that one needs to give a piece to rework and reinvent so as to change the result into something that makes one proud.)

I chose instead to go in a different direction and said this:

"I can see how the before and after differ.

I think both have their merits. Yes there are more contrasts in the first one and the darks are stronger but the second one still has some great stuff.

I would put it in the show as it’s an interpretation. 

After all no matter what a finished painting looks like, no matter how we feel about our results, no one really knows how far something matched or missed the brilliant work we had in our mind when we first looked at the image and decided to paint it. Therefore no one knows if we nailed or missed except us.

It’s incredible to me that things I thought were terrible faux pas, are some of the things I have had compliments on when others see the painting!

So submit it, hang it in the show. If you happen to not be in Hawaii and hear someone say something great about it then simply say thank you and smile inside? Don’t explain the work’s shortcomings. And when you get home and have more time think critically about how you might pull it and push it to where you feel you’ve given it everything constructive.

It’s after that that you might gesso over, if and when you’ve learned all you can from it?

A lesson in objectivity that I constantly remind myself of: the farther away one stands, the more a piece is worth. 😊"

What I was trying to say was that when one starts out a piece it's perfect. In our mind. Somewhere between the mind and the brush hitting the canvas something changes. The colour of the paint we mix is not a match for what is in our heads. The value of the paint is darker or lighter than we intended to mix. Even the shapes we have carefully observed in our mind or in our sketch end up on the canvas as differently shaped or in a totally different place than we intended in the reality of the reference material. Many a time I have been busily working away and run out of room or my husband says, "you realize that's not even where that really is right?".

As we paint, the work often becomes less like we intended and more like what it intends. Brush gets ahead of brain and suddenly our hand has made marks we weren't even aware of.

It's something I'm always reminding myself of: Observe relationships. Observe shapes. Observe values. Slow down at times. Speed up during others. Leave stuff alone. Work on things that need adjusting. Watch and observe at every stage. Stop and leave periods of time just to let the work tell you what it needs next.

When you aren't rushed leave it and look. When you are, stop and wait.

Be patient. Stand back. Wait for honesty in what is and isn't working.

And now the reply I received from her about the course she is choosing:

Wow, thanks Monica! You just made me feel a whole lot better. 😄 I really, really appreciate you taking the time like this to give me such constructive feedback ... Go ahead if you want and use my example of 'what not to do' in your session next Thursday and I'll even send you two more pictures, phase one and phase two (the ones i sent you were three and four). 

Thanks again Monica and 'on with the show!' as they say. 😶