Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Weakest Link

We received another four or five inches of snow yesterday.  Coupled with the foot we got last week, I'd say Winter is fast approaching!  Everytime I'm out shoveling snow, I can't help but think of N.C. Wyeth's painting, From An Upper Snow Platform.  Now, that, my friend, is shoveling snow!

Now, I'm not against getting in a little physical activity now and then.  Lord knows, I've shoveled miles and miles of snow in my life, and I've split and stacked an untold number of cords of wood.  For the past few years I've even gone to the gym to work out.  Of course, no one would confuse my physique for a body builder, but for an old duff, I'm no slouch around the weight rack.  But for all the weight I can curl or leg press, thanks to a degenerative disk, I have the lower back strength of a six year-old girl.  No matter how strong I can make the surrounding muscles, that disk is my weak link.  So, for every minute I spend shoveling, I spend two minutes later on with heat on my back, so I can go stand at the easel. 

But that got me to thinking about weak links in our painting abilities.  In our never ending quest to grow as painters, (I refuse to say "get better" anymore.  A seven foot tree is no better than a sixty-five foot tree.  The sixty footer has just grown, that's all), we are always assessing our work.  We naturally play up our strengths when we paint, and tend to avoid that with which we have troubles.  I mean, if I really stink at painting flowers, (and I do) why would I want to incorporate them in my paintings and have everyone see I can't paint them?  So, in going over the links of my painting chain, what do I feel is my weakest link?  I'd have to say design.

Now, I'm not talking about composition.  I think I balance my subjects OK.  I get the left to off-set the right, the top to even-out with the bottom, and all that, so my paintings don't look like they want to tip over and slide down the wall.  But I mean the over all look of the picture.  Let me give you an example.  Say I do a painting of my red wing-back chair in a strong half light.  In the composition, the chair faces you directly with the light coming from the left to the right.  The chair takes up 80% of the scene, the rest is darkened background.  I'm happy with the result; the drawing is good, the colors realistic-- it looks just like the chair would in that raking light.  But what if I had backed the chair up so that it only filled 65% of the view, and instead of being dead-on, I had turned it to the right at a 45 degree angle.  The composition wouldn't be that much different-- a chair in half light-- but the design would be much more evocative, don't you think?  The problem, of course, is that it is always easier to ask, "what was I thinking?" after the fact, than it is to think a thing through to begin with.  Slowing myself down to work out the best design possible is always going to be a challenge, because when I'm inspired, I want to just jump right in.

So, let me ask you, do you know what your weakest link is?  Do you avoid it, or do you try to work on it to improve it?  I guess I have no choice but to tackle my problem with design.  But can I avoid painting flowers?

Another thing I can't avoid is shoveling more snow.  Another snow storm is coming in a couple of days.  Where's that heat pack?


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