Thursday, June 21, 2012
Why, I Never!
I hit a milestone recently. It wasn't my fault, I'm old and my eyes are bad, and it shouldn't have been there to begin with!
I also turned fifty this year.
I've got nothing against fifty, mind you. I'm hanging in there. Heck, my Doctor told me I'm as healthy as an eighteen year-old-- who has the body of a fifty year-old. But never mind. I kind of like what comes with age. Perspective, for one.
Artists like to say that "There are no rules", which they know is a load of horse-pucky. Some painters loudly proclaim to never use photos. Others limit their plein air or alla prima painting time to one sitting, because going back twice is "cheating". I admit I bought into some of that stuff way back when.
When I was younger and just starting out as a painter, I had a series of rules I would follow. One of them was the "My picture came to me by Divine Intervention; I never change it!" So I would come up with an idea, then paint it as I first thought of it. Never mind such little things as design. Or composition. In other words, I didn't work to come up with the best possible angle for my picture. It's kinda like a writer who thinks his first draft is good enough. Is it ever?
Nowadays, I fret endlessly over how best to convey my idea. I'll research, plan, sketch, erase, sketch again, just to improve upon the original "Divine" idea. Yeah, even landscapes get that treatment. But even with all of that pre-planning, I still look back at many a painting and say, "Why didn't I think to do that?!"
Which leads me to another discarded rule: "I never touch a painting after I signed it!" If it comes out crappy-- well that's too bad. Or maybe I just couldn't figure out how to paint that passage. Oh well, better luck next time. It's all a learning game anyway, isn't it?
In all honesty, I gave up on this one not all that long ago. If, after I think a painting is done and signed, I see where I can improve it, I will. I very rarely varnish my paintings, so I can paint over them just like new. If I discover a better color, or a way to fix a poor passage, I'm all over it. What have I got to lose? I've said it before, and I'll say it again: If I see my fly is down after I'm "done" dressing in the morning, I still zip it up!
Over the course of time, I have discarded my rules one by one. Except for one. I have a sign in my studio that reads:
Parcos Nullus Intentio
The sign isn't there because it's something I habitually do, but rather to remind me to do it. Look, all I want to do is make the best painting I can possibly make-- whatever it takes. It's the reason I do all those sketches, or correct flaws in old paintings. It's why I'll drag my easel out to a painting site over and over, or take thousands of photographs to get a detail right. It's why I worked on a lobster boat. It's why I endlessly study great artists. Roughly translated from Latin, it means
Spare No Effort
And that's the one rule I never want to break.