Thursday, July 24, 2014
I remember well years ago when I was working on a portrait and struggling mightily. I couldn't for the life of me see what was wrong with the face, but yet it still didn't look quite right. Anyone who has ever tried to draw a recognizable human face will know what I'm talking about. So I was huffing, and puffing and frustrated when a person (who will remain nameless) said to me, "Well, you know-- you're no Rockefeller." I blinked my eyes a few times then said, "Rockwell. I'm no Rockwell."
I then tweaked a portion of the jaw-line 1/32nd of an inch, and the whole face snapped right into place.
I mention this portrait story because the project I'm currently working on involves a young girls face. I don't have to make it look just like her, (because, after all, nobody knows her) but I do have to make her look pleasant. The painting also involves a little landscape and still life. I was zipping along feeling all kinds of pleased with myself, "Ooh-- that lamp is awesome!" and "Wow, I nailed that table edge!" You know, stuff like that-- when I came to do her face. Then it dawned on me:
The whole point of the painting rests on the young girls expression. No one will give a royal rat's ass how well I painted wood grain, or glass or any other part of the picture if I screw that face up. I can't stiffen up on it, I can't over-work it, I have to use just the exact right colors. In short-- it has to be perfect.
Which leads me to the question of whether it's a good or bad thing to put too much pressure on ourselves when we paint. After all, shouldn't one paint for the joy of it? Doesn't pressuring oneself to create a masterpiece suck all the joy out of the process? Do results matter when no matter what you put out there it can still be called "Art"?
Hhmmm... let me think about it...
Would anyone advise a Major League baseball player to step up to the plate and just swing the bat without caring if he hit the ball or not? "Just swing for the joy of it!" Wouldn't be a Big-Leaguer for very long if he did.
Would anyone give advice to a carpenter to just cut some boards and hammer some nails-- maybe it'll look like a house? "It's the thrill of the wood that matters!"
Why is it OK to tell a painter to just slap paint without caring how it will look?
Is our poor Artists psyche's really that fragile? Is painting so stressful that we'll collapse in a fetal position, sucking our thumb in the corner if we try too hard? Look-- if you don't care about the result, then find something else to do that you will care about.
When I'm working on a painting I am trying my damndest to make it the very best I can possibly make it. I don't want a painting of mine to end up in a garage sale when it longer matches the couch. I know it may sound far-fetched if not a bit grandiose; Believe it or not, I'm trying to make an heirloom that will be cherished for generations.
In summation: I think it's important to care.
Speaking of caring; I've become one of those painters. You know what I mean-- I now take up to a month to complete a painting. I used to pride myself on the speed with which I could knock out a picture. It was a skill acquired from only having a few spare moments at a time to paint in between working a couple of jobs and raising two kids. Then when I started painting full time, I slowed down to completing a painting in about three days. But over time the complexity of my subjects, along with the technique I use to paint them has meant it takes longer to do them. I don't mind. It usually means a better finished product in the end, after all. What chaps my butt is taking all that time and the painting turns out to be a dud.
I've been doing paintings based on a theme of life in 19th Century I call Americana. Once I come up with an idea, I spend a lot of time researching to get the details right. I recently finished the painting Clearing A New Field which shows a team of oxen pulling a large rock. I live in farming country so I figured finding oxen to look at wouldn't be too tough. I was wrong. After asking around some, I got a lead for an ox and horse farm about forty minutes away from me. I was told a nice woman runs the place and was sure to accommodate me.
They were wrong.
I sent her an email explaining what I was looking for and headed there. I could tell when I met said woman that this wasn't going to go well. "What do you want to use my oxen for? Why don't you use cows-- they look like cows. I get people bugging me all the time to take pictures of my oxen. Are you going to take photo's? What do you do with them? Do you sell them? What kind of painting? What are you going to do with it?" And on, and on... She told me she only works them twice a week and would let me know when she planned to have them out again. I thanked her and left. All that was in early June, and I've yet to hear back from her.
So I used cows instead...
I like it better when I have a little more control over my set up and props. And if I'm going to do an old fashioned scene, having authentic clothes and props goes a long way. I had an idea for a painting that I'd been carrying around in my head for awhile, but I couldn't really do anything with it until I bought an old dress in an antique shop. Setting up a scene and drawing it from life is super fun.
It also beats having to talk to grumpy oxen owners. I was lucky that the dress didn't cost very much, because after all--
I'm no Rockefeller.