Broken Eggs- What Goes Into Painting for a Show


One thing I'll say for having a show, is that a deadline increases the speed of my production.  I paint regularly, and usually those "incidental" successful paintings are the seeds for a show's idea.  But when a show comes, as my wife said with a knowing smile, "You paint like mad for 3-4 weeks".  It's true.  The reality of art-making is there are a lot of broken eggs along the way, and it always takes longer than I think it will to get a set of paintings I'm satisfied with. 

The amount of work required for this show was about 50/50, final versus not included pieces.  And that doesn't even count the 3-4 paintings I just directly threw away or didn't even finish.  The flops.  Then there are the ones where there were technical difficulties, and I had to unravel the process of how I was going to build the image logistically.  I know early on that they'll not be successful pieces by my standards, but I often push through to the end anyways- I learn things and acquaint myself with the subject better, and this often pays off later.  There's also a lot of futzing and fiddling and such with works that are almost done, where you're trying to get them just right and not screw them up in the process.  There are those pieces that you like but you think, "Well, there's just not enough wall space", and you have to set them aside.  And, yes, there are those jewels that you finish and think "Thank you!" and you're done.  ;P   But they're fewer than one might think.  Perhaps I had 3 or 4 that way, out of the 20-25 attempts I did for the show.

All of this leads, if I'm lucky and tenacious and open to change in like measure, into something like the final 10 pieces for this show.  I can see all the discarded pieces in the final work, of course, but most folks don't get that opportunity.  So, this is my "broken eggs" post.  !!  :P


Working With "Finished" Pieces-


On the left is what I completed on site.  After I came home, however, I nudged a few things around.  I warmed up the stone to the left of the waterfall, and also dropped some very soft shadows into the falls itself- both cast shadows from the rock face on the right, as well as little daubs of soft color to show the varied values within its normal form.  I dropped in some gentle shadows and scruff bitsy on the foreground mountain, and added some warm highlights on here are there, using a mixture of Titanium White and Yellow Ochre and Burnt Sienna.  You can see some of this to the left of the falls, as well as in tiny strips to the right.  Finally, I wanted to bring the foreground trees closer to the view, and so I dropped a few more shadows in. 

I don't have a before pic for this next piece, but I went through a similar process with it.  I admit, I was chasing the light on site (a dangerous endeavor!), because it got so lovely late in the day.  The highlights on the left are all preserved with drybrush work, but the highlights on the right are all dropped in after the fact, with the same warm, opaque mix. The goal, to me, is to mix this highlight very thickly.  Almost no water at all on my brush.  Just a tiny bit.  This lets me grab the paint, daub it off if need be, and dry brush in my highlights, to get a natural look that shows the texture of the paper.  The little dried up leaves are the same.  But then I ran out of time.  :( 


Finally, after I got home, the goal was to drop some shadows in on the trees, so I worked these over a bit too.  It's a dangerous proposition.  There's no going backwards- the darks only get darker, and things can get moody quickly, but I wanted some directionality in the light. Finally, as I fiddled about, I dropped little highlighted green blades of grass in the water to catch that same late afternoon light down at the bottom of the composition.  And... done.


Learning From Mistakes Gathered On-Site-


Here you can see two versions of a piece I did.  The left one, done on site, I actually liked, but almost the moment I finished I knew the mountains were too dark.  There's a cool, humid, blueness to the mountains in the valley, and not capturing it in this painting was a key lesson for me, because I thought the piece was otherwise successful.  I painted it again when I got home (the right-hand piece) and focused on getting the background mountains to recede, and the diagonal sunlit mountain and meadow to separate and come forward. 

Once done, however, I still felt the image was a little flat.  I was chatting with my wife (a great critic!) and I said, "The midground mountain isn't far enough away."  And she instantly replied, (very matter of factly, of course) "That isn't the mid-ground. It's the background.  The midground is your person."  DUH!  So true.  "But if you darkened the trees in the distance, it might connect them to your midground, and separate them from the background mountains."  DANG!  Right on the money.  So I gave it a shot, and I felt like the subtle difference was just what I was looking for.  Critics can be very useful!



Below are three different versions of Half Dome I did, none of which I was very happy with.  The mountain was cool and blue enough.  I'd learned that lesson.  But the birches just past the rivers were causing me fits.  I did these in April and it was almost Spring.  The buds were just starting to push.  Thus the trees were actually still bare, but there was a gauzy haze of gold-green that you could see in their branches.  So hard to capture!

There was actually a beach scene going on, with lots of kids and a families out, but I decided to focus on Half-Dome for one painting...


...and to separately make this little sketch of the families on the beach to scratch that itch.  I wasn't quite satisfied with either, but atleast I was sitting around in Yosemite, painting.  LOL!  A good place to make mistakes.


I did this the next day, and was not particularly satisfied with it either.  The pale, limey birches were still causing me fits, but I liked, conceptually, the two-tone approach to the water, and used it again later, for future pieces.



After the fact, it occurred to me I could combine these two paintings. My concern while on site was that, on a quarter sheet, the people would just be tiny dots.  But with a bigger piece of paper?  Perhaps?  Might be fun!



I share these two pieces, which are in the show, to demonstrate how some of the earlier failures came to bear fruit.  The mountains are pale and distant, the just-budding trees looking better, as I cut their edges and made them only gently warm, and the water has a two tone effect, to reflect the blue of the sky in one section and reveal the green, muddy river in another.  All lessons learned on site.  After painting the same thing repeatedly, you start to get a feel, at the very least, for how you want to approach things, and what little pitfalls you want to watch out for.  Each time I started a mountain face, I'd say to myself (literally), "It's warmer in the sun than you think.  It's paler and it's bluer in the shadows than you think."  The earlier missteps helped convince me.


Thanks for reading!  I hope to see some of you at the show.  :)