Back and forth. Back and forth. And Repeat.
One nuanced difference between my painting and design process, is that over the many years, I’d say that my painting process is a lot more steady and consistent than my design processes. In design, software, my sources of inspiration, trends and ways to disrupt trends change so fast – they are metaphorical rapids of thoughts. While in the more classic oil painting medium, it’s more like a slow, steady and deep river – one that still takes you to new places, just at a slower and steadier rate. So I feel more confident in writing about my painting process, which has changed only at a super slow pace over the many years.
With that said, right here, I wanted to go into the ever important, frustrating, and omnipresent technique of “back and forth” painting.
“Back and forth” painting is the mandatory process of painting one way one day, and then doing the complete opposite the next day. It’s zigging and zagging all the way.
For instance – one day in painting, you might have to paint very deconstructed: messy, with very unblended brushstrokes. You then let that layer dry.
Then you wake up the next morning, and then have to blend: fix all those messy and deconstructed strokes.
But then “oops”, the next day, you realize you blended too much, and then you have to deconstruct those strokes again. And then you deconstruct too much and then the next step is to blend yet again!
Exhausting! Yes it is!
However, the secret is that all those previous rounds of deconstructing or blending all fit together like a layered puzzle, eventually coming together to create a whole painting.
Here are two more examples of back and forth painting:
1. One day, you have to paint a whole layer of neutral colors. Then the following day, you have to paint a whole layer of bright colors. Then, yet the next day, you have to neutralize some of those brights.
2. Then simultaneously, you have to use cool colors to cool your pallet. And then go back the next day, and warm it all up again.
Yes, it seems like an endless cycle; but slowly, and all at totally different rates and times for different subjects and canvas sizes, it all comes together. Each “cycle” of back and forth become smaller and tighter; they spiral in onto each other to eventually zero in on a “complete” painting.
All that said, do not fear the multiple layers. Do not fear painting something too warm or cool, or neutral or bright, or deconstructed or solid. Each layer informs the next and the ‘mistakes’ of the previous rounds only add to a richer and deeper work at the end.
The painting details, images I’ve included in this post is just one example of a painting in process where I got to a really soft layer, that shows a whole lot of neat texture from the previous ‘back and forth’ rounds.
Two last notes:
1. I liberally used the saying “the next day” in terms of timing for painting a new layer. Generally, because of how slow oils dry, you are very limited in how much you can paint in a 24 hour period. Generally, I have to firmly choose a stopping point daily that respects what warm or cool colors – or deconstructed or blended strokes – must dry before I can layer their opposing style ontop of them. If you paint without stopping all those ‘back and forth’ layers can become a gobbly-gook mess if you don’t have the patience to allow for some drying time. Now, Some great artists do make the gobbly-gook mess a successful work of art. But that’s generally not my style. I go back and forth and allow my layers to dry. Also, timing can vary anywhere between 5 to even 72 hours depending on size, thickness, and level of dryness you require. But for me, 24 hours is my average for how thick I paint.
2. I’m not a big believer in a complete painting. Like Picasso is quoted saying:
To finish a work? To finish a picture? What nonsense! To finish it means to be through with it, to kill it, to rid it of its soul, to give it its final blow the coup de grace for the painter as well as for the picture.