“I couldn’t have painted any other way than I did. It simply didn’t interest me.” – Stuart Davis
It’s the simplest lesson I’ve learned in life. Whenever I’m doubting something or unsure, I’ve found the best solutions usually come from just getting up and just doing whatever is – even if that means dropping something or starting over. You have to make some tough choices, but as a rule of thumb, doing something is vastly preferable to stalling. If an image is constantly bouncing around in my head, I just have to eventually paint it. It won’t get out of my head otherwise. And getting it out there, doing something about it feels great. I’m not an unprepared person, but I enjoy doing so much more than planning. If I worry or anticipate something too much, I can really put myself into a stressful creative block.
An example – I was doing this Shenandoah sunset series (above). Little did I know that the subject matter was way harder than I thought. It was just a figure in a sunset, how hard could that be? However, the grasses, those shades of orange and greens and the overblown sun proved really tricky. If you don’t paint with thick enough layers, it’s too soft and wimpy, and if you paint too heavy, it’s too harsh and saturated – this type of sunset needed to be both soft but not subtle. Contrast isn’t usually soft, but this one quite literally had a soft contrast to it. With all that said, and for what felt like the first time in a while, I “failed”. My first attempt at this painting was way too heavy and over saturated and I just couldn’t fix it. Since you can endless layer and paint over layers in oil painting, it’s not often that you reach a dead end. But I definitely reached it with that version of the painting. I was about to chalk it up to my hopefully-not-too-large bank of mediocre and forgettable paintings. It happens, at least I had learned.
However, this time, that painting and the image I was painting from was rattling around in my head so much, and I just wanted to start over. Instead of worrying that I might I mess it up and waste a second attempt (yes I might), or whether it was worth it (it was)… I just stood up, made a new canvas and tried again. I just did it. And it was worth it. My second attempt accomplished the small feet of getting out what was in my head in the first place. It’s not a perfect painting either, but it’s out there and it was what I wanted to do. That first painting was not what I wanted to do. It was a haunting mistake. What I wanted to do, was to recreate that subject matter in a way that fit the lovely sunset I saw in my head and represented in my photo. In the non-words of Hopper – I just wanted to paint a sun. Or in the non-words of Picasso – I just wanted to turn a whitish-yellow dot into the sun.
And then best thing about it is, that doing doesn’t ever have to be perfect, but it does have to be true. It’s only a mistake if it’s not 100% you or your vision. Also, people tend to be good at detecting the things in your life that aren’t all genuine or real, especially artists.
Before then after:
On a final, more simple note, aside from re-doing paintings, I do also enjoy creating less dramatic paintings with the same mindset that if I want to paint something I find, I just do. For instance, my Angels was just a quick cel-phone snap I took while wandering around (bored) in Las Vegas. But the image grew on me and grew on my mind. So a month after my trip, I turned to that image, and didn’t just paint it once, but twice (once on board and once on canvas), because I couldn’t decide which material I wanted to paint it on. I just did both.