I write about the creative process and its importance, but, I have to say, stepping back from a completed painting is such a joy. In my post Confronting a disappointing piece, I described how I was determined to get my painting mojo back during the summer by taking a break from a difficult work that wasn’t going very well to start a new painting. Last week I finished Onward, a 24″ x 32″ oil on canvas landscape, inspired by a photo taken by my friend P on a recent trip to Chiloe, Chile.
I was asked two questions about this painting:
Why did you pick that photo? First, the composition of the scene is beautiful. The scene is quite pleasing to the eye as your gaze moves from the grass at left, to the boat and jutting island on the right, up the mast, and then to the upper left. The dawn light in the photograph was also very beautiful, and I felt that it would be a challenge for me to paint the way the light reflected off the water. I was also very eager to paint mountains for the first time. I found painting the water quite easy, but it was a challenge to make the mountains appear further away. I struggled a little with that, until Michael, my instructor, suggested I use purples for the mountains. I squealed with delight because Michael HATES purple, and I was FINALLY going to be able to get to use it after three years of studying under him with no purple allowed. It was a great decision that worked.
In addition to the opportunity to continue to learn technique, I was drawn to the significance of the boat. It looked like it wanted to be on the water, as if yearning to launch, to move forward, to just “go”. I tried very hard to convey that emotion, the desire to get out on the water, to move forward with purpose, with my brushstrokes. The day I focused on painting the boat was one of my best painting days to date. I felt so confident and sure of myself as I worked that part of the painting. I painted the mast at the very end, which brings me to the second question I got asked last week.
How did you know it was finished? I think artists get asked this a lot. The answer for me on this painting was that I knew it wouldn’t be finished until I put the mast in, but I couldn’t do that until the painting was completed. I guess the best answer is “you just know.” Michael has taught me to step back from my paintings often while I’m working. As you step back and your eye wanders, you can see which areas need work and which don’t. I stepped back from the painting on Wednesday and couldn’t really see anything that I needed to change or enhance, so it was time to put in the mast. I think the mast makes the painting. It would have been incomplete without it, from a composition perspective and from an emotional perspective.
I will return to class tonight and don’t know what I will undertake there yet. The irony of the title Onward is not lost on me as I debate whether I will move forward with the difficult painting I had abandoned, or whether I will continue to let it sit unfinished a while longer and start another new one. I have a few hours to decide what “onward” means for me today. Stay tuned and thank you for reading!