Notes on paucity

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Dear Artist,

I was putting the title The Red Canoe on the back of a painting when my friend Joe Blodgett walked in and said, “Nice painting, too bad about the red canoe.”

After a couple of single malts I was looking at the painting through Joe’s eyes. I was pleasant enough when I urged him to go down to the smokehouse to get our smoked salmon, and while he was gone I took off the final varnish and hauled that canoe out of my picture.

Yesterday, Katharina Keoughan of Friendship, Maine wrote, “In your last letter you mentioned ‘the principle of paucity.’ What is paucity, and why is it good to have in one’s work?”

Thanks, Katharina. Paucity means “the presence of something in small or insufficient quantities or amounts; scarcity.” In our game, it’s one of the main principles. Apart from “His criticism shows a paucity of tact,” or “His resistance to Scotch shows a great deal of paucity,” most significant is the presence of paucity in our work.

“The secret of being a bore is to tell everything,” said Voltaire, and he wasn’t talking about his girlfriend, Emilie du Chatelet. A painting with paucity is one that tells you just enough to arouse your interest — perhaps leading to another excellent word — mystery. Unless the viewer is an engineer, give him too much info and he will yawn and go over to the wine and cheese. In some paintings it’s best to have viewers launch their own canoes.

Overwork, overstate and over-busy are three of the top boo-boos. We come by them honestly — from our innate human desire to give more. Sometimes it takes another person’s eyes to see there’s too much going on. Sometimes it’s painful to remove stuff. But art very often needs lines that disappear, it needs subjects that are suggested rather than told, it needs incomplete areas so viewers can complete for themselves. Our work does not have to be a seamless stream of cleverness.

The same is true in writing. Passages are almost always better when cut back. Writing is rewriting.

We eventually shipped my non-canoe painting. Through the magic of acrylic covering power, nobody knows what’s under there. Somewhere out in the Diaspora there’s a canoeless scene called The Red Canoe.

Best regards,

Robert

PS: “An erasure is a creative mark.” (Melanie Circle) “Remove the noise.” (Leo Babauta) “Understate and overprove.” (Frank Bettger) “Only connect.” (E.M. Forster)

Esoterica: One of Canada’s top cartoonists, Anthony Jenkins, contributes regular caricatures to our national newspaper, The Globe and Mail. In that business, getting a likeness by using only a few brief lines separates the Michelangelos from the Muggses. Jenkins’s frequent touch is to leave out an eye. Yep, he leaves a space where an eye might be. Enough already. Too many strokes and you lose it.

Anthony Jenkins

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Bin Laden
original drawing

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Roth
original drawing

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Mick
original drawing

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Dylan
original drawing

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Nicholson
original drawing

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Palin
original drawing

Getting command of the work
by Marsha Hamby Savage, Smyrna, GA, USA

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“de Chelly Bluff”
oil painting 16 x 20 inches
by Marsha Hamby Savage

Paucity, what a great word for me to start using! I have been using the word mystery when discussing what I need to do. Leave a little to the imagination of the viewer. Let them participate in the painting when they are looking. I usually put way too much information in my paintings. For the last few years I have been battling this “decorating” of my trees, or “counting all the rocks in a creek” as a wonderful teacher said to me. Simplification is difficult for me, but I am winning the fight little by little. I have learned to enjoy brushing out a section in my pastels, or wiping or scraping off something in my oils. It doesn’t seem to matter how many times I do it, either! It really has become fun for me. It allows me to feel like I am in command of my work.



There is 1 comment for Getting command of the work by Marsha Hamby Savage

From: Michael Jorden — Sep 06, 2011

Marsha, I just returned from Canyon de Chelly and have done two paintings so far from the experience. I love your interpretation of the colors of the canyon. The mystery is there too.

Will it live on?
by Jan Cole, Northern Territory, Australia

I am so glad someone else queried “Paucity” as I immediately went to Google to check on the exact meaning. I thought about it a lot and I think it may go even further with regard to our appreciation of painting. Some paintings are very beautiful and quite accurate in their depiction of a scene, image, person etc. But will the painting live on? I often think, when I’m looking at someone else’s painting which I have become enamoured by, will I still like living with it (down the track), as we Northern Territory people say. Some paintings just live on… some others, while quite lovely, don’t.

Beating the ‘inner clutter demon’
by Theo Nelson, Alberta, Canada

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“HooDoos on the Red Deer”
original painting by Theo Nelson

The concept of paucity is a subconscious one with me. I love how simple lines can describe an image. While I don’t consider myself a painter, I certainly am a colourist. However, as my work gets larger, my inner clutter demon does like to get into the act. I guess I’m a whimsical fantasist.

Paucity or abundance?
by Kristine Fretheim, Maple Grove, MN, USA

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“Earth Dakini Redux”
watercolour 30 x 22 inches
by Kristine Fretheim

So many artists talk about the importance of “simplifying” their work — I wonder if it’s a symptom of laziness or fear of drawing and painting? Did Rembrandt, DaVinci or Vermeer give too much information in their work? Or, my favorite, Caravaggio? Too many details? Unfortunately, mystery is in the eye of the beholder. It’s not something artists can control. Many people don’t have a clue about themselves and their world, so how can they have the capacity to appreciate art? We can’t expect every viewer to bring curiosity and a rich imagination to each piece of art, but that certainly does not mean we should “dumb down” our work. The masses may well simply want a pretty painting to hang over the couch — if that is your target audience then simplify, simplify, simplify! Turn on your inner art robot and churn out those simple, pretty paintings. (And make sure you use some red!) Those colorful, simple beauties may grab my eye for an instant, but they don’t hold my attention for long. I guess I’m just some goofy alien craving “more” to engage the imagination and intellect each time I come back to an artwork. Paucity is a wonderful word, but that, too, is in the eye of the beholder. One person’s paucity is another’s abundance. You wouldn’t tell someone to “simplify” their self. I think meaningful art instruction leads students to explore their inner worlds and express what they find. Paucity, mystery, abundance… why simplify the richness of our existence? If you feel overwhelmed — paint it!!!



There are 2 comments for Paucity or abundance? by Kristine Fretheim

From: Janet Summers Greece — Sep 06, 2011

Wonderful painting, without the “details” it wouldn’t be the same!

From: Jackie Knott — Sep 06, 2011

I think your “paucity” in this painting is in the overall strength of its composition. Really, shapes, lights, darks, textures … it all comes together very nicely but it is still rich in detail.

Excellent thoughts.

More is more
by Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki, Port Moody, BC, Canada

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“West Coast Spring”
acrylic painting 30 x 40 inches
by Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki

Interestingly, these days I am on a quest of making the “overworked and over-busy” work to my benefit. I guess I enjoy difficult if not impossible challenges. Although I admire many simple and “less is more” paintings, in my present work I feel more excitement in planning very complex scenes with a variety of textures. It just makes me happy to do that kind of stuff right now. I am quite satisfied how some of those paintings work out and collectors like them too. My inspiration for this came a couple of years ago when I got floored by a painting by Franklin Carmichael that gave me incredible joy. I look at it very often and feel the same joy all over again, every single time. So I gave myself a task to put that kind of joy into my works. You see that paucity doesn’t work for me right now, but I think that mystery can be created in other ways as well. I think that Carmichael tells me a lot and at the same time he just gave me hints of what else there is to experience in a wild dance of shapes, values, patterns and colors. I find that very exciting. Currently my visual taste tolerates and even enjoys “more is more.”



There are 2 comments for More is more by Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki

From: Ron — Sep 07, 2011

I am glad you mentioned Franklin Carmichael.I had never seen any of his work.After looking him up on the net.I am now trying to find a book about him.Thanks..

From: Anonymous — Sep 07, 2011

Beautiful!!

Every inch in loving detail
by Janet Summers-Tembeli, Samos, Greece

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“Indian Ocean Treasures”
acrylic painting
by Janet Summers-Tembeli

Other artists have often commented that I shouldn’t paint everything in the painting with detail and should leave only the main subject of the painting as the focal point. This is fine for a landscape where things get fuzzy in the distance but more often it just doesn’t work for me. I tend to paint what I love and my love of my subject commands me to paint every inch in loving detail. Throughout art history we are presented with paintings that are rich with detail and leave nothing unembellished. What would a Van Eych’s Arnolfini Portrait be without the lush detail in the mirror? Or Dali’s Swans reflecting Elephants? There are those of us who see every last minute thing in a work as equally important, so what to leave in or leave out to give a painting the presence of paucity really comes down to the artist’s personal vision and some of us just see more and naturally want to define our vision.



There is 1 comment for Every inch in loving detail by Janet Summers-Tembeli

From: Susan Kellogg, Austin, TX — Sep 08, 2011

For a very detailed painting, yours is very quietly elegant.

Painting the cat out
by Dyan Law, Pipersville, PA, USA

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“Morning Doves at the Spring House”
oil painting 32 x 36 inches
by Dyan Law

One of my favorite paintings depicts a dilapidated old spring house which has since been torn down.  The slightly-ajar red door of this little house filled with age and character held alluring mystery. A worn ladder led up to the door upon which I had painted an outstretched cat, reaching up with its paws to taunt a couple of Mourning doves in flight. Several of my devoted cat-adoring clients purchased giclees of this painting, however the large original was rejected from 3 successive exhibitions. It finally became apparent to me that the cat was acting out a drama that was already inherent in the simple beauty of the spring house. I had allowed my own sorrow to enter the work… my cat, Jazzy, age 21, had died just before starting this painting! The “principle of paucity” became clear! I painted-out the cat deliberately and with confidence, leaving only the doves in soft-fluttering motion at the door. The “deed was done”! The painting (and I) were finally released from the emotional ties that were simply “stealing the show”! Jazzy remained where she best belonged… fresh in my memory.



There are 2 comments for Painting the cat out by Dyan Law

From: Marsha Hamby Savage — Sep 06, 2011

What a wonderful comment and painting. I love the story about this painting and I totally agree that paucity can be just one little thing that should have been left out. You made a painting you loved and included more than was really needed for this particular painting and later decided to edit. I believe that is all that is being said about paucity and mystery. I too, love paintings with detail that the painter felt necessary to the finished work.

From: Mitzi Ash — Sep 07, 2011

The thought, “Mourning Doves at the Spring House” popped into my head.

Paucity in writing
by Raymond Brulotte, Quebec City, QC, Canada

You are right to say that what is true for painting is also true for writing. The process of writing lies in 3 steps: (1) planning; (2) writing; (3) re-writing. The third phase is probably the most demanding, technically and subjectively, and lasts as long as the preceding. It essentially aims to reduce the length of the text, to allow a priority to the reader instead of the writer. It is achieved through the simplification of sentences, by the suppression of unclear words and useless phrases, and by the acute selection of relevant facts and ideas, and no more.

The beauty of any text lies greatly in its brevity and its precision. In that matter, the less is the best. Any strategy to diminish the number of pages and the length of paragraphs is a winning process.

I have been a university professor and for a long time my nickname, among my assistants, was Mr. Scissor. They were all sad and shocked when I discarded long pieces of their works, but at the end of the day some of them were able to appreciate all that had escaped the trash box. I am convinced that too many words often serve to cover a scarcity of ideas.

The ubiquitous red canoe
by Bob Snider, Little Rock, AR, USA

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“Mulberry River”
watercolour by Bob Snider

Thanks for forming a community of artists to give us a chance to listen, speak and share progress. I wonder how many thousands of Red Canoes are out there in our world? Attached is one of mine on the Mulberry River in Arkansas.

How to paucitivize
by Peter Fox, BC, Canada

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“Mark”
watercolour by Peter Fox

Paucity! What a stinging blow! “Telling everything…” Ouch! “Overwork, overstate, over-busy” Help! So back at the drawing board looking at Mark tooting on his bass horn, thinking how can one paucitivize on this overstated, over-busy and definitely overworked piece? Well, Robert, how can one?

(RG note) Thanks, Peter. And thanks to everyone who sent pictures of canoes, horns, faces, farms, barns, etc. — some of them overworked. If you keep on rendering, detail by detail, you will end up with a similar effect to a photo — perhaps not as good as the photo or photos you are working from. Small stylistic flourishes, flicks, spots and gradations do help to relieve the photographic monotony, but you are still stuck in the genre of photography. Painters should give thought to being into something other than verisimilitude — they need to think about more directly conveying feelings as seen through the lens of a personal perspective. “Absence of,” like the unfinished area at the bottom of your painting, helps the viewer to understand that this is something from the hand of man, and gives your work a pleasant touch of paucity.



There are 3 comments for How to paucitivize by Peter Fox

From: Janet Summers, Greece — Sep 06, 2011

This is a good painting of less is more, but for me the overall tonal values are the same. Some darker darks and lighter lights would give it a punch!

From: Anonymous — Sep 06, 2011

The shirt dominates. Wash it out if you can or darken the background to reduce its heaviness. I’d like to see more darks and contrast in the face (equal to hands). Fine draftsmanship. Think old masters studies of face and hands, face and hands, the essence of a portrait.

From: Anonymous — Sep 06, 2011

What is the underlying feeling or emotion that leads you to paint this? As Robert says, what is your personal perspective? So how to convey this elusive stuff? You could study up on design elements and principles, and learn how to create a dance between simplicity and details— in so many ways! Don’t go “critical” on this painting. Keep going. It’s a beautiful start.

Sometimes less is paradise
by Phil Chadwick, Southampton, ON, Canada

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“Paradise”
original painting by Phil Chadwick

The canoes happen to be blue and green… Any canoe will do for me as colour is not a big issue. My latest carbon fibre canoe is burgundy and is named “Margaritaville” which happens to be the same as the green kevlar canoe in the painting… Less is more and sometimes less is “paradise” which happens to be the name of my favourite painting. Painting number 0523 (I record everything which is my scientific brain taking control) came together on a Sunday afternoon in 2001. It was probably the best afternoon of my painting career and I will forever try to reproduce that magic — for me if for no one else. It is always nice if someone else gets the point but for now, if someone understands, that is enough. Afterall, less is more… I am currently on 1150 and still trying to match 0523… that is why I continue to paint…



There are 2 comments for Sometimes less is paradise by Phil Chadwick

From: Liz Reday — Sep 06, 2011

There’s a lovely looseness to your painting that well illustrates Bob’s point on not religiously copying every detail of a photograph. It has a direct feel about it that gives the impression that you painted it from life and from your love of canoes. Yes, you did catch the magic.

From: Darrell Baschak — Sep 07, 2011

Indeed, this is a wonderful painting. Is it a plein air? It is obvious that you are in tune with boats and water.

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Nancy O’Toole and Gaye Adams Workshop, El Molino, Spain

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World of Art Featured artist Kathy Anderson, Granville, OH, USA
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Vista 1

acrylic painting 18 x 24 inches
by Kathy Anderson, Granville, OH, USA

You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.

That includes Nonny Kordelia of NC, USA, who wrote, “You’re going to drive some nice collector nuts searching for that Red Canoe. I do love Joe Blodgett. Can I borrow him sometime?”

And also Steve Day of Blandon, PA, USA, who wrote, “Knowing when to stop is just as important as deciding where to start. We all need our Joe Blodgetts.”

Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Notes on paucity

 

 

From: Karen Longden-Sarron — Sep 01, 2011

Another nice “gift” Robert! Loved it!

From: Dwight — Sep 02, 2011

Kathy Anderson’s painting included with today’s letter is a good example of paucity. Nice painting and who needs more? About the missing canoe: I’m a watercolor painter who sometimes uses acrylic on gessoed paper. I tell students and others that if they see an acrylic on gessoed paper done by me they can bet the farm on the fact that under the gesso is a crappy watercolor. Cover up may be the best thing.

From: Dwight — Sep 02, 2011

And a further comment: I checked Martha Handby Savage’s work after reading her response and it looks really good to me. She says she uses too much detail, or words to that effect. I think not, Martha. There’s plenty of room for the viewer to add thought.

From: Catherine Gutsche — Sep 02, 2011

Now I know why I’m not fond of most landscapes. They give me too much info. I don’t have to climb into the picture and include myself somehow. I enjoy more paintings where I need to do some of my own work.

From: Tom Semmes — Sep 02, 2011

Robert, did you take a photo of the painting with the red canoe while the red canoe was still in it? I want to see what you are talking about.

From: Khalil Dadah — Sep 02, 2011

What is interesting about your Twice-Weekly letters is that you pick up scarcely used words and put them in a concise attractive modern text! Men of letters should be grateful to you for that !

From: Suzette Fram — Sep 02, 2011

Paucity, what a great concept. As they say: ‘Less is More’. When painting my abstracts, I try to achieve ‘calm, simplicity and beauty’. Sometimes I doubt myself, and think ‘is there enough there to make it interesting, or does it need more’. I know how easily I can overdo it and suddenly, it’s too much and the work loses its appeal. Thanks for a great new word for my art vocabulary.

From: Ingrid Christensen — Sep 02, 2011

“The secret of being a bore is to tell everything” is my new motto.

Your letter was timely: I’ve been contemplating putting some features on this painting of a girl. Now I won’t. We all know what’s in that shadowy face and more detail would be both irrelevant and distracting. It would take away from my initial goal of showing light on water and the human form. Thanks for reminding me that enough is enough.

From: Cynthia Waring Matthews — Sep 02, 2011

I just had to take out a couple of lotus’ from my lotus pond. It was flooded with beautiful pink lotus. Too many. Paucity was just the word I needed to see it.

From: Candy Simchik — Sep 02, 2011

As I am aging I believe this to be very true. But my story is I have an oil landscape bought yrs ago in Germany. My dad always told my kids to watch for the canoe- it was around the bend! They were fascinated using their imaginations.

From: Christine Montague — Sep 02, 2011
From: Sherry Hullender — Sep 02, 2011

I painted a lake scene with a yellow kayak on the banks. When my artist friend saw it, she said, that looks like a lemon, so I left it anyway, simply for the memory of that day by the lake. Everyone does have different opinions, another artist friend liked it. It was pastels, so I couldn’t easily remove it. I will think about your painting of the invisible red canoe now, and wonder if I should just redo mine.

Anyway, interesting thoughts. But I have also learned that every person has a different view of what you paint. Of course I work as a full time accountant, and I am not a professional artist, but I love trying.

From: Paula Timpson — Sep 02, 2011

little, simple things~

make life

rich

in blooms and

beauty~! …..

From: David Terrar — Sep 02, 2011

Reminded me of an art teacher who told me “It takes two people to paint a good picture. One to put the paint on the canvas. The other to knock him in head and tell him when to stop.”

From: Neeman Callender — Sep 02, 2011

Paucity defines watercolor. When painting wet on wet there is no going back, so you can go only to a certain place and add no more.

The bold commitment of your comments on the paper. Nuance, subtley, hints and gesture of the brush allows the viewer to imagine

Where truely less is more.

From: Joy Preiss — Sep 02, 2011

Thanks for the “note on Paucity” – its put into words something that I say constantly to my students: “don’t give it all to the viewer”!

From: Janet Spreiter — Sep 02, 2011

Ahh yes. Paucity. In artwork, writing, and other creative endeavors: one only needs to observe the length of a good skirt on a woman to get it right: long enough to cover the subject yet short enough to be interesting.

The contemplative scotch sounds like a fabulous way to zero in on this particular balance. Cheers!

From: Maureen Kerstein — Sep 02, 2011

I would have loved to see before and after pictures of your painting!

From: Butchie Neely — Sep 02, 2011

I am enjoying you letters. Thank you very much. Atlanta

From: Tristan Blundell — Sep 02, 2011

These letters are incredibly informative and, curiously enough, there is always a twinge of humour which keeps me coming back for more. Some, like this one, made me laugh out loud.

From: Redenta Soprano — Sep 02, 2011

Loved the article on paucity. I must say leaving one eye out can also be a clever way of solving the problem of aligning and matching both eyes! I suppose with a caricature it is not as important as it is with a portrait, animal or human! Thanks as always for your intuitive wisdom!

From: Bonnie Mandoe, Las Cruces, New Mexico — Sep 02, 2011

I liked this letter about leaving things out. Just don’t leave out the chocolate when making chocolate cake.

From: Katie Hoffman — Sep 02, 2011

One of my favorite letters yet, Robert. “Less is more” is painful but true. I tend naturally toward “maximalism” and while I can’t force myself to do less on the canvas to begin with (I wish I could get the knack of that one), I do find myself painting out distracting business more often now, with satisfying results. Erasing hours of effort hurts, but it works. Thanks for this reminder.

From: Nancy Choat — Sep 02, 2011

By the By Robert, the painting of yours that is over the bed in our downstairs’ bedroom, entitled Alta Lake just happens to have a red canoe turned over on the dock!!!! So there Joe Blodgett whoever you are. And my brother John, an Industrial Designer, often will wait for a person who’s wearing red to appear before he’ll take a picture.

From: Gavin Logan — Sep 02, 2011

Jenkins is fantastic! There is a careful, intelligent rendering of line that is well thought out and always simplified. Probably over an explorative pencil drawing. As you have stated elsewhere before Robert, a great deal can be learned from the caricaturist’s art.

From: Diane Wallace — Sep 03, 2011

My first visit to your “letters”; directed here by a fellow artist. Wonderful subject. My mentor, a wet-into wet watercolorist, used to caution us: “Stop putting the eyelashes on the seagulls!” Your timing for me is terrific, as the next painting in my pile was starting to get a little too complicated. Thanks for the new word for my vocabulary.

From: Pamela Simpson Lussier — Sep 03, 2011

Thank you for giving us a word for the idea of leaving a little something for the viewers imagination. I consider my husband, David Lussier, a master at this. I myself still have to remember to not tell everything. Recently we were looking over one of his seascapes and I said to him ” That would be great except for the white buoy, it distracts from the subject.” Of course, when I turned over and looked at the back ,he had named it , “White Buoy”.

From: Nancy Cantelon — Sep 04, 2011

“Notes on Paucity” hit home! Thanks! I wish I’d learned this lesson before writing and illustrating my kids’ book. Someone once described an internet message I’d written as an ‘adjectival assault’; I’ve never met an adjective I didn’t like.:) Using watercolours with coloured pencil for loose lines on Fabriano paper, I try to hold myself back from overdoing the detail. Viewers can then use their imagination.

From: Katharina Keoughan, Maine — Sep 04, 2011

Thank you for the definition of “Principle of Paucity.” I very much enjoy your essays. I was a graphic designer and became a painter and have taught for the last ten years. Teaching is my passion. My students are adults, mostly women, most over sixty, all delightful. I encourage them to sign up for your letters. I read the ones in class that are especially pertinent. Doing so reinforces what I teach.

I give my students homework: painting assignments, sculptural assignments and writing assignments. The following is a writing assignment. I thought your readers might find it interesting. I expected ten or so combined examples. I was surprised at the response.

What Katharina might say… Homework

One of you said, “Oh, in my head I can hear Katharina telling me how to paint.” Make a list of at least five things that I might be saying.

Combined answers:

Don’t leave your brush in the water

Bring the entire painting up at one time

Squeeze out all the basic colors on your palette

If you painted it once, you can paint it again

Try painting a sliver of paper and try it out on the painting

Don’t save your “favorite” part of the painting

Paint subjects you love

Do sketches /thumbnails before starting a painting

Start by blocking in major shapes

Cover the whole canvas before making adjustments

Work big!

Use as big a brush as you can

Use more paint

Do not use canvas paper

Do value studies before starting painting

Plan what the background should be before starting to paint

Will you learn more from finishing a painting or starting a new one?

Don’t go to details unless painting is working

Have several paintings in progress at one time

How much do you love this painting?

Paint more efficiently. Put down the correct color the first time

Make color charts

Know when to stop painting and declare you are finished

Make changes in the beginning

Work on good surfaces, you are worth it

Don’t fuss with details

Step back from the canvas

Cover white of painting surface, don’t let the specs show

What is this painting about?

Add a surprise spot of color

Lay out your colors the same way every time

Avoid adding white as long as possible

Every time you use the brush you have an opportunity to make a correction

Do not just “color,” think about it

Paint the color and value you see, not what is convenient

Use negative painting

Use painterly strokes

Every stroke affects the area around it

Use a full range of values

Blow up the photograph that you are using as a reference

Use photo quality paper to print photographs

Painting from life is always better

The dark areas in photographs do not show what you saw

Draw with a brush

Use your entire arm to paint

Paint standing up

Place your paints on your dominant side

Sometimes it is better to take paint off than to put more paint on

Make a foam core holder to hold your smaller painting surfaces

Relax and breath

Think loose

Think about what your subject feels like: water flowing, sun shining

Use your palette knife to mix larger quantities of paint

Use bold passionate strokes

Add a spot of color at the edge to move the eye around the painting

From: Lauren Kinsey — Sep 04, 2011

I do think that less is often more, in writing for sure, and in art, and even in things like cooking. How many times, A and I have said how good something tastes in part due to its simplicity. I think the idea of keeping things simple is true in so many aspects of one’s life. As for the paucity in one’s work, I think it can be difficult to eliminate something you worked hard to create (a visual scene, or a written one). It can feel almost like a betrayal to your thoughts/ideas/hard work to remove something you thought necessary at one point. Still, I agree that removing elements can enhance one’s work – leave a bit of that mystery. There are moments, though, where a long, descriptive sentence is intoxicating and when read doesn’t feel cumbersome or boring, but beautiful. And there are times where a painting ripe with details leaves one’s visual senses spinning with sparks of inspiration that might have only been conjured up thanks to something as simple as a red canoe. I’ve written in both styles: straightforward storytelling and long, descriptive storytelling. Perhaps the key is balance. Which is often the key, isn’t it? To know when to cut something out, but to also have the courage to leave it, even if you’re the only one who understand why it’s important it remains.

From: Rodney Cobb — Sep 04, 2011

Your letter reminded me that once I read something like–“To suggest is to create, to state is to destroy.” Do not remember the source and have not been able to find it but it probably was a comment on writing rather than creating art. However, the statement is relevant for both.

From: Dan McGrath — Sep 05, 2011

OMG. This really hit home. Having BEEN an engineer, I now see that I’ve got frequently (OK, consistently) too much detail. From now on I’ll watch viewers of my paintings at the gallery and see how fast they migrate to the wine and cheese, or not. Thanks for the letter.

From: sittingbytheriver — Sep 06, 2011

red canoe—-great idea: titling the painting for something that isn’t in it. for something that used to be in it. for something that may someday be in it. This really allows the painting to “breathe”.

From: Laura Zerebeski — Sep 06, 2011

Your article on paucity reminded me of that quote by Coco Chanel: Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and remove one accessory.

Presumably the same aesthetic idea applies to paintings.

I’m generally fond of simpler compositions, but I find that my busier, detail-overloaded pieces sell well to families with young children. Maybe it’s the Waldo conditioning.

From: Selma Kaye — Sep 08, 2011

Unfortunately the result of my putting mystery into painting usually manifests in the inquiry, “Just what is this supposed to be?”

 

 

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Robert and Sara Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

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