When winter comes, it’s time to look again at summer. Reinventing the experiences of stellar times, particularly plein air or live model events, can be a rich mine. Second-generation thinking refines images, facilitates better design and draws out creative truth.
Even third-generation work can take on a power and presence that initial efforts don’t have. I’m not talking about taking field sketches to studio works. Field sketches often have a delightfully rough and uneven quality that eludes later pieces. I’m talking about capital works to capital works.
It’s valuable to cruise earlier efforts — even online after they’re sold — and try to think of ways to make them better. New feelings and dramas evolve, often merely with the passage of time. Changing size or format is generally a good idea. You need to think of your prior picture as a montage of often inadequate actors. As well as adding and removing bodies, feel free to shuffle them around. Get out your director’s chair. While appreciating what you did right in the past, free your mind to reinvent and refine in areas previously not thought of. Here are just a few of the opportunities:
Simplify the cluttered and clutter the simple.
Mystify or abstract areas for greater interest.
See where softening or hardening would help.
Come further to light or to dark.
Come further to colour enrichment and sophistication.
Reinforce or reinstate negative areas.
Be more patient in areas where you were less before.
Be more flamboyant in areas where you were previously tight.
Look closely at focus areas with the idea of taking them further. Look around and try to identify timid areas and run scenarios of their improvement. Very often the addition of glow or the further development of activation and eye control re-jig to superior work.
Contemplate and philosophize on your prior work. Look around for new possibilities of metaphor, elegance, angst, synergy, syntagma, etc. Just because you’ve previously brought the mystery to a satisfactory conclusion does not mean the file has been forever closed.
PS: “Invention breeds invention.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
Esoterica: Complacency, satisfaction and the ringing of the cash register are three devils that hinder creative growth. The perpetual student does not stray far from the path of invention and re-invention. That’s where real satisfaction lies. That’s the real motivation that keeps you at it. “We are created creative,” says Maya Angelou, “and can invent new scenarios as frequently as they are needed.”
Living the dream
by Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki, Port Moody, BC, Canada
One thought about your suggestion to go back to summer subjects in winter. In addition to your arguments, that also sounds very practical. If you use the winter to paint summer subjects, you will have a nice collection of new summery paintings ready to hit the galleries in the spring. Fall feels appropriate for painting wintery subjects (while I am still not sick and tired of the cold). Although this kind of planning usually doesn’t work for me — l prefer to just paint what my heart desires unless there is a specific request or a deadline spoiling the fun into a work. I suppose in a perfect world everyone paints what they like, when they like it, and we all get rewarded — what a wonderful dream!
The challenge of fixing art
by Jeanne Rhea, Raleigh, NC, USA
I just read Master Disaster, Five Ways to Rescue Desperate Watercolors by Susan Webb Tregay. I am not a watercolorist, but dozens of her techniques apply to any media. Usually I use a failed painting for experimentation. I had often tried to get a dimensional effect of floating bubbles using alcohol inks. With nothing to lose, I was free to experiment and was able to discover how to make this happen.
I had two paintings that I thought were good, but still something was not right. By using what I learned in Tregay’s book, I reworked one and it sold within 30 minutes of being in a gallery. I am currently reworking the second and I love it. It is difficult for me to start a new painting like one that I have already made as it never seems to be as fresh and I am not excited about it. Something always seems to be missing in one that is trying to be like the first. However, when I have reworked a painting, I seem to connect with it easily. Maybe I feel good that I have not wasted so much time and materials. Or maybe I just cannot stand the thought of a painting being worth nothing and relegated to the trash bin. Or maybe I just love a challenge.
by Russ Hogger, Edmonton, AB, Canada
In reply to your suggestions regarding reinventing prior art, I feel that when a painting reaches the stage
when everything comes together and seems right, then it’s time to leave it alone. Don’t look back and don’t fiddle with it anymore because you might end up throwing it onto the bonfire of redemption. I can relate to that all too well.
Learning to save work
by Dominique Gaillard, Montreal QC, Canada
Funny how great minds think alike. A few days ago I was contemplating a very early painting of mine, a 12 x 24. Some areas are good and lively, others not so successful, a bit stale. I thought of using an 8 x 10 visor to isolate the good from the not-so-great, then cut up the whole painting after removing the canvas from the stretcher bars into three to see more smaller paintings. What a revelation! I also learned how to save a work of art I couldn’t sell as it wasn’t consistent with something I can now safely put out there.
Waiting for the awakening
by Dyan Law, Pipersville, PA, USA
I received your email just before entering my studio to reinvent a prior painting… how coincidental! I had been analyzing a foggy plein air landscape painting of mine for well over a year. It had a beautiful subject; dreamy fog, rolling mountains, but not one thing that said this painting was a meaningful work. Yesterday full golden sun broke through the dark clouds and fog hovering over my studio and I was riveted to the view! Pure light at the height of impact!
Sometimes we need to patiently await that kind of precious awakening for an action (or re-action), to take place. I fixed that amazing image into my mind and heart and now I am ready to take the plunge. Reaction triggers reinvention and reinvention will undoubtedly invite new reactions! I suggest that whenever a painting/drawing remains in the “not-there-yet” file for any length of time, sit before it, liken it to an unsolved puzzle and go after the missing piece. It can take only minutes, sometimes months or years, to break the mystery of mastery, but the ultimate satisfaction is worth the struggle.
by Ron Unruh, Surrey, BC, Canada
I can profitably repaint a scene. I did a watercolour of a bike on a beach in Guernsey, Channel Islands last May, sold it; repainted it as a larger acrylic showing more of the English channel and a distant shoreline and found it far more impressive and sold that too. Presently as a personal experiment I am doing the very same Point Roberts (Washington) shore with piles of dried on shore logs in four different mediums, all 16×20, oil, acrylic, watercolour and graphite, and each provides its own interpretation.
Embracing the process
by Aleta Pippin, Santa Fe, NM, USA
Periodically, I go through what seems to be a complete upheaval wondering about my paintings and whether I should move to different imagery. As an abstract painter, there are times when I wonder whether the next “image” will be there for me and yet, it always shows itself. I’ve been doing a great deal of introspection (again) about the imagery and recently revisited past techniques. As a result I turned out a new body of work using fired resin surfaces, painting on metal, using metal leaf — all in an exploratory effort to re-inspire me. Yet, this didn’t seem enough. After reading your letter, I felt some relief realizing that it’s my overreaction to this process that is giving me pause. Rather, I should embrace the process and appreciate that I’m striving to improve my art.
The growth of goals and abilities
by Alan Soffer, Wallingford, PA, USA
This is a subject that has involved my attention the past several years. Art that looked just fine I now see in a different light, and I begin to rework the piece in my head and then I actually take brush, torch, sandpaper, gesso, or can of paint and look to move to a higher level. One of my first endeavors resulted in an immediate sale, which was very exciting and has made this a way of thinking. Over time even good works appear incomplete sometimes. Of course, sometimes the adjustments are ill conceived and I am forced to totally rework — this is not a catastrophe. Then there is the fact that our goals and abilities grow over time; so the work that was wonderful 10 years ago looks only passable now. Nowadays, I try to keep my options open on everything.
There are 2 comments for The growth of goals and abilities by Alan Soffer
Second and third generation paintings
by Phyllis Tarlow, Hartsdale, NY, USA
I really related to your letter on reinventing prior art. In the last few years, I’ve gone from changing the size of a second painting, to playing with doing the painting in a different format. In some cases, I’ve chosen to crop out a small square section of the painting. That really works well with some paintings. The subject takes on a whole new look. I usually try these square as small paintings but then see such possibilities in them that I sometimes decide to try a third time and do a larger version of my second try.
An example of still another way I’ve taken a painting the second time I’ve painted it is to change it from a more traditional rectangular format like the 12″x16″ oil Lawrence Farm and crop it as a long, narrower, horizontal, in this case a 12″x24″. I named my second generation Nature’s Bounty. I felt that the new, elongated version created a dramatic difference and I felt freer to push the colors farther than I had originally. It has since sold while the original is still in my possession.
by Krysteen Waszak, Albuquerque, NM, USA
I can only thank you and sincerely try to express what you and your twice-weekly letters have meant to me and my work. No one thing contributes to success and none better or worse, but the pillar of support that I find twice weekly has been an enjoyable, timely and indispensable guide for me. I commend you for the journey you are on and I thank you for bringing us along for the ride. It is so far-reaching, heartfelt and generous.
(RG note) Thanks, Krysteen. And thanks to everyone who included a note with their book order. Today I’m realizing more than ever what a privilege it is to be connected with so many folks who are in the same boat. It is indeed a Brotherhood and Sisterhood. Today we were looking at time zones and realizing that in every hour of our day someone is walking into their studio and cranking up the muse. I’m thrilled to be with you if only just a bit.
9 cock-and-bull stories
oil painting by Mike Center
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 Gai Swanson of Denver, CO, USA, who wrote, “I’ve been feeling irritated by my apparent inability to finish anything… let alone start something new. Your letter has me visualizing some of this year’s unfinished “starts” and imagining their possibilities. I feel enthusiastic!”
And also Carol Barber of Gainesville, FL, USA, who wrote, “I have been thinking about this lately but thought I might just be repeating myself. I feel my sketch books have a wealth of information and if I repainted the pictures they would be totally different this time. I hadn’t thought about using the paintings and the sketches as a source. Thanks, permission given.”
And also Janet Morgan, of Brooklyn, NY, USA, who wrote, “The Georgia O’Keeffe show now up at the Whitney here in New York has a number of examples of this, four images of the same idea, from close to realism to softly abstracted to essence. You can see how her images evolve.”
Enjoy the past comments below for The reinvention of prior art…