It’s warm and muggy beside this froggy pond. I’m the shiny guy wearing the Deep Forest Off. Nearby, an Oregon towhee rummages in the undergrowth. In the distance, a barred owl is being harassed by resident robins. With no immediate obligations and practically no guilt, I’m moving slower than a spotted slug.
After years of jumping directly into painting, these days I’ve been casually drawing things out with a soft pencil. Also, trying to please myself, I’m judiciously glazing work in progress with red oxide–a colour I’ve previously found unpleasant.
Funnily, Irene Feeney of Roscommon, Ireland, just wrote, “I’m one who struggles to be pleased. I’m also speedy; I complete a painting in a day where another person might take weeks. It may be that my attention to detail is not so accurate, but I like to work fast. I find it hard to work at one section; I look at the whole painting as I work. Maybe this is something I need to harness. Do you think this may be my downfall?”
Thanks, Irene. I’m not going to comment on your downfall, but I do have a few thoughts on fast and slow. The virtue of a painting may not be accuracy, but feeling. Further, taking your time to feel what you’re painting is more important than speedy delivery. In both feeling and execution, some folks are naturally faster than others. That you have identified yourself as one of the speedy is just great.
Speedy painters tend to do fresher work than pokey ones. On the other hand, they are also responsible for a lot of the messy stuff you see out there. Just for the sake of change, you might try forcibly slowing down. It’s the “extra time” concept. It has something to do with gently living in the present and focusing on the potential of the work at hand. It can be done at the edge of a froggy pond or in a studio sanctuary. One needs to become aware of the relative time between stroking and contemplating. “Look three times, think twice, paint once,” is a time-honoured shibboleth. Here’s the ploy: Make a work of art that looks like it was done freshly and quickly–but take a long time to do it.
Esoterica: Many painters feel they have to work furiously to catch the passion. The Russian-American Impressionist Sergei Bongart used to say, “I have to get it out quick or I cool off.” But this came after a lifetime of polishing his craft. Who knows how he was when he started out. Fact is, many mature artists re-adopt the hesitant approach of their youth. Composer Igor Stravinsky said, “Hurry? I never hurry. I have no time to hurry.” Watching that spotted slug streak down the pathway I’m thinking of Lao Tzu: “Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.”
Going slow in the age of ‘fast’
by Anna Schoolderman, New Zealand
Maybe it’s because I came to painting at a more mature age, or maybe I just have a love for detail, but I derive the greatest satisfaction from labouring over each painting, caressing the support with the medium and getting lost in the process. Yes I can produce fast work, but for me this holds no appeal. How satisfying to know that in this age of “instant everything” there are others of like mind.
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by David Sharpe, Stratford, ON, Canada
Slow can look to be fast. In fact John Singer Sargent worked very hard at having his work look fast and loose. In 2009 I posted a transcript of his painting methods from a student and as I recall there’s a description of how he worked a long time to make his paintings look spontaneous. In fact, he would paint the same amazing descriptive lick of light stroke on, say, a glass or piece of jewelry over and over and over until he was satisfied. And the art of painting doesn’t get much better than Sargent.
The illusive ‘fresh eye’
by Kristine Fretheim, Maple Grove, MN, USA
After reading your posts for several years now, I wonder if you would tell Caravaggio, “Lighten up, Dude! You’re too tight, too detailed.” So I question this idea of “freshness” that apparently is born of speed. I can see freshness as a painterly stroke, a loose, impressionistic style that is one style among many. In that sense though, a “fresh” style is rather generic. I prefer to focus on the content of an artwork where freshness is the result of a uniquely personal viewpoint. In other words, truly fresh artwork is imbued with personal flavor that bespeaks one artist’s vision unlike anything else. That freshness of personal expression includes not only skillful painting technique, but a fresh eye on the world, a unique very personal perspective. Technique can be learned and honed, but that “fresh eye” is an elusive, slippery critter. You “know” when you see it. The artwork comes to meet you. It gets inside of you. The other works hang quietly on the wall, where people gather to talk about the lovely colors and techniques.
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by Susan Burns, Douglasville, GA, USA
I paint a lot and have 30 paintings at one gallery. I have had up to 100 at this gallery, counting the paper ones. While taking inventory recently, there were 6 missing works. I found 3 at home in the studio. The other 3 are not in the studio, nor have they been to other galleries, or sold. Should I shoulder the responsibility of all of the missing items? My records show that these paintings were consigned to the gallery in 2010. I realize I have not been perfect in my record keeping and am working every day to make this easier, clearer and more accurate. I have asked the gallery for suggestions about handling this, but there is no response. The business of art can exhaust my creative energy. I’m going to paint.
(RG note) Thanks, Susan. Proper inventory management starts with the artist. Unfortunately, with dealers who often have fifty or more artists, it’s easy for them to get things misplaced. I wish I could say my system was perfect. It’s not. There are rare times when things go missing and we would like to think that no nasty business took place and we have to forget about it. Just to clarify, however, I have had dealers who sold stuff and forgot to pay. In those cases I had clear and irrefutable evidence of their sleight of hand before dismissing them.
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by Carolyn Edlund, Poughkeepsie, NY, USA
A problem with my paintings is that titles overlap. There may be several iterations and sizes of Sunset at Tall Mountain, Moon over River X, Meditation, etc. There will come a time when one cannot be sure which painting is being referenced by client or gallery. What do you do about this?
(RG note) Thanks, Carolyn. Yes, it does happen to me that paintings get issued with the same titlesoften three or four times. When my assistant notices this we add I, II, III, IV, etc., to the end of the title. While the works are also almost always distinguishable by size as well, the Roman Numeral clears up any potential confusion. You don’t want to let things get out of hand, though. Meditation XXIVI sounds like you’re doing far too much meditating.
Asking for feedback
by Hannah Pazderka, Edmonton, AB, Canada
I am currently designing a jewelry piece, but something about it looks ‘off.’ I was tempted to post it (e.g., to Facebook) and ask my friends/associates for feedback and input, but then I thought, “maybe that’s a bad idea”… Do you ever ask outside opinions when something in a piece of art doesn’t sit well with you? Or is that a risk?
(RG note) Thanks, Hannah. One of my golden tips is to become your own best critic. This is easier said than done, particularly early on in your career. If you’re really stuck, you might get an opinion from someone who is in a position to suggest possible fixes or could be trusted with an illuminating insight. If you can’t find this person, the opinions of several lesser persons might be consulted. But it’s a dangerous business because it can destroy the individuality which is the basis of your potential genius.
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New identifiers for ‘high art’ needed
by Jean Sonmor, Wolseley, SK, Canada
High art shares those qualities which the old masters in every era possess. It speaks clearly to many people about the artists’ deeply held philosophic beliefs and unique methods of expression. It speaks to the mind, heart and soul of the onlooker. This category needs effective identifiers to set it apart for those striving to produce masterworks not mere paintings or sculptures. The professionals and the students who would stand among them deserve a vocabulary of their own, not one that has been co-opted by the commercial world and the amateur hobbyists.
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by Irene Feeney, Roscommon, Ireland
Thank you, Robert, for your refreshing insight. Yes, it comes down to living in the present while painting. As I said to you before, your emails can be adapted to all aspects of life in general, living in the moment. I will consciously slow down and enjoy the journey more. I am re-creating The Angelus by Millet at the moment. I have just completed the drawing in charcoal, so on with the oils!
The Three Bears – Cariboo
watercolor painting 13 x 19 inches
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 Marti Adrian of Lethbridge, AB, Canada, who wrote, “The hurrieder I go, the behinder I get!”
And also Lillian Wu who asked, “What is the equivalent of red oxide color in watercolor? Is it vermillion?”
(RG note) Red oxide is a bright brown-red with large opaque granules. In watercolour you don’t want to miss the beauty of Burnt sienna. This colour combined with Cadmium red medium will give a similar hue to Red oxide, though it won’t be quite as grainy.”
Enjoy the past comments below for Slow down to speed up…