What’s under there?

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Dear Artist,

Children’s novelist Katherine Paterson wrote, “I love revision. Where else can spilled milk be turned into ice cream?” In painting, our magic strokes are made to look as though they were always there, the torture of revision but a private memory for the creator. A pro makes her effort look effortless, with nothing but a black-light between her and the truth.

Almond blossom What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything? -- Vincent Van Gogh oil on canvas, 1890 73.5 x 92 cm (28.9 x 36 in) Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Almond blossom
What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything? (Vincent Van Gogh)
oil on canvas, 1890, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Re-working has a spectrum. Watercolourists summon the grit to leave alone inaugural strokes. Planning is part of the specialty — a performance of beginning, middle and finish — the ultimate character-builder. John Singer Sargent said you “make the best of an emergency.”

A rejected dob in fast-drying Acrylic can be re-invented in an instant. Painters in oil can can also swatch colours with the knowledge they can be changed, passages wiped and scraped and contours moved and re-expressed. Like the buds on my grandfather’s plum blossom, ideas appear and then sprout further shoots as the tree grows taller.

Orchard in Blossom, Bordered by Cypresses -- oil on canvas, 1888 Vincent van Gogh private collection

Orchard in Blossom, Bordered by Cypresses
oil on canvas, 1888
Vincent van Gogh private collection


From wherever you are on the spectrum, savour the space and privacy granted you, and contemplate the advantages and trappings of your chosen medium. Here are a few ideas:

Avoid the bad vibes caused by built-up textures of former failings. The fresh start of virgin re-stretch could be preferable to sanding.
Or embrace the provenance of your erasures and cover-ups, and let the painting be a record of the act of painting.
Fix small strokes with big strokes.
A line with character beats the draughtsman’s render.
Oil can be wiped; acrylic can be covered up and then cut in.
Always, the trap can be noodling.

Blossoming Almond Branch in a Glass with a Book -- oil on canvas, 1888 Vincent van Gogh Private collection, Japan

Blossoming Almond Branch in a Glass with a Book
oil on canvas, 1888
Vincent van Gogh
Private collection, Japan

Sincerely,

Sara

PS: “Much effort, much prosperity.” (Euripides)

“I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.” (Truman Capote)

“Every edit is a lie.” (Jean-Luc Godard)

Esoterica: What’s under there is your personal, private history, and the story of your painting life. Gather up all those scrapes and cover-ups — your improvisations in emergencies — and you’ve earned the ability to recognize when your brush is sparkling. Go for excellence, knowing perfectionism is a canyon of toil. Enjoy the therapeutic satisfaction in fixing a dog — it’s like darning an heirloom sock. By then you’re the editor, the re-writer, the restorer and the conservationist. There’s imagination in that, too. “I am seeking. I am striving. I am in it with all my heart.” (Vincent van Gogh)

 

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Jerry Markham workshops The next workshop is being held in the Okanagan Valley from May 22nd to May 24th, 2015.
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