On Friday, Paul Caruana of Valletta, Malta, wrote, “I’m tempted to do another painting of a watercolour I recently sold, this time in oils. Would I be cheating the buyer? I’d like to do it just the same as the watercolour as far as composition and colour scheme are concerned. I’ve considered changing things around but I think it might lose the impact if I did.”
Thanks, Paul. Evolved collectors know that artists refine from one painting to the next and frequently redevelop work from an exemplary one. Further, there’s the tradition of the watercolour sketch and the final oil. Resurrection is part of our game, but it can be a tricky wicket.
Artists often notice a slippage of quality or loss of focus when they repeat. Here are a few thoughts:
Repeated works should be of a different size, preferably larger.
Repeated works often work out better in a different medium.
When going from smaller to larger, do the same with your tools.
See the “big picture” in the small one and don’t fiddle the big.
Avoid the boredom of back-to-back repeats — let some time pass.
As you work, try to reinvent the second one as a new one.
It’s pretty difficult to copy a work stroke by stroke — just one of the reasons to change media. One of the most effective resurrection ploys is to lay in the general areas in a cursory way, take a good long look at the original, then face it against the wall and proceed to paint. If you don’t have the original nearby, do the same with the reference or a digital image. This keeps your strokes honest and in the moment. In other words, you don’t want to be constantly referring to the original to see if you got small elements the same.
Even though your plan may be to repeat a previous success, you have to look at the project with new eyes. When you take this approach, you’ll find the resurrected one may have a fresher spin than in its previous life. Always ask “What could be?” An artist’s personal evolution is a playground of unending curiosity and abiding strength.
PS: “To copy oneself is more dangerous than to copy others. It leads to sterility.” (Pablo Picasso)
Esoterica: In the tradition of the field sketch and the final studio work, artists have an opportunity to take a fresh, real-time vision and enlarge it. While lots of examples of success with this process exist, many others show tightening and overstylization, and the big final turns out to be less than the little sketch. Winifred Trainor (1884-1962), confidante of the Canadian painter Tom Thomson (1877-1917), wrote in an unpublished journal: “His smaller sketches from nature rang truer than his large compositions, and he preferred them.”
Watercolours by Paul Caruana
by Kristi Grussendorf, Logan, UT, USA
I’ve rarely been tempted to “redo” a piece. In fact, even when I know I should, when there are corrections or adjustments I could make, it’s difficult to get excited about the prospect. That is, until just this week. I did an oil painting of my son entitled “Catching Minnows” more than ten years ago… Yes, it was right before I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (by the way I’m NINE years cancer free & healthy!). It got into a juried show and, to my surprise, sold. I think that was probably the first time someone who wasn’t a friend or family member bought a piece of mine. I had some mixed feelings about it but my son’s feelings weren’t mixed at all. He was angry with me. That was HIS painting. I didn’t even know he had noticed it! Anyway, I’ve been painting exclusively in watercolor for the past few years and this past week, that particular painting has been on my mind. I think your article “Resurrection” is my sign & personal Easter message — thank you! Now if I can just find that photo again…
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Getting to the gold
by Linda Kathleen Simons, Vancouver, BC, Canada
Anne Lamott has a wonderful instruction book on writing and life called Bird by Bird. She talks about every writer’s “Shitty First Draft” (a direct quote — actually the title of a chapter in the book). She goes on to say that every writer starts there and then goes back to rewrite it many times — BUT — we must be willing to write the “shitty first draft” otherwise we will never get to the nugget of gold. This may not be something you could convey in your letters but you get the drift. We have to be prepared to do dreadful work until little by little, as we are knocking off the 10,000 hours, glimmers of actual talent begin to peak through.
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by Jamie Lavin, Gardner, KS, USA
The art of the re-done piece is a significant challenge, as well as in danger of becoming boring. I very much enjoy the effort of “getting it right”: a shot at re-defining what I attempted to provide in the first or my second efforts. There is some gray area when presenting to the public your second or third effort at a subject; doubt can creep into the minds of the patrons. Justified but hardly a concern. The day I get a bundle of money for each great landscape painting that resembles another too well, is the day to concern myself with being “painterly promiscuous.” I can go to Creative-Coldsnow’s Artist Supply here in Kansas City and confess to Tim Higgins. He’ll probably send me over to the Old Holland rack, instruct me to purchase at least three series 4 tubes, and then send me on my way to go and sin no more. Both of us are middle-aged, Irish Catholics so the model is one we’re used to following!!!
Pressure to paint the same castle
by Caroline Simmill, Morayshire, Scotland
Many years ago when I was starting out as a full time professional artist I was asked to paint a well known Scottish castle many times. It was hard for me to say no as I needed the money and I couldn’t afford to have prints made of the image everyone loved so much. I eventually managed to have three different moods of weather going over the castle to create interest for the viewer and for me painting it. Finally one day I just had to stop painting the castle as I just couldn’t do it anymore. I just lost interest and the magic of painting it had simply gone. Fortunately by then I could afford to have prints made of my work and so now I sell many images each year of the beautiful castle that people love so much.
Now I won’t repeat a painting though I would say that many of my beach scenes do have a similarity in composition and colour tone but they are not an exact copy of an original painting.
Using different print media
by Amie Roman, Burnaby, BC, Canada
Thanks for your suggestions about re-investigating a given piece. I have found that there are some subjects that keep drawing me back again and again and, while I’m not literally repeating the original, I enjoy the continued exploration and have a compulsion to work the image another way. I have produced three final prints using three different printmaking techniques (in this order, but with some time in between each) from the same original pencil sketch of a stand of aspens in winter: stone lithography, acrylic monotype and linocut. While each one is significantly different, all are recognizable as originating from the same source. I think that I’m finally satisfied with that image… for now!
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Feelings of guilt
by Marsha Elliott, Covington, OH, USA
I recently repeated a work that I’d sold because I loved it so much and wanted to give it another go around. However, I should’ve read the rules first as I broke many of them in that it was the same size, same medium and basically the same colors — just switched around a tad. A couple things I discovered in doing this is that the second one is definitely not as nice as the first and, secondly, every time I see the image, what I did comes back to haunt me. Will the original buyer ever know? I doubt it. Would they feel cheated if they saw the repeat? I know I certainly would. Was what I did wrong? I don’t really know if the word “wrong” fits. Maybe “unethical” works better. Each one of us has to answer that within ourselves. For me, I’ve found mine.
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The dangers of sales success
by Jim van Geet, Australia
A statement from an early art teacher has always stuck with me. He claimed that “The most dangerous time in an artist’s life is when he/she sells their first painting” and went on to explain that most fledgling artists tend to define artistic success by their sales. When they experience their first sale they then attempt to repeat it by reprising that painting and/or variations of it. Before they know it they have created a well defined rut and find themselves unable to grow artistically. We often see examples of this and it is indeed sad that many otherwise fine artists have trodden this path instead of thoroughly learning their craft.
Allow for the passage of time
by Jeanne Illenye, Grand Rapids, MI, USA
Yes, I agree that there is often a “magic” that can be lost in the repeated version, as the creative spirit that existed in the initial work has been diffused by gratification from the completion of same. I have very often done repeat paintings for my own collection, and on occasion to fulfill a client’s request. One tip I have found to reignite the fires of passion for a painting the second time around is to permit enough time to pass in between each version. With continued practice, one’s technical skills, the art of seeing etc., do change and often improve. Therefore, revisiting a subject at a much later date often will prove to be refreshing and rewarding, like visiting an old friend. Typically for me, what seemed to be challenging in the first version was far less effort in the second, as I was able to “see” more clearly and dote upon refining the details even more than the first, thus often producing a higher quality painting the second time around. The secret is just permitting enough to time pass in between each version so your attitude is once again fresh.
An original Maestro
by Greg Freedman, New Westminster, BC, Canada
About 3 years ago I saw a sign outside a Florida gallery announcing that Peter Max was within at an opening of “major new work.” Being an old hippie I had to see what the King of Psychedelia had been up to since his heyday in the ’60s. His new stuff reminded me of Dali’s late prints but I feigned interest while searching the room for Peter. Unfortunately I stood in one place too long and one of the circling gallery barracudas moved in for the kill. “Wonderful piece isn’t it?” She asked and nodded toward a painting of a vaguely realized woman in a nightgown.
“My favorite,” I said and indicated the red dot. “Unfortunately it’s sold.”
“Oh, Peter can paint another one for you.” When I pointed out that I was only interested in the original she assured me that mine would be an original too: “It would be the same subject executed in the same style but no two paintings done by the Maestro are ever exactly the same. They are all originals.”
I suggested that sounded more like manufacturing than creating, which must have put her off because she spun on one of her stiletto heels and disappeared into the crowd looking for another poor sucker who didn’t know enough to keep moving and keep his eyes down.
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by Michael Lukyniuk, Gatineau, QC, Canada
At one time or another, most painters have a desire to redo an old sketch or painting. Perhaps the first attempt was not satisfactory, perhaps the painter is going from a sketch to a painting, perhaps the painter is now using a new medium, etc. Your letter illuminates some of the dangers in just re-doing the first version.
Recently I finished an oil painting of a scene that I had attempted several years ago in acrylic. My version in acrylic never fully satisfied me for a number of reasons. Yet the scene was particularly attractive to me and I was compelled to try once again. The first version was done from a photo I had taken. Since I was very familiar with the scene, I used it to recreate my version in oils. I really didn’t base myself too much on the acrylic version… although I confess that I did look at it from time to time.
I think that the essence of resurrecting an old painting is to distance yourself from the details of the original and to concentrate on your vision.
Easier to give them up
by Jacki Prisk, Edgerton, WI, USA
I’m an amateur self-taught artist, mainly painting flowers in watercolor. My inspiration comes from my garden in the spring and summer, so when winter rears its ugly head, I’ve started copying my own paintings, learning from my mistakes, and trying to improve upon the original ones. I’ve found this to be extremely helpful. Nine times out of ten, the second one is much better than the original. I’ve also donated my work to various charitable organizations, so I know what it’s like to “give up” one of my creations. And being able to recreate and improve upon original work makes it easier to give them up.
Just look at the canvas
by Liz Schamehorn, Washago, ON, Canada
You can go to the Art Gallery of Ontario and look at drawers full of Tom Thomson’s small oil sketches. The first time I saw the large studio painting “Northern River” in real life I choked up. His art nouveau graphic design training shows through in the studio work. I have done lots of plein air painting and wondered how to get the same fresh feeling of a field sketch in a large studio piece. I once tried to copy the work in acrylic onto very large canvasses. Success was mixed. So now I just paint without looking at anything but the canvas. All that looking at trees has imprinted images on to my brain. It’s working!
Don’t make remakes
by Robin Shillcock, Groningen, Netherlands
In painting so much depends on an artist’s attitude. For me, it feels best when the process is one of exploration, not simply the execution of a preconceived idea. Preferring to work from reference drawings or watercolours made in situ rather than from photographs, I am afforded the freedom to play around with the composition and colour harmonies. It means that once the composition has been established, the (often) larger oil needs still to be developed through trial and error, that shifts in choice of contrast and harmonies are possible, in itself constituting as much a “journey” as an ébauche made in the field. Twice in my 25 year career I’ve “copied” my own work — in both instances commissions from a friend with strong emotional reasons for asking me to reproduce my own work. In both instances I believe I did a better job, yet the journey was different: I knew where I was going in spite of having chosen different formats and, more importantly, I knew where I needed to arrive. Especially that, knowing one’s destination, took away from the sense of discovery, of stumbling into great solutions and being able to feel good about it. But, on the flip side of that, I felt good about having done something for a friend.
I reserve the right to take up a composition already executed in one medium and to rework it in a different medium, i.e. mixed media or oils, and to a different size. The Black Swan is based on a watercolour I sold fifteen years ago. I only had a black and white photograph, and decided to change the whole register of colours, going into brown and reds, while the original was in yellows and blues. I also cropped the composition, cutting out the far bank of the pond and consequently struggled with the reflections of the trees, trying to find contrasts that worked within this composition. In effect, I floated and paddled until I satisfied. The essential is that I feel there is something left to discover in the subject, and that I am not trying to do a remake. For artists, the attitude to delve into the same subject again and again until one is sated with it, is essential. It is the only way to delve deep and learn, to be able to get better at your craft.
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Resurrection by reproduction
by Diane Leifheit, Paul Smiths, NY, USA
Giclee or reproduction work is a way of sharing art with those who are not in a position to purchase original art. How else does one develop patrons but little purchases at a time. Historically this issue rose with the invention of printing. Prints made work available to many more people at an affordable price. Art was made available to a larger number of the population vs. being limited to becoming the property of the wealthy few. Remember the pioneering print works of Honore Daumier and his drawings of the art appreciator filing through prints in a gallery. Think of Monet — the first art marketer of his own work — would render his paintings in black and white so they could be reproduced in the newspaper thus reaching more people and encouraging them to see the exhibit. He was also guilty of revisiting the painting of the same landscape — many times.
And certainly if one thinks about it a bit further, the tool of the Internet can reproduce a work faster than lightning and it is seen by many more art appreciators.
The idea that a reproduction either in giclee, photograph or other means, is to be frowned on is somewhat elitist. The more folks who see my work and are pleased by those images the better. To those who can afford to live off sales of original works, good for you. To those who would encourage the art appreciator to bring art into their lives beginning with reproductions, those are building their patron list one brick at a time and will also enjoy success. They should not be begrudged their effort to promote their work.
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At the Morning After Cafe
acrylic painting, 24 x 36 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 Frances Stilwell of Corvallis, OR, USA, who wrote, “What do you say about giclee sizes? My printer says they should be different from the original, however I choose the size for the original based on how big I’m inspired to paint it which is I hope based on my artist’s eye for how big the image would look best at! Do you get what I’m saying?”
(RG note) Thanks, Francis. Make ’em bigger, make ’em smaller, but best of all, don’t make ’em.
And also Claudio Ghirardo of Mississauga, ON, Canada, who wrote, “I don’t tend to know or see if I have evolved as an artist until I re-do or resurrect an older piece. It is always interesting and fascinating to see the differences.”
And also Jeffrey Hessing of Provence, France, who wrote, “It’s helpful to start with the knowledge that no two paintings are ever exactly the same, so don’t even try. They are merely the same “motif” — that is composition or subject. Van Gogh did five paintings of his room and numerous versions of the Sunflowers and Irises. An exciting subject is worth doing again and again until it no longer excites you.”
Enjoy the past comments below for Resurrection…