I can get off track pretty quickly. Last week I spent several days utterly mired in crap. I didn’t even realize it until I walked away for a day and then came back to see what I had. Stupid, pretentious, overly massaged garbage. Rather than burn the canvas or gesso it, I chose to destroy what was there – that horribly precious mess – with scribbles, marks and drips. Within an hour, the two canvases I’d obsessed on were worlds better. Not finished, but worlds better. And I was having fun! So much so that I began to work three more old canvases at the same time.
I want to save myself days of wasted effort by codifying the symptoms of ‘being-off-track.’ By setting them down here, I should be better able to spot my impending downfall before it devours days of my painting life. Here goes . . .
- ‘Scumbling’ white (or buff) over what is already there. It’s such a wimpy thing to do! It is covering up without committing. You create an ugly fog over things that makes no sense or statement. Have the guts to paint over it or leave it alone!
- Going back over shapes with more color to brighten them. Anytime I find myself re-painting objects in the work, I know I’m holding something precious – and as we all know, that’s the kiss of death. A better solution is to take something thick and opaque and paint over that area! So There!
- Endless scratching. I love to excavate my work with a sharp metal palette knife. A few varied digs through what’s on top to reveal what’s underneath can add direction and excitement. However, less is not just more, it is better. Overindulging the knife, or, worse, using the knife to create uniform hatch-mark gouges is hack work. Stop it!
- Finding things in the work in progress. Faces, landscapes, cities, whatever. It is fine if the work suggests those things and it is fine if different people get different suggestions from the work. It is not ok to see the suggestion of a face and then draw in the eyes! It is not ok to take that horizontal line that appeared quite randomly and add a few trees.
- Thinking about the work. I am best when I am essentially unconscious. It’s ok to think, just don’t think about what you are painting. Think about dinner or get lost in the music. The paint should just appear on the canvas almost magically.
- Overusing drawing media and method. I start most of my paintings with acrylic paint. I often come back in after a few layers with water soluble oil pastels. I draw and sometimes color with them. The problem is the overuse of these things. Is it a painting or a pastel? Commit! Like scratching, drawing is a delightful addition when kept at a comfortable minimum; like a tease.
There are probably more than six of these, but these are the ones I remember from last week. I probably ought to print this and put it on my wall!