Monday, December 3, 2012

December 3 - Improved Paintings


About 2 weeks ago, I made an appointment with my mentor, Penny Maday.  I loaded all my recent paintings into the truck and drove the short distance to her house. Penny looked at all the paintings I and gave me suggestions to improve them. It was so great to have her views - a real learning experience. Some of things she pointed out - I recognized right away. Others - I had to think about.

So - let's start with my most recent painting - my portrait of my mother Jessica based on the photo we put in her obituary. In the photo Jessica was on a boat and looking into the sun. her eyes were mere black strips. Penny suggested that I could put in her eyes and showed me an example of a painting where the eyes had been painted with pupils, irises and little bright reflective spots. It was hard to figure out how to do this would  based soley on the photo - but eventually I realized that there were enough clues about where here eyeballs were from the shadows around them. After a bit of trial and error I think I figured it out. To me - the portrait really looks like my mother the way I remember her. I retained the unfinished look of the painting but gave more substance to her shoulders and made the collar more realistic and shiny. I also left in her name and added mine - "By Grant" I think she looks great - strong and sort of sporty - the way she was when she was young. 


Next - the bridge - Penny suggested that I put some more light into the focal point of my Swy-a-lana bridge painting  - which is the area of the painting where the Gabriola Galleries (cliffs) appear above the water. I ended up doing a lot of repainting of the water, the bridge, the sky and the annoying tree on the right side of the bridge. I also cleaned up the lamp posts - they were a bit to big and rough - and lightened the mountains in the background. I think it is improved. I think it still appears that the light source is the bridge - kind of all glowing. Penny thought the way I painted the water in front of the bridge was influenced by Van Gogh - squiggle bits- and Monet - the nice reflective part in front. It's true. I was trying to follow their styles - contradictory thought they are.


Then I turned to my chip barges off Gabriola. Penny had suggested that the tug was too near the middle of the painting - but I thought that if I moved it to the left, the distance between the tug and the barges would be too great to be real. So instead, I tried to show the tug was turning a bit. This made a tiny bit of difference to the position of the tug - but showed much more clearly that the tug was actually towing the barges. Penny also did not like my "mackerel" sky and I had always thought it was very stiff - especially compared to the water. She suggested removing all the clouds on the right side of the painting - but instead I just smoothed them out a bit - trying to use a more Emily Carr quality of movement and better brushes. She also did not recognize that the chip barges were chip barges - she thought they were houses! Well - they are an unusual sight if you're not familiar with pulp mills and what not. Fixing them was my hardest challenge. I painted and repainted those darn barges trying to show that the stacks of wood chips were inside the barges - not house roofs. Here is a detail - the colour is way off in this photos - but I think the drawing is much better. Like Jessica's eyes, I could not get this detail from the photo - I had to sort of explore my way through it. I think this painting is now more "lyrical" and hope it is not over-worked..

Lastly I worked on my cherry trees by Swy-a-lana Lagoon. Penny's main concern with the original version was that the bollards along the lagoon were completely out of proportion. It's true - they were huge. That's because they were huge in my photo - probably because I used the wrong lens when I took the picture. Also the first bench was not directly across from the bollards in the photo - so the proportion was OK in the photo - but wrong in the painting. Reducing the size of the bollards was a huge task as I had to reconceptualize the lagoon and the beach - which had previously been hidden. I created some logs - based on the Emily Carr painting I had been copying. Then I realized that the lamp posts were also too big. I redid them and changed the trees and sky behind. Then the path had to change and the benches had to be straightened. I put shadows under the leaves on the path and a suggestion of shadows behind the trees. Again, I think this version is a more lyrical and pretty painting than it was before and hope it is not overworked. I don't think any of the original thick bits of paint show through anywhere. Whe I finished it I thought the focal pint was where the path and furthest bollard intersected - but now I think it's the furthest lamp post against the dark fir trees.

One of the "Great Courses" we are currently watching is on appreciating great art. It is a very good course - not just for appreciating art but also for doing it. Tonight the class was on perspective and I think the perspective in this painting is now better. I could improve the perspective by kind of fluffing up and dimming the small cherry trees on the right to make them appear more distant - but that would weaken the feeling of a really bright fall day. I think it would also change the composition which is a very strong set of zigzags and vertical lines. The picture would kind of taper off to right even more than it does now. So I am going to leave it alone.

I now think all these paintings are done - again. I'm always thinking they are done and then deciding that they are not.  I have been painting for several hours almost every day - except when we went to the Whistler Film Festival to see Lauren's movie (she won best picture!) and I think I need to take a break for a couple of days. I seem to have lost my sense of why I'm painting. But that's good - discombobulation  means I'm learning.