Saturday, April 19, 2008

I get distracted sometimes

"End of Season, Spruce Head", 11" x 14" oil on board, 2008
Private Collection

I get distracted sometimes.
I am learning to use what could be considered a fault as a strength. In my own little way.
Example. This year I have had relatively small windows of studio time in which to paint. Sometimes I will start a painting then run out of time for that session. When I get painting again, I often prefer to start a new painting, since I may not be in the same mood or lack the focus needed to finish the work in progress. Hence, I have a lot of works in progress.

This painting was like that. I started this painting back in October. I worked on it for one session of about four hours. There were a lot of nice loose strokes that I was happy with, but it needed to be refined. There were times that I wanted to finish it up, but always felt a bit disconnected to it and I knew that I would mess it up by trying to make it perfect.

I finally got myself in the mood to wrap this one up last week. I think that by waiting and taking my time on the "finish" that I was able to leave a lot of the loose stuff that I really liked and bring it to a point of finish without killing the spontaneity and freshness of the piece.
You can click on the images to enlarge and see what I mean. Loose strokes, shapes and colors, suggested detail, just enough, but not too much. I don't want to spell it all out. There is a fine line between enough and too much.

Detail, "End of Season, Spruce Head"

O.K., so how does the being distracted help me? My tendency in painting is to want to keep going, trying to make it perfect, and in the process I kill the suggested detail that I like so much in a painting. I don't know how many times I have pushed a painting just a little further only to regret it. My distraction becomes an ability to stop painting, step back, and then either call it done or have the smarts to just add minor corrections or strokes to solidify forms etc.. More on this in a future post.

Detail, "End of Season, Spruce Head"

Painting on location is different. I have a limited amount of time before the light changes. This is good when I only have a short amount of time to paint anyway.
How many of you have done this? You come home from a painting session outdoors, on the spot. You look at your painting in the studio and think, o.k., with just a few more strokes I am going to make this painting sing. Ah ha, those strokes end up ruining all of the freshness and spontanaity of the plein air and you want to throw it across the room. I don't know how many times I have yelled expletives as I act like a lemming jumping into the sea, I ruin a nice painting even as I know that I shouldn't do it. I feel like a moth to a flame. Julissa, my wife, just shakes her head and says, "I told you not to touch it."
I feel so stupid, and in my quest to prove myself, put even more stupid strokes on the piece. I have a lot of them stacked in my studio to prove this.

I feel myself getting distracted as I write. There are so many little side tracks to take here. Time to stop for now, as I don't want to bore you. The next few posts might have a common thread of what is "finished" when it comes to painting. I am really interested in hearing what other artists think or do, when it comes to finish. When to stop, what is enough, how much is too much?


Willow said...

Sometimes I sense that over done feeling in verbal conversations. I am working to be sensitive about that.

I suppose that sewing has the same problem, overdone with ribbons or buttons. The nice thing about knitting is that you can just rip it out. It's harder to do that with sewing and painting, and it's impossible with spoken words.

Christine Mercer-Vernon said...

my goodness, you almost sounded a little ticked off? :) i am the worst person to pose that question to, obsessive-anal-retentive-perfectionist... knowing when to stop is a struggling point for me too. the only saving grace i have for most paintings is my limited studio time. i 'get away' so when i come back i can look with fresh eyes. although that leads to so many other things i feel i need to finish. i believe it's in our nature as artists to always feel that with one more brush stroke we can make each painting even more of a masterpiece. oh, and i too have a stack of unfinished paintings i lost my inspiration on...or it a wall with so i gave up. someday i'll see if i can make something out of them. hooray to you for not only finishing one but creating a splendid painting at that..great reflection and love that stone wall!

Frank Gardner said...

Hi Willow, thanks for stopping by.
That is a GREAT analogy - sewing, painting and spoken words.
Over done in conversation and painting is very similar. Hard to fix, and sometimes the more you try the worse it gets.

Frank Gardner said...

Oh NO! That is not how I meant to sound at all Christine. You made me read through it again to try and find where I sound ticked. Guess that's the thing about writing.
Thanks for sharing you thoughts on this. Ah yes, the one more stroke. It is like the Monty Python wafer thin mint joke.
Limited studio time can be a blessing sometimes.

Did the camera show up?

Frank Gardner said...

Maybe the ticked off is me mad at myself for doing stupid things that I should know better not to do?
Now you have me worried. I don't want to come across as the angry blogger.

Christine Mercer-Vernon said...

no gave me a chuckle, you are usually so steadfast and professional in your posts, it was nice to 'read' a little rant (now don't take that the wrong way)...makes you seem a little more human versus 'super painting god'... :)

and yes the camera is finally here! want to get a little further on this one painting then i'll post a WIP...been racing around like an idiot snapping pics of trees before the leaves come in for reference.

Frank Gardner said...

Oh no, "Super painting god" Now I'm worried about THAT :^0
I don't sound like that do I? LOL

Glad the camera showed up.

Christine Mercer-Vernon said... no no.....just a testament to your talent. i think everyone is in agreement on what we all learn from your posts. just nice to hear you struggle like the rest of us.

Kate said...

This is a difficult question indeed. On a good day, I can almost see the finished painting in my head before I paint. So I can kind of tell when the painting is coming to an end. On a bad day, I thought I saw the painting in my head first, but got confused on the way cause I don't have a clear ideas of what I want to say. That's when I would fuss over the details at the end. So I'm working on looking at a lot of paintings, hopefully make me see things in my head more clearly, to get a good start.

kathrynlaw said...

Wasn't it Picasso who said, "A painting is never finished--it simply stops in interesting places." Some more interesting than others, haha! What you say REALLY resonates with me. Some of us have a very perfectionistic part of our makeup that drives us to think that we can always do that *little something* extra that will make a painting even *better*! I can't count the number of times I've done that too, messed up something that was just fine, especially right after coming home from a plein air session. The rule I now follow is that I don't even open the pochade box until at least six hours later, preferably the next day. That seems to help, as you said--the temporal distance gives us some objectivity. With studio paintings, it's even harder to make myself stop before I have fussed something to death. That's where the timed paintings have REALLY helped. It's very consoling to know that so many of us struggle with this!

Barbara Pask said...

Hi Frank, I have so much to learn but I know enough to know there's no such thing as the perfect painting and it's hard to stop fixing things sometimes. Sorry about your struggles but it's inspiring to folks like me who are learning, to know even people like you with all your experience struggle too. Painting will always be challenging. I hope in time the challenges will be fewer, they will won't they???? Barb

mike rooney studios said...

frank- i hate it it when i fuss one to death.the only thing that keeps me from fussing over something and killing em is the fact that i paint almost everything outdoors and i set a huge goal everday of three to four finished pieces. no time (or desire) to keep working on something. Boom its down. go to the next one.over and over.
now my few studio pieces? Fussed to (&(&(&*(&^%^&%^ death because i have all that time to work on it and 'make it awesome'. i think edgar payne said something to the effect in his book on landscape composition, "plan a painting tediously and paint it furiously"
Great advice. great painting of the boat at the dock BTW.

Frank Gardner said...

Hi Kate. Good point.
Sometimes things happen along the way that I could not plan for, but influence the direction of the painting.

Frank Gardner said...

That is a good quote Kathryn. "A painting is never finished--it simply stops in interesting places."

That is a good rule, six hours to one day. I try to let them sit too.

Frank Gardner said...

Hi Barb. I struggle a lot.
I'm affraid that the better you get the higher you set the bar, so the challenges are tougher.
I think it is harder now than it used to be. I set my bar pretty high and often don't reach it.
Before I was satisfied with much less.

Frank Gardner said...

Hi Mike. Plein air is good for learning to stop and move on.
Thanks for commenting with your view on this. I apreciate it.

craigstephens said...

Hi Frank,
I've been a fan of yours for a while. Your blog is delightfully informative. Your work always looks fresh and spontaneous to me. As painters we know when we hit pretty close to what we were aiming for and it's a nice feeling when that happens. Everyone else has to judge the painting without the benefit of our internal dialogue and the hindsight of seeing the better versions that happened before we finally stopped. Thanks for sharing you thoughts. I'm sure a lot of us feel a little less alone.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you were able to finish this painting. I like it!


Jack Riddle said...

Frank--this quandry reminds me of what someone once said about WWI. When asked what it was caused by, he said, "If we only knew." Also I saw a quote somewhere along the lines of "How many people does it take to complete a painting? Two--one to paint and one to tell him/her when to stop." I find this problem one of the most difficult of all. I think it has to do with my not having a clear idea where I want the painting to go and then letting the painting take over. So there's conflict among emerging ideas. I've been slapped on the hand by mentors--one told me that I am my own worst enemy--and you told me once a slightly different but related thought--"too many details to soon." At any rate, it's nice to see a lovely painting of Maine, despite all. Jack

Mary Sheehan Winn said...

First, I love this painting of one of my favorite places in the world, Downeast Maine. I can relate to waiting to finish it and I think you pulled it off.

As far as being distracted, I think it's my natural state. I am way better these days at finishing works but I do have a stable of unfinished, or lost inspiration works.
On the other hand I have high expectations and am very critical of my work which has caused me to destroy paintings that in hindsight (from photos I have of them) were quite good if not what I had expected or hoped to achieve.
As far as killing the freshness. Oh how it pains me. This is one of the reasons I find it so risky to post WIP ;) When I look at the finish there is invariably something not as loose as what went before.
Since I started blogging my paintings I'm more focused and have painted more consistently and making it a point to finish them. But, I still struggle every day to either make a good painting or to pursue other interests ie. reading, doing something with my hubby, going to the beach or pool or whatever, WITHOUT the nagging feeling that I MUST PAINT.
It's an internal obsession and I do it because I must.
It's wonderful to be able to have a group discussion like this :D

Frank Gardner said...

Hi Craig, thanks.
That is pretty much how I feel about this too. It is nice when we hit our mark, but sometimes we pass it.
That is what makes me uncomfortable about posting WIPs. It gives everyone a chance to see a stage that might be better than the finished piece. Oh well.
I've been a fan of Creepy Drawings for a while. I'll have to visit your painting site, I have not seen it lately.

Frank Gardner said...

Thanks Paz!

Frank Gardner said...

Jennifer, you speak and write Spanish pretty well. Where did you learn?
Yo tambien me pongo timida a veces, pero somos ente amigos aqui.

Frank Gardner said...

Hi Jack. Yes, sometimes it takes two.
I'm not sure if it is only not having a clear idea. I'll often start with a clear idea, but I like to give the painting a chance to speak for itself. I will often let accidents or marks and color relationships, that you just can't plan for, lead me in a slightly different direction. I don't think it is letting the painting take over, but I am not so stubborn that if I see a good thing I won't go with it.
Painting is a process. I think it would be boring to know exactly how it is going to turn out each time.
The biggest trick is trusting intuition on when to stop.
I feel like I have a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other. The devil saying, " aw, just one more stroke" and the angel insisting, " no, don't, it is good the way it is."
Si, too many details too soon. The fleas before the dog syndrome. I'm flattered that you remember.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this one.

Frank Gardner said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Frank Gardner said...

Ooops, that was me posting a reply on the wrong post.

Hi Mary. Good to hear there is another distracted painter out there. I think I am worse right now because I have a 5 year old. I just can't stay painting as long as I used to.

Lost inspiration too. A by product of the distraction I think.

I find the WIPs risky too. I try and push myself with the blog though.
I am in the process of 'Finishing" that last WIP. We'll see how badly I mess it up. LOL

I agree with the thoughts on blogging. I focus more. Try to be more accountable for my paintings. I learn by writting my thoughts too. Beside, I have met a lot of great artists and fun people.

Thanks for joining in. Always good to have your input.

virtual nexus said...

Oer - one of the studio assistants on the course I did at the Slade said my work looked like it was slapped on - (it was!) perhaps developing a few perfectionist tendencies might be a good idea....(:

Enjoyed the picture. the red building just radiates light.

Unknown said...

Hmmmm.. I detect some frustration.
I think oil painters often spend years on a piece, I don't think they work on those pieces constanly. I think it's good to put away a piece and return to it. You can come back with fresh eyes. Wish I could do that.

Alicia PadrĂ³n said...

Wow, I love this post Frank. Is so honest and true. Is the artist in you coming out with all the frustrations we all share and experience also.

This, what you are talking about, is not easy. I think all artists go through this with any type or art but on top of that you have to take into account the fact that when you are working with a medium like oil it's even more difficult to know when to stop. Oil has 2 qualities, dries slowly (more time to work, correct, keep working) and can stand layer over layer so you can keep going on it like the energizer bunny! So this makes it harder to stop or know when to stop.

While reading your post I came up with an idea... I'm going to use a timer when I work. Every time the timer goes off I will get up and leave for a while. Come back, take a good look at it and ask myself, is it ready? If not, what else does it REALLY need? And keep on going until the next beep..
I might go crazy with this. I'll let you know ;o)

Frank Gardner said...

Julie, that is a fine line. I want my work to look slapped on, but slapped in the right places. I'm always searching for the balance between perfection and loose spontaneity.

Hi Eric. There is a little frustration, not always a bad thing.
It is good to step away from a piece for a while and come back to it. The hard part is knowing when to call it a day and frame it or stack it away.
I know it is different with illustrators. You have a style that you need to reach and you can't really stop half way there and say done. I assume that you still face the same pit falls of over working a piece though.

Alicia, I use a time limit sometimes too. It will be interesting to see how your timer idea works for you.
There is nothing like working on location for time limits. Light changes, things move, time to stop. The studio with oils is a different set of issues.
I always try to thing in terms of how much more does it REALLY need.

hj said...

great art, nice paintings !!
Helene "amateur painter"

Frank Gardner said...

Merci beaucoup Helene! That's about all the French I know. I wish I could understand a little more so I could read your blog. The images are fun though.
Thanks for the visit.

Jennifer Thermes said...

Hi Frank-- It's been a few days since I've been over here-- just saw you're reply to one of my comments on a different post!

Answer-- I taught myself Spanish-- started about 6 years ago with grammar/exercise books, read a lot, watch telenovelas (when I can stand them!), movies-- and now I listen to a lot of podcasts (free!) But, I had many years of high school French, which somehow made Spanish a bit easier. (Except for the subjunctive!!)

Regarding this post-- I constantly struggle with this question. For me it helps to take lots of mini breaks, and not to trust my judgment at the end of the day.

And-- I was so thrilled to see these paintings-- I've been to Spruce Head many times! Love it up there.

Frank Gardner said...

Hi Jennifer, That is amazing that you taught yourself Spanish just like that. Good for you.
Oh, you're into the telenovelas huh? We watch a few of those. Most are dumb, but easy to get caught up in.
Yeah, I need lots of mini breaks to just step back.
Spruce Head is a neat place. I hope to get back up that way this summer or fall.

Anonymous said...

Today, I'm reading this section of your blog - hope your vacation is starting out well!!!

First, I sensed ZERO rant or "ticked-offness" in your post.

Second, I think that frustration is a sign of vision - people who don't get frustrated don't have a vision within them of how they want it to be - so there's nothing to work towards, and excellence can only be accidental. I think frustration is just a sign that I need to press in - to some aspect of the thing being working on. I don't know what it would be in painting, but in my work, it's usually a technical issue that needs fine-tuning - something that's hindering the flow, the ease, the freshness, that I'm seeking to manifest. So perhaps it's a color issue or a stroke issue or a planning issue or or or or or and all the repetition or reworking in the world can't fix that - nothing but some work on a teeny technical aspect before going back to the big picture. Maybe that translates, maybe it doesn't.

I like that knitting thing....but, to tie it into the above, one will rip out and rip out and rip out until one practices the specific "stitches" of the knitting plan to get the rhythm of the hands right in order not to mess up the flow. (I think they're called "stitches".....knit, purl, etc.)
Conversation: vocabulary, grammar, listening skills, PLUS knowing the other person well - studying them to know what kind of rhythm and flow works for the various people one converses with - not the same for every person. Needs practice, study, discipline, unselfishness, love and care. Just like music or painting.

Artful spontaneity is not the same as accidental excellence.

There. That's my long word on all of this.

Your paintings are so beautiful!!! thank you for the great inspiration.


Frank Gardner said...

Solveg, "something that's hindering the flow, the ease, the freshness" You are very right there.

"Artful spontaneity is not the same as accidental excellence."
and there.

Vacation going smoothly so far:o) thanks!