Monday, April 21, 2008

"You can never achieve perfection" Emile Gruppe

So how does one know when to stop?
I often tell students that I would rather see something painted slightly wrong, but with confidence, than something painted to perfection but with a look of labored fussiness. It's just that I don't always practice what I preach.

There were a lot of really great comments and thoughts on my last post. Thanks to everyone for sharing your thoughts and opinions on this. I'd like to borrow a few bits and pieces from all the comments to share here.

"Fuss over the details."
"messed up something that was just fine."
Seems like a lot of us have been there, done that.

"Second Wind, Spruce Head", 11" x 14" oil on board, 2008
$950. Framed, Available at Galeria Gardner

Stepping away from the piece to come back with fresh eyes seems to be a common way to try and control the urge to over work.

Speaking of which, here is the other Maine painting that I started last October, but just came back to with fresh eyes to make a few adjustments. It is of the same boat, "Second Wind", that I wrote about before. Some old wooden lobster boats in Maine have a sail in the back that allows the captain to do all of the labor by himself. Steer and haul pots. Amazing! He is swinging into the same dock as in the last post to unload his pots at the end of the season.

O.K., back to the main point. I told you I get distracted.

Seeing the finished painting in your mind, before you start, is also a good idea. You need to have some sort of idea of what you want to achieve right from the get go.

Here is a good quote by Emile Gruppe, from "Gruppe on Color".

"When I paint outdoors, I've always liked to let the paint do some of the work. I go for the big effect; and when I get it, I let the rest go. Of course, I can still remember my father telling me "try taking it a bit further." But I always felt that if I did, I'd ruin the spontaneity and excitement of what I had in the first place. After all, it's possible for a thing to be well drawn and so systematically developed that the essence of the subject is lost.
Here's the important difference between tight and loose painting: tight, meticulous work can be copied- even a reasonably clever student could do it. But loose, spontaneous work is full of accident and inspiration. And great paintings done in this manner can never be duplicated- the painter himself doesn't know how he got some of his effects. All he knows is the he was outdoors. Something happened to him. He saw differences; he felt the shadows and the textures- and put them down. Such painters see their pictures even before they begin them- as if in a dream. The subject hits them hard. When they finish, the picture is better than nature, but never as good as what was in their minds eye. They worry about it, of course- but they also know that you can never achieve perfection. There's never and end to things. It's like the universe: where do the stars end and heaven begin?"

Two more things that I pulled from the comments on the last post.

"Wasn't it Picasso who said, "A painting is never finished--it simply stops in interesting places." "

"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."

Very good points.

I think that in the end you just have to be happy with where you leave off on the painting. If I am not 90% satisfied with how the piece looks I will cull it out and not frame it and show it. That 90% is an estimate. I shoot for 100%, but I realize that I sometimes have to settle for a little less.

That's it for now.


Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

Good thoughts, Frank. And a nice painting, to boot!

Accidents sometimes "make" the painting, don't they? I love 'em.

Stacey Peterson said...

Good thoughts - it's hard to verbalize what makes a painting finished. I usually work from the top down, finishing each section of the painting as I go. "Finished" for me is when the light, color, and shapes are correct - I don't worry too much about detail unless I think it will really add interest to an area. My husband always thinks my paintings need more detail - obviously my "finished" isn't the same as his!

Ambera said...

Such a beautiful blue. I love seeing your take on the colours Frank.

Frank Gardner said...

Thanks Michael. I'm all for good accidents.

Stacey, I agree with finish being when the light, color and shapes are correct. The trick is to leave it at that.
I think that your paintings have just the right amount of detail.

Thanks Ambera. The water was relecting a lot of the sky.

Amy Gethins Sullivan said...

Frank, I so know what you are talking about here. When I work with spontaneity & am feeling the piece, it is true, you can't tell how you did it, you just did.Feeling, something needs to & step back & say now how did I do that.
If you pop over to my blog, you will see two pastel paintings that show this. One I have been fussing over for weeks now. Something is now lost.It is not done. The other was done in a matter of hours. It just happened and is fresh & exciting.
I am so happy I found your posts, I hopped over from Eric's blog. amy
p.s. ant thoughts you have about that over worked piece would be most appreciated. amy

Anonymous said...

I like the boat whether you painted bold or timid. Bold and wrong is not really any better than timid and half right.

Christine Mercer-Vernon said...

good post frank. can't say i really 'know' when a painting is done. sometimes i just feel it, and then two days later realize i was sooo wrong. sometimes i just have to say enough is enough, it's never going to be anything more than what it is, and move on. i learn with each painting, so looking back is hard because is see areas that could NOW be improved with my more refined skills. hindsight is 20/20. ugh.

Jack Riddle said...

FRank--I think the Gruppe quotes nail it. "Happy accidents" are important. But the inexperienced painter (moi) sometimes gets confused by them. We have to learn to trust our instincts more.
Those two Maine paintings really capture the colors and light here--different from Mexico, no?

Frank Gardner said...

Hi Amy. It's nice when the piece just seems to happen without effort. I'll have a look at your blog later today, gotta get painting here.

Hi onpainting, Bill?, Lisa?....mmmm? ... Bill.
Thanks. There was not too much timid action on this one. Except that part I painted out after I took the photo and was ready to post and then realized that it was a stupid thing to have done and I should correct it before I published this post about finish and timid or confident. All fixed now.

Wise words. "Bold and wrong is not really any better than timid and half right." But bold and just slightly wrong is way better than bold and way off.

Hi Christine. I think that "feeling" when a piece is done is a good way to go. Gotta listen to those feeling tho.
Yeah, saying enough is enough:^)

Jack, thanks for the thumbs up on my Maine paintings. You ought to know. The light is different up there. Always a challenge.
I love a good "Happy Accident", that sounds kind of Bob Ross,LOL. The thing I have learned the hard way is to not get so jaded by a happy accident that you will do anything and everything to avoid painting over your little gem putting the whole painting at risk.

Nathan Fowkes said...

A gem.

Todd Bonita said...

Oh! these are awesome paintings my man, right up my alley. These last two boat paintings you did are everything I strive for. Nice balance of looseness, solid design and fresh color! You've got it! Nicely said in your post too. I just finished the Gruppe book and look forward to having it in the studio as reference. We could all use a little Gruppe wisdom in our lives. Well done.


FCP said...

I agree with Todd--"we could all use a little Gruppe wisdom"--and the Gardner "show and tell" is most helpful too! This is a really nice painting, Frank.

Frank Gardner said...

Thanks Nathan. I appreciate your visit.

Todd, Thanks. Isn't that book great? Not only was he a great painter, but he knew how to put it in words.
His other two books are worthwhile too.

Hi Faye. Do you have Gruppe on Color too Faye? Good stuff.
Thanks for the encouraging words.

Anonymous said...

I really have been enjoying your comments...I was directed here through my friend Joanne Giesbrecht's blog some time ago and have to say that reading your comments and seeing your work in progress is like being back in art a good way. Thank you.

craigstephens said...

Great blues in this one!
It seems like everyone sweats the "is it finished?" Question to some degree. It's a big part of what appeals to me in painting.

Frank Gardner said...

Thanks Veronica. I'm glad that you introduced yourself.

Hi Craig. It appeals to me too.
The thrill is in the chase for me. Once the painting is done I'm ready to move on to the next one.

kathrynlaw said...

"tight, meticulous work can be copied- even a reasonably clever student could do it. But loose, spontaneous work is full of accident and inspiration." I *LOVE* that. So so true. This is a stunner, Frank. The treatment of the water, the clean brilliant color, that beautiful churning at the boat's stern. I can smell the sea air.

One thought about recognizing when a painting is finished. It's very tough for beginners to differentiate it from simple fear of continuing. With experience, eventually they'll know whether they honestly feel that a painting is resolved, or if it's their apprehension telling them to stop. That's a very important distinction, and I think that only experience can teach that.

Frank Gardner said...

Hi Kathy, thanks. I'm glad someone noticed the water at the stern. :-)
Good thoughts on finish.

rob ijbema said...

yes Frank it is good to stop as early as you dare,especially looking back...and ofcourse less is i didn't even start painting...perfect!

the blue in the water with its variations is very convincing,you've got such a great
nack of catching light,brilliant

Frank Gardner said...

Good way to put it Rob. "Stop as early as you dare."
The frustration comes when you put a mark and know that it would have been better without it. Even worse when you put another trying to hide that one.

Thanks for your comments.

Bill Sharp said...

This is my absolute favorite of everything you've posted so far. I wish I could afford to buy art ; ).

I really enjoyed your thoughts on finish as always.

Frank Gardner said...

Thanks Bill. It's always good to hear which ones are people's favorites. I like this one a lot too.

Mary Sheehan Winn said...

Beautiful painting. You nailed that blue of the water.
The Gruppe quote is one of my favorites especially the part where he says "of course they worry about it" ;)
but, of course.

Frank Gardner said...

Thanks Mary. Of course.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing that Gruppe quote - love the part about immitability! So TRUE!!! in everything....

Frank Gardner said...

Hi Solveg, Gruppe has a lot of good quotes in his books. He is a big inspiration for me. He makes me want to be able to write about what and why of what I do. He has a great way with words.

Anonymous said...

You DO write beautifully about what you do - with gentle flow and clarity.

Maybe I'll look into the Gruppe books - I gather they're hard to find???

Glad the vacation is starting out nicely!!!

Frank Gardner said...

Solveg, the Gruppe books are out of print. You can find them, but they are expensive sometimes. Especially "Color".