Sunday, July 17, 2011

Revisiting old paintings that you thought were failing

My unfinished painting of lone tree sunset.  18" x 24", oil on canvas
I was faced with a problem the other day; I had run out of surfaces to paint on. No problem, I just ordered some from Dick Blick. It really is a great way to get supplies when you live an hour or more from the nearest craft store. The prices are also great. Unfortunately I was then left with the problem of how to use precious painting time while I waited the week or so for my canvases to arrive.  I have shelved the beach painting, and was not feeling like working on the portrait, so I dug into my cash of "failures". One of them was started with grand hopes of making an impression at the local Universities group show. The painting was of a very large prominent house at sunset. Everything was going well until I started painting the sun set.

Over the years I have painted quite a few of them and found that they are a most paradoxical subject. On the one hand painting a red and orange sky with some trees silhouetted against it, is one of the easiest ways for a beginner to wow their friends. Conversely, if you want to capture the depth and subtlety of one, it takes a lot of experience and skill to achieve well. I repainted this sky several times. By the time I lost steam all I had was a blue grey under painting. The canvas kicked around in wardrobes and boxes for about 3 years before I finally picked it up to have another go. It is not finished yet. I still have more to do on the house, and have to add text so as to fit it into my current brand, but I am pleased with my progress.

First I managed to capture a real feeling for the thin translucent layer of cloud with the colors of the setting sun glinting off their uneven base. The single tree looked great with the brilliant light silhouetting it. The house though was still a problem. It remained dark and dead, the way it was in the reference picture. Additionally it was  problematic because it added to the paintings imbalance. To compensate I lightened the house, and added lights in some of the windows and on the portico.

It is still a little imbalanced, but I am sure that the positioning of the text will solve that problem. All in all, I am pleased with the results. Over the years I have found that paintings that have sat for a long time, when returned to, become some of my best. If you paint, don't throw paintings away when they aren't working, and don't grudgingly just accept them as evidence of your lack of ability.  Put them away and let the idea rest for a while.

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