Sunday, August 21, 2016

When Your Painting Fights Back

What no one sees when they look at a painting is the battle that occurred in order for it to turn out well enough for the artist to want to show it to anyone.

You wouldn't know it but this painting, which was a commission for the ACE Hotel in New Orleans, survived a war. In spite of careful planning doing pencil sketches and color studies this painting went through a big evolution.

It began with the tree trunk. In the first pass is was too wide and too straight. After narrowing it I began shading it to give it the 3D effect of a tree trunk. Every time I thought I had the trunk looking like a cylinder the colors would sink in (get darker) overnight. I'd return to the studio in the morning and face the fact that I needed to push the lights and darks even farther than I had during the previous painting session.

Just when I was at my wits end a couple of artist friends stopped over for coffee (Chai tea for me) and offered their thoughts. The shading still wasn't bold enough, the trunk didn't look like it had a twist (a hallmark of bayou trees) and the base of the tree was way too narrow.

After my friends left I attacked the trunk for the final time and managed to make all the adjustments needed.

Second pass on the awful clumps of Spanish Moss
Battle won? Ha, I wish!

You know what? As a native of California I've never seen Spanish moss in real life. I've seen it on T.V. and in photos but, I've never been to the parts of the south where it grows much less painted it. My first pass was a complete disaster. The moss looked like heavy ropes of brownish hair. I had no idea what I was doing, no idea at all.  It was a humbling experience.

Once again I reached out and texted a friend from the south some photos of my moss and proceeded to Google "paintings of Spanish moss." Seeing how other artists handled it helped. Then my southern friend got back to me and put her 2 cents in. She informed me that it must be silver/gray and stringy with movement to it.

Final version of the Spanish moss
I tried again and again, each time was closer but it still didn't have the movement it needed. Finally, I decided to run my paintbrush through it using big bold arm movements and contrasting grays letting it get messy. Amazingly it worked. It looked like Spanish moss!

All that was left was to paint in some of the smaller branches and I was done.
The finished painting installed in the ACE Hotel

Reading this it all sounds pretty simple after the fact, but resolving these problems required many hours over the course of two weeks. There were plenty of moments where I wasn't sure if I could pull it off at all. Thankfully, I have good friends with great insights who are happy to share and cheer me on. I'm grateful because in the painting war everyone needs allies.