Critiquing Your Own Work OR "Is it finished yet?"

Whenever I go "off" blogging and return, I am shocked at how long it has been. February, huh? Well, a lot HAS happened since February. Since then, my son decided what college to attend, we found out we were moving to an unexpected location, I sold our house (myself), negotiated a crazy summer of planned travel, packed up two houses, bought a boat, moved into a new house, took son to college, picked daughter up from camp, and started unpacking. Months later, we are almost through. The last dozen or so boxes are waiting on my attention, but making artwork had to start happening to maintain my own sanity.

I've done four watercolors and one mixed media piece since the move. My style is starting to change, but that is a post for another day. Today, I want to share a bit about how I decide when a painting is finished and how crucial those last decisions can be.

My latest painting is titled Lots of Spots. I was so excited to paint this stingray when I took his/her photo in September. The challenge this would be started to dawn on me as soon as I began drawing. A yellow spotted stingray is all dots. ALL DOTS. Hundreds of dots (thousands?) are not fun to draw. I realized that they would not be fun to paint either. I completed the drawing and set it aside. Weeks passed.

Eventually, I decided I was ready for the challenge of painting this guy. I sat for a long time considering how to go about it. In reality, this stingray is brown. A bazillion different shades from ecru to golden brown to caramel to almost black. I could have painted it that way. But, I didn't. The palette that I had open was one that I got in preparation for Jane Paul Angelhart's portrait workshop. I've added a few personal favorites to her recommended palette, but I still think of her instruction when I look at the brilliant orange and the permanent green #1.

So, I decided that all "browns" would be created by layering complementary colors AND I would leave the edge of each color showing on purpose. I probably should have taken more photos along the way, but once I'm in "the zone," I hate to stop painting. I usually on take a photo when life causes me to put down the brush.

Here is the first photo:

As you can see, most areas only have one or two layers of color. I choose the colors rather randomly from the palette, knowing that almost every area of the painting will have several layers.

The next time that I sat down to paint, I thought I would be able to finish the painting. Above is the second photo that I took (for Instagram, hence square). I was pleased with how I was beginning to create dimension and a sense of depth on the back fin.

The following day, I really thought that I had only an hour or so left to complete this painting. About three hours later, I decided it was done.  I hung it on the wall and took the photo below:

 Something about it was still bothering me. My first method of analysis is to stare at the painting from about ten feet away. Often, things that seem great when you are ten inches from the paper are glaringly wrong from across the room. Most artwork will be viewed from a distance, so be sure to keep this in mind.

When staring at it on the wall didn't quite work, I pulled up the thumbnails on my phone. when the image is a half inch square, lights and darks are compressed and colors are muted. Solutions to visual problems are frequently revealed when you do this. I'm starting to get clues now! The foreground fin needs more contrast in value.

To better see where the darks are most needed, I saved the photo in black and white. Below, the flatness in that area is apparent, especially when compared to the background fin.

 So, I painted a little more. I experimented with losing the front edge into the background, but decided I didn't like it. Then I decided the background itself needed more richness and depth. I added several layers there. Then, I felt like the background didn't "match the image. It was dark and brooding. I decided it would benefit from tiny bits of bright color. At one point, I thought I had lost my mind and ruined the entire thing, but then, it started to make visual sense. The stingray began to belong in the painting instead of merely float in a rectangle. The flow of the background values began strengthen the composition.

To complete this post, I'll add the final version as a black and white photo too.

Can you see the increased depth and improved composition?

And....just for fun, here is a detail of the painting, so that you can see all of the layers of bright color that build the overall image.

Pointillistic in some ways I guess. Painting so many dots ended up being fun after all!

I hope that this post will give you ways of seeing your work with fresh eyes and help you know when a painting is completed. Additional methods for evaluating and critiquing your work that you can also try:
Look at your work in a mirror. 
Look at the work upside down. 
Put it away or facing the wall for several days and then look at it again.

1 comment:

Linda Czarra said...

Great colors and subject! Love the change in background! Good job