What to do when you don’t know what to do.
|Underpainting. The schooner is just a placeholder. I vowed to not paint nonsense from my head anymore. That lasted about ten minutes.|
This week, my painting class worked on skies. Not the one outside, which was crabby, but the ones in their imaginations. It was a small class, which sometimes allows time for my mind to wander.
I idly swooped some bright orange lines across a large, dull canvas I’ve been noodling to death. “That helps!” Jennifer Johnson said. The lines were ridiculous, but they pointed to a solution to my problem: the night has no color.
If you look at Winslow Homer’s Sleigh Ride or Edward Hopper’s Room for Tourists, you’ll see that they get around that problem by simply lying about what can be seen in the dark. I admire that, but I haven’t figured out yet how to do it convincingly. This canvas is the battleground on which I fight with myself over it.
|Dawn sail out of Camden, so unfinished and a terrible photograph.|
When class ended, I left the orange lines, intending to come back later. Before I knew it, it was bedtime.
One of our kids is studying fundraising. “The antidote to fear is a plan,” she said. “One of the biggest challenges in life is deciding what to do when you don’t know what to do.” I decided to mix some colors I want to see in this painting and then figure out where to add them. I had the orange-to-red already on my palette, so I mixed some reds-to-purples and let it rip.
|How can I toss these colors in a nocturne?|
I spent much of the day painting dreck and then scraping it out. But I think, in the end, I figured something out. The orange is still there, in all its original places, but subdued and modulated. When I get home from Scotland, this phase will be thoroughly dry. I’ll finish the water, tighten up the edges of the sails, and add the rigging. Then it will be done, for good or ill.
Canvases that never resolve are torture, but fertile ground for self-discovery. It’s taken time to understand what isn’t working chromatically, but it’s a lesson I’ll carry with me forever.
“Spare me from painting with no reference,” I muttered. But what to do with all those garish sunrise colors on my palette? Why, underpaint something new, of course. That will be dry when I get home too, and I can start to build another fantastical schooner painting. My resolution to avoid painting from my head lasted about ten minutes.
|Fuel dock, by Carol L. Douglas|
I was on a roll of sorts, so I picked up the plein air piece I hated last week. A few brush strokes and I’d lightened the wall’s reflection in the water and added a fictitious highlight to the boat. Would it still qualify as plein airfor purposes of judging? I think so, but no matter; it’s not good enough. But it’s less horrible than I thought.
I’m not going to paint the island tanker Capt Ray O’Neillagain any time soon, I vowed. It’s the second time I’ve tried and come up short. That resolution is probably as good as the one about painting without reference.
|Sleeping model, by Carol L. Douglas|
All too soon, it was time for life drawing, where I focused on a portrait of our sleeping model. This is familiar territory for me, so it went just fine. Now I can head to Scotland feeling as if my finer drawing skills have been buffed up.