How do you know when a painting is done?
Some of the most well spoken, deliberate painting teachers I have ever known have stated, in effect, that a painting is done when you have realized the concept that drove its creation.
So obviously, I need to have a concept. What is this painting about? Is it a reaction to, and therefore my interpretation of visual input that lay before me? Or is it more the realization that I have followed and completed a self imposed series of tasks, in the creation of this work? If the work completes the concrete vision of its imagery in my mind, then it is done. Or is it?
|January Morning Light|
Oil - 8x10
Linen on Prepared birch board
I painted this past week, en plein air, with a set problem in my mind. I imposed a task that I try to do more with the temperature of color rather than its value. I depend quite heavily on value, and many painters do. There is a saying that goes “value does the work, but color gets the glory”. It is well known amid painting circles and widely remembered. Many teachers go so far as to say that as long as you get the value right, any color will do and the painting will read right. Value is the underrated workhorse that pulls the wagon. But knowing how a thing works makes you wonder if anything else would work as well. I have noticed that I am admiring paintings with a tighter value range than my own paintings have. I love when the artist keeps the value close but turns the object with the warmth and then the relative coolness of the color of an object.
So I tried that with this painting, ‘January Morning Light’. This is my attempt to do that in a landscape study. I think I might be more successful in a still life where the shadows are not so fleeting, where I can control the lighting. Plein air does not lend itself so easily to slow considered color judgments, when value is so nearby, a steady and trusted work ally. Especially as you try so hastily to capture the wandering lights and shadows as the sun races across the sky.
Again, how do you know when a painting is done?
I say it’s when you cannot feel your toes and you have been out in 27 degree temps and the painting looks close to darned well finished.
An artist is not paid for his labor, but for his vision. (James Abbot McNeill Whistler)