Art & Design Magazine

Choices, Choices...

By Ingrid Christensen

Choices, choices...

Chinese Vase
10 x 8

Choices, choices...

Model in Strong Light
10 x 8

 I'll be in Vancouver next week teaching both figurative and still life workshops for the Federation of Canadian Artists.  To get into the mood, I've been working on small pieces in both genres in the studio.
What strikes me each time that I begin a painting is the vast number of choices that it involves.  And each choice made launches the work in a definite direction.  My most confounding decision starts with the support.  Oil primed linen is my usual choice (though I've also got oil paper, velum, aluminum, and gesso primed canvas and panels in the studio), but within that category I've got rough, smooth, and medium textured linen; double primed and single primed; stretched and mounted.  Each will impart a completely different look to the final piece - at least in my eyes - because the way that a mark breaks on each is unique to that surface.
Next is the color of the toning - if I use any.  Sometimes I opt to start on a white surface for the clarity of colours that you get that way, but usually there's a color underneath.  That decision takes a while to make.  Cool under a warm painting?  Warm under warm?  Neutral grey?  What chroma? What value?  You can see the dilemma.
Finally, the color of the subject's first mark is crucial.  Earth toned or prismatic, this mark will direct the painting down a path, and the decision about which path I want it to take gives me pause - sometimes long pause.
Degas said that "painting is easy when you don't know how, but very difficult when you do", and I concur, but I'd also add that it's richer and more rewarding when you do know how.  You're aware of so many possibilities and, like a chess player, you paint the piece in your head 5 different ways before you even pick up the brush.  But in the act of painting it in your head, you're helping to crystallize your plan for that piece; you're figuring out how you want it to look when it's done and, especially, how you don't want it to look.  That initial planning lets you know if you've been successful when you're done.
So planning and painting in the mind are going to be part of the workshops, but we always move beyond that.  Once these thoughtful starts are on canvas, I'm always dazzled by the directions that the painters take.  No two painters make the same initial choices, and no two paintings look the same at the end.  Regardless of subject, a successful painting is a record of the choices made by an individual on a give day in a specific place.  It can't be replicated, not even by the same painter, because those decisions are as changeable as a person's experiences and moods.  Each painting is unique and hard won, and full of moments of grace, even in passages of struggle.  Difficult?  Yes.  Uplifting?  You bet!
Happy painting!

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