Art & Design Magazine

In Praise of Slow Painting

By Ingrid Christensen

In praise of slow paintingBerry Picker36 x 36I've become a slow painter.   
When I first started painting, I wanted to finish a piece in a day.  2, if it was a large one.  Now, they can take months to finish to my satisfaction.  The studio is filled with paintings that are "resting", waiting for me to have some ideas that will move them forward - or kill them once and for all.  It can go either way. 
This piece has been resting for ages.  There was something good in it, I knew, but it wasn't enough, and I had no idea for how to shift it from its unsatisfactory state.  I'd look at the painting once in a while, hoping for a bit of inspiration, but nothing came to me so I'd put it back against the wall and work on other things. 
Yesterday, I decided that I had to tackle that unappealing face and that the piece was just too dark, overall.  Using the reference photo, I did a better job of the face and head size and shape and pushed the skin into a lighter value.  That gave me a way into the piece.  The strong light area on his cheek, called for some echoing high values elsewhere.  Mixing way more white into the leaf color than I thought would actually work, I tackled the leaves to the right, pushing them into a cool, light range that bleached colour, but raised the value overall.  In praise of slow paintingVersion 1As the piece became generally lighter, those reddish darks in the bottom area were really jarring.  I did, however, need warmth to avoid making an overall cool and unappealing painting.  So I mixed a range of warm greens and browns to cover most of the red, raise its value somewhat, and move warmth through the composition.  And then the painting began to speak to me - the thing that all painters can relate to: when the work tells you what it needs and you just have to keep up with all the ideas coming at you. 
From isolated patches, I suddenly began to see large areas all over the canvas that I knew how to tackle, at least sort of.  Raise the value, change the color temperature to harmonize with the newly-emerging scheme, add complexity to the layering, move the viewer's eye through repeating colours and shapes... It all became clear (ish).  
Having sat mute for months, the painting suddenly gave up all sorts of suggestions and was finished to this new state within a couple of hours.  It felt like inspiration but I know it was the result of patience and pondering.  My brain had been working the problem in the background and had a few ideas ready.  As well, I was so far removed from the first attempt at the piece that I felt no attachment to it.  I was willing to kill it.  I just wanted to stop looking at it as it was.  
In praise of slow painting
I've run out of ideas for this piece in a different way now.  The surface is interesting, there's a nice balance between warm and cool, and it feels like a complete statement.  I'm calling it finished with much more conviction now.  But never say never...
If you'd like to watch me tackle another unsatisfying painting, please join me on Zoom on Friday, Oct. 9.  I'll be doing a demo: Rescuing a Boring Painting, for the Winslow Art Center. 
Happy painting!

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