Friday, April 1, 2016

After All This Time

I am often asked "How do you know when a painting is finished?".

My answer: "When I sell it, because then I can't work on it any more."

This was one of those paintings that took years to finish, as happens sometimes. It began in the autumn of 2011 as a series of pastel drawings of one of my favorite subjects, the old McBride homestead on the Framingham Road here in Littleton (which, sadly, is due to be razed some time this spring). I did an oil painting shortly thereafter, which ended up hanging in two shows over the following 6 months. However, once I got the painting back to my studio I was forced to realize that I wasn't completely happy with it. The house was much bigger and there were three trees in the foreground. I ended up pulling the canvas off the stretchers and stretching a new canvas and starting again with this composition – pushing the house farther back and eliminating one of the trees in the foreground. The resulting painting was better than the original, but I knew instinctively that it wasn't quite finished. I left it leaning against the wall in my studio (for two and a half years!), often contemplating it and trying to figure out what was wrong with it. Finally, I realized that the biggest problem with it was that the road in the foreground had too much orange in it – the result of me thinking (which is never a good idea when you're trying to make art!) that the orange would give a sense of the light on the road. In reality, the orange in the road was fighting with the orange in the grass, so I made the grey in the road cooler, with less orange and even increased the amount of orange in the grass, which in turn caused the sky to appear even more blue - an unexpected bonus hat caused the touches of orange in the trees and chimney to pop out.

I think it's a good idea to not force oneself to "finish" a painting, but to allow it to come to fruition in its own time. The paintings want to be finished, and if we're patient, diligent and observant, they will eventually let us know what they need – and maybe even teach us some important lessons at the same time.