Here is my latest, titled “February Dawn.” I won’t say “…and greatest,” although my favorite painting is often whatever I have finished most recently. The photo, as always, doesn’t do it justice, but I love the slant of the light on the snow, the contrast between the cool snow and the almost-hot play of the sunlight in the trees, and the surprise of that little window in the back of the shed.
There is something so satisfying about finishing a painting. Some paintings fight back, but this one came fairly easily. Painting is always work, taking great focus and many, many decisions. Sometimes, though, as with this one, it seems that most of my decisions are perfect right off the bat. Other times, it seems as if every color I put down is not quite right. I layer something else over it, or take it out altogether. With the hardest ones, I do that repeatedly. Interestingly, whether it’s easy or a struggle seems to have no bearing on the quality of the finished product. And there is also no way to tell ahead of time which images will be a struggle to get right. It’s mysterious.
Having it come easily is a gift, though, and I enjoy it when it happens. In my imagination, when I become a better artist (in some land and time far, far away!), all paintings will flow like that. I am pretty sure, however, that this is not the case. I have taken a couple of workshops with Liz Haywood-Sullivan, a very well-known and accomplished artist. Invariably, when doing a demonstration, she will on several occasions try a color and announce, “not that one,” or “too dark.” She does not seem to get to the stage of having to re-do parts of the painting, so I think she catches her errors more quickly that I do. But she does indeed make errors. It is very reassuring.
As making a particular painting comes toward a close, I paint more and more slowly. At that point, it is a matter of tiny adjustments: a hit of light here and there, a darkening of a shadow, small additions of color variations. When I start a painting, I often work for quite a while before standing back to look at it and assess. You need to get enough down to have something to assess! But toward the end, I assess after almost every stroke of pastel. Does this add something or not? What else would make the painting sing?
I have three criteria for when I consider a painting done. First, it’s done when I can find nothing more that I feel it needs. I am satisfied with the composition, the colors are in harmony throughout the painting, it says what I want it to say. Second, I always get feedback from a couple of fellow artists, so it’s done when they have added their critiques and I have made decisions about their suggestions. But finally, it is done when it lifts my heart. My hope is that each painting will lift someone else’s heart as well.