Seeing Double?

I just finished a very interesting commission. I've shared my oil painting, Pandora, on Artist Daily before. It was one of the central paintings from my 2012 exhibit at Forbes Gallery. I got a lot of positive feedback on that painting–and then got an inquiry from a collector, "Is Pandora still available?" Happily I had already sold it, but the collector and I started talking about doing a second version, and the historic tradition of multiple versions of successful paintings. We both agreed that a commission of a second version would be a great project.

These two images are so similar, you could do a search and find for small details. I even have to look twice to figure out whether they are the same or different. Pandora by Patricia Watwood, 2011, oil on linen, 30 x 26.
These two images are so similar, you could do a search and find for
small details. I even have to look twice to figure out whether they are
the same or different.
by Patricia Watwood, 2011, oil on linen, 30 x 26.

I'd never done an autograph copy of a fine art oil painting before, and I did not want to just make a copy of the first painting. How could I make another one and create the same level of quality and freshness, rather than a technical repeat that wouldn't have the verve of the first? I think we've all seen 2nd and 3rd versions of famous works by artists in museum exhibits, and there's often a sense that the first is the best one and the others are derivative. So, my challenge was to make a second version that was every bit as "first rate" as the original.

The collector and I agreed upon some basic working strategies. For one thing, I would not copy the original oil painting, but re-create the painting from life–particularly by doing the figure work again from the live model. I would also re-set the "still-life" objects that create Pandora's seat–the pile of junk around her in the foreground. I recreated the set-up and placed the objects so that the composition would be an improvisation on a theme, rather than a rote repetition of the details. Lastly, I made the picture at a slightly different size–two inches larger in each direction. 

To proceed, the first thing I did was make a full-size black and white copy of the original painting (from a photograph of the artwork), and transfer that to the new canvas. I rubbed soft pastel on the back of the paper copy, and scribed the lines on the front with a pencil to transfer the drawing. Next, I did my underpainting (in my usual limited palette) by copying the original painting.  After that was mapped out on the new canvas, I set the original aside and began to finish the second painting on it's own, referring to the first only to check general color and value consistency and design.

Pandora 2012 by Patricia Watwood, 2012, oil on linen, 32 x 28.
Pandora 2012 by Patricia Watwood,
2012, oil on linen, 32 x 28.

In the end, I was very pleased with both the process and the result of the second work. Repeating the composition caused me to reflect on how a personal visual language has been developing through this work, and others I'm making in this vein. I was no longer asking myself: "How should I do this?" and "Where should this hand go?" I could dwell on larger questions like: "What is personal and meaningful about these things I'm painting?" and "How can I give this more deftness and grace?" I'm learning that this is one of the great boons of working on a series–that you can dig deeper into the "why," and explore variations rather than building the machine from scratch each time. I made the figure just a bit bigger–and learned how just a small change in scale can change the impact and technical handling in the figure. There were a few passages that I kept almost exactly the same, and that gave me confidence that "Yes, I did like how I solved that problem last time."  Like anything we repeat, practice makes perfect. The second painting went very smoothly, and I felt increased confidence in the execution and result.

I'll leave you with a word of praise for the art collectors out there, who play a crucial role in the development of an artist.  I have been lucky enough to work with a few collectors who are deeply committed to cultivating art and talent. When you have a patron who is both setting a high expectation, and trusting you to be your best self, the outcome can be optimal for both parties.  Collectors who buy the work of living artists get to go to "Art Heaven," and this direct support of artists makes the world a better place for all of us who strive for the continuance of excellence in the arts.  So, thank you, dear collector.



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Oil Painting Blog
Patricia Watwood

About Patricia Watwood

Patricia Watwood has studied painting with Jacob Collins at the Water Street Atelier, and also with Ted Seth Jacobs at Ecole Albert Defois. She earned her MFA with honors from New York Academy of Art.

Watwood paints nudes, figures, portraits and still lifes in the classical tradition. Her paintings draw on allegorical, mythological, and narrative themes. She continues the classical pursuits of representational painting, with an eye on the contemporary world. The recurring theme in her paintings is the spiritual human presence. Watwood states, “Formal training is the indispensable underpinning of my practice. I seek to follow and build upon the artistic intelligence and traditions of the past, and bring them anew to my own generation.”

Watwood has exhibited in group and solo shows in New York, Paris, Houston, San Francisco and Long Island.  Her work is represented by John Pence Gallery in San Francisco. Her figurative paintings have been included in several museum shows, including “Enchantment” at the Hartford Art School, “Slow Painting,” at the Oglethorpe Museum; “The Great American Nude,” at the Bruce Museum of Arts and Sciences; and in “Representing Representation VI,” at the Arnot Museum. Her work has been featured in numerous art publications including International Artist, and a recent cover article in American Artist magazine.
Watwood also does portrait commissions, and is represented by Portraits, Inc.  Her recent projects include a portraits for Harvard University, Kennedy School of Government, and the former Mayor of St. Louis, for St. Louis City Hall.  Watwood is currently teaching at the New York Academy of Art, and at the Teaching Studios of Art in Brooklyn. 

Watwood and her husband and two daughters live in Brooklyn, New York.

2 thoughts on “Seeing Double?

  1. Dear Patty,
    Cheers from Beijing!
    Wonderful to read about this process and the dedication expressed by the collector and you in fostering communication and collaboration in the work of Pandora. A pleasure and insightful to read about the “direct support” expressed in the collector’s own words, Versions, Variations and Copies, “gratifying outcome of a trusting collaboration…” and in your writing sharing your strategies and how art collectors “play a crucial role in the development of an artist.
    Best wishes,

  2. What a great article!! Each time I read a contribution to Artist Daily it opens my eyes in so many ways. I’m a young and new art teacher, and a self taught artist (practicing now for 32). The gratitude expressed in the last paragraph makes my heart sing. Thank you so much for sharing, the inspiration is greatly appreciated.