Beware of Falling in Love

17 Sep 2012

Painting is an act of creativity and intention, but it sometimes, many times, includes acts of destruction large and small. It may be that the one skill that separates the dedicated professional artist from the amateur is the willingness to destroy, obliterate or remove those beautifully painted parts of a painting that, in the artist's judgement, must be changed in order to make the painting work as a whole. The temptation to fall in love with a beautifully painted passage and then hang on to it even when it interferes with the success of the work is completely understandable. Discovering how to paint well is hard work, and going backward to move forward is perhaps not a natural inclination for many of us. 

Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose by John Singer Sargent, 1885-86, oil painting, 68 x 60.
Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose by John Singer Sargent, 1885-86, oil painting, 68 x 60.

John Singer Sargent used to scrape out areas that he was not happy with and repaint them in order to get his famous bravura brushstrokes in the finish. It's all about doing whatever is necessary in order to work at the highest level. This is a tough lesson for most of us to learn, but a valuable one. In an interview with Thomas Paquette for The Artist's Road, Thomas made the observation that he also goes through extensive revisions of his paintings as he develops them, a process he calls the "phoenix effect," which he states adds immeasurably to the richness and the look of the finished work.

The other skill that many artists employ is the development of multiple preparatory sketches, drawings and paintings before they begin work on what will be the finished work. However, no amount of prep work can guarantee that everything will go as planned in the larger piece, and knowing that, embracing that, is an attitude which can ultimately lead to better paintings. It is wonderful to love what we do, but dangerous to love everything we do.

We hope you'll join us on The Artist's Road for more interesting articles, interviews and step-by-step painting instructions.

--John and Ann


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