Even with the best of intentions, it’s easy to overwork a painting. We become so involved in the process with new ideas emerging, we over fuss and miss the best stopping point. Clever methods can be employed to put the brakes on. Here are a couple of my favorites.
The first is placing a signature on the painting when it reaches a point of having merit. This simple act can have a profound effect on how you view the painting as you continue to paint. It makes a statement that you are proud of the piece and are accepting ownership. Because we work in pastel, it’s easy to grab a pastel pencil or even a drawing pencil and place your mark. Later if you wish to move it or change its appearance, it’s easily smeared and lifted, allowing for adjustment.
A dear artist friend of mine, Marge Levine, exposed me to the second tool one day during a plein air workshop I was giving. After making the rounds a couple of times, I noticed that her pastel painting had acquired a clean black border. I was amazed at how my attitude towards the painting changed when I saw it presented cleanly, much the way a slide is presented in a juried event. The dirty smudged and ragged edges were gone and the painting felt finished. Marge explained that it was pH neutral masking tape and was available from most fine art stores. If there is a slight margin around the painting, it’s easy to run a strip along each side, quickly representing a framed appearance. In the past I had relied on studio frames when working indoors, old knock-a-rounds that could easily be placed for a finished effect. With the tape, however, it’s easy to pack a roll to take out on location and have the same experience.
Both of these tools have become an intrinsic part of my working method. When I feel a sense of accomplishment with the painting, I stop and place my name. Then out comes the pH neutral black masking tape (The painting pictured here shows the black tape, and features a simple pencil signature). Suddenly, a clean presentation is before me. I look at the painting differently. Its context has changed and I find I’m near completion. The exercise reminds me of an advertisement for insurance I saw years ago. It was a two-page ad. The first showed a messy attic with items strewn around in varying stages of disarray. In the corner you can make out a painting falling out of its frame and covered in dust. On the next page you see the inside of a fine museum with the same painting hanging elegantly on a well-illuminated wall with the caption: “It is all about the context in which it is viewed.”
See my latest “Pastel Pointers” column in the May/June 2008 issue of The Pastel Journal on sale on the website this week, and on newsstands May 13.