During every workshop I teach, I am reminded of how differently we see our own paintings. As I circulate from student to student, I often comment on how well an area looks, only to see it drastically altered on my next visit. I felt they were done, they felt there was more to do. This reinforces the notion of artistic individuality. It is at the core of what makes us the artists we are; otherwise, every painting would look alike. How boring would that be?
Conversely, this may also indicate that the painter is not seeing the development of the painting and is merely making marks to be making marks. When we first form the notion of a painting, we form a preconceived idea of what it will look like. This guides our choices and acts as an internal road map for the painting’s journey. If we don’t step back from time to time and look objectively at the painting, we will plow ahead to a preconceived destination, oblivious of the painting’s development. This is analogous to continuing to move chess pieces around a board after the opponent has conceded the match.
I like to show slides of pastel paintings at most workshops. It allows me to share years of personal development. There is one painting, A Summer Dance [pictured above], that I always tell a story about. It is the moment I confronted my preconceived painting notions. Many years ago, on a gallery trip to Santa Fe, N.M., I was fortunate to connect with a few painting friends for a late afternoon plein air excursion on the outskirts of town. Among them was master pastelist Albert Handell. After a couple of hours of painting, I heard footsteps approaching behind me. It was Albert. He patiently waited for me to pause and inquired if I had time to come over and see his painting. We were the only ones left at the site. He was getting ready to pack up for the day and wanted to share his painting with me. I placed my pastel stick back into the palette, turned around, and began to walk in the direction of his easel. Approximately 25 feet from my easel, Albert stopped and turned around to glace back at my painting, “I think you are done; What do you think Richard?” As I looked at the painting, I thought, it looks pretty good. Who am I to disagree with Albert Handell? “Yes, I agree, I think I am done”, I stated. “Yes”, Albert said, “now come look at my painting.” After looking at his work, which was beautiful, I walked back to my easel and quietly picked up a pastel stick and began making marks. After a few minutes, I heard a thundering voice from behind me, “If you think you are done, why are you still painting?” As he repeated the comment, laughter ensued. There I was guilty of what I noticed in students. I was making marks to be making marks because I believed I wasn’t done, even though I was pleased. I still go too far and make too many marks, but the memory of A Summer Dance makes me listen more closely for the painting’s whisper: Put the pastel stick down and step back from the easel.
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