Even with the best-laid plans, a painting can sometimes just not work. No matter how hard we try, nothing seems to help. This happens to the best of us and I would like to share some advice that might prove helpful when you confront your own painting stalemate. First, don’t force it. Give yourself time to just observe the painting. Set it aside and periodically glance its way. You’ll be amazed how all of the sudden you just “know” what it needs. Breaking away from the intensity of the process often leads to a clearer perspective and an easier resolve. Remind yourself of why you were doing the painting in the first place. It’s easy to get distracted from our initial objective and aimlessly throw “things” at the painting in hope of resolve.
Look at work by artists you admire. By finding a similar situation in someone else’s painting, you’ll often find a solution for your own. When all else fails, go a new direction: open a new door. If the old path wasn’t getting you to your desired destination, allow for flexibility by closing that door and opening another. One of the ways in which I do this is to wash a section of the pastel painting off (typically, the one in conflict) and open myself up to the possibilities as the pastel runs and blends together. Repeatedly brushing solvent (usually mineral spirits), allows for those “happy accidents” which can spark a creative response. All of a sudden a heavy rock and brush filled foreground becomes a distant field, or a rushing waterway filled with large boulders becomes a quiet still pool of reflective water.
This is what lead to the resolve of my painting Creek-side Interplay (above). Started on location in a heavily wooded creek-side interior, the lower right side was dominated by a large rock and turbulent cascading water. Nothing I tried seemed to resolve the painting. I darkened areas, lightened areas, altered color relationships, adjusted edges—you get the idea; and nothing was making it work. After considerable time and patient study, I closed that door and decided to open another. Out came the brush and mineral spirits. After repeatedly brushing the foreground, the pastel began to run down the front of the painting and the appearance of a reflective pool emerged. With this new-found enthusiasm, I quickly let the painting lead me and added a few fallen logs and water surface indications.
Once the imagination explores the possibilities by opening a new door, excitement and enthusiasm is sparked, and a painting often seems to paint itself. If a painting isn’t working to begin with, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by taking a chance. Pastel is a forgiving medium. Worse case scenario: you have an exciting underpainting for your next masterpiece.