Thursday, October 18, 2012

Asparagus Spears (no.87)

7.95" x 7.95" x 3/4", oil on masonite


If you'd like to purchase a print of this painting, please feel free to visit my Etsy shop!

Another scene taken from the farmer's market in Belmont, MA. And another subject that seemed a breeze to paint and proved to be much more difficult. When I think about it, I really can't understand how I was able to paint at all before I began taking timelapse pictures of my progress for each piece. They are the only way for me recognize the elements of the painting I am happy with, creating a compendium of these likes and dislikes for use in achieving the final painting. I can't imagine how I blindly worked my way through a painting in the past, any working stages I was happy with usually erased from my memory as soon as I worked over them.

For example, during the last session of this painting, I went in and added a lot of detail to the spears because I felt there wasn't enough and they needed the elastic bands and little white triangles going up the stalks to be recognizable as asparagus. I filled in all this detail and stepped away, pleased with my progress and under the impression that I had fixed a problem. Then I took a picture and looked at it in the context of earlier stages, quickly realizing that I had destroyed everything I liked about the painting at the previous stage. The triangles had ruined the form and vibrance of the spears, and the now fully intact elastic bands looked flat and boring. Had I not had reference photos, I either would have put out a worse painting than I could have or I would have sensed that something was missing but would not be able to recall exactly what it was.

This leads me to another persistent question: when do I keep fine details found in the actual subject for the sake of having the viewer recognize it or for adding points of interest, and when do I eliminate those details for the sake of keeping things abstracted and minimal? When starting these small paintings I tried to include the smallest details as that was my habit, but as time went on I realized that this was not what I wanted from painting and that was why I was so disappointed with all of my work; the work I so greatly admired from other artists almost always sacrificed the replication of detail for the creation of something new and abstracted.

John Singer Sargent rarely went in with a size 0 brush and modeled the twine around a bunch of twigs for hours on end until it was a photographic likeness. He took a larger brush, studied the form of the twine for a minute, and quickly swiped in a handful of strokes in an effort to achieve both likeness and abstraction. You were not seeing a perfectly rendered string with the shadow evenly blending into the highlight, you were seeing 3-4 strokes that became a string when you stepped back. While I always knew this, the knowledge seemed to slip away as soon as I picked up a paintbrush and fell into my old habits of having the subject dictate my next move instead of trying to use the subject as an inspiration for something slightly different. This new approach was exciting for me as it gave me something new to work towards in my still life and landscape paintings, as well as making them feel like more genuine expressions. Now, if I start trying to paint an elastic band and can't stand how it fits in with the rest of the painting, I blur it out or use the shadow on the asparagus or the slight white highlight on the very edge of the band to suggest it (many times going boldly against girlfriend's sage advice to keep it in). This takes an internal push against my resistance to spontaneity, but ultimately provides for a more worthwhile painting experience.


This is how it would look framed (actual painting does not include frame):

1 comment:

  1. Interesting to read your thoughts on the process and the internal dialogue you went through, with regards to detail, for this painting. The final painting is very successful, I think; even more impressive that it was done from a photo!

    Like you, I'm trying to bring more abstraction to my work, and I find it difficult, quite possibly the most difficult aspect of painting, deciding what to leave out. A colleague and I discuss this very subject, and he admits he slips into trying to add details to fix a problem with the painting. Not surprisingly, that never works.