Saturday, May 29, 2010

Growing--Landscape Painting Experiment--Tranquil Creek Bend

I first showed you this painting about six months ago and am repeating that post for newer readers. Two photos show portions of the painting for more detail (and as always, you can click on a photo to enlarge it). Once again, the location is a spot that many people would walk by without stopping to look. A small bridge on Hogan Road crosses Little Pottsburg Creek near our home on the south side of Jacksonville, Florida. On the lookout for scenes with water features, I pulled over to explore and was especially taken with the view in one direction, where the creek widened and curved out of sight around a bend. A thickly wooded bank on one side was countered by oddly charming, spindly trees rising above bushes on the other. The trees reminded me of children experiencing a sudden growth spurt practicing in dance class, somehow combining awkwardness and grace.

This is the second painting to emerge from photos taken that day. I decided to push myself away from my favorite palette and began with a pinkish sky. Although the sky was actually a pale overcast grey, the pink tones somehow captured the bright, warm haze of that morning--the kind of light that requires sunglasses in spite of pervasive cloud cover. One painting goal was to let the sky set a certain mood and to continue experimenting with a limited palette of ultramarine blue, cerulean blue, Paynes grey, cadmium red deep, burnt sienna, yellow ochre, and white. All greens, browns, and blackish tones are mixed from these colors. The second painting goal was to try to evoke the tranquility of the moment and the feeling of mystery as the creek glided around a bend and out of sight. The reflections in the water seemed central to portraying the stillness of the scene.

As usual, pursuing the goals of this piece gave me fits along the way, and it was even more difficult than usual to decide when to stop revising and to declare the painting finished. For some reason, I continued to tinker with small details, to wish it looked a bit different (but not knowing precisely what to change), and to put it away repeatedly to pull out days later for more tinkering. Of course, this can be the ruin of a decent creation, and I finally had to exert some self-discipline and just STOP. Have you seen news features about chimps, elephants, or other non-human animals who paint amazing abstracts? One commentator remarked that the unseen co-artist is the person who pulls their work away and gives them a fresh canvas. Left to themselves, they would happily continue slapping on more and more paint--producing, presumably, a less interesting result. I can definitely relate to the chimps who might not be the best judges of when to stop painting. However this piece, now signed and finished with a light coat of medium, has been declared officially complete and has hung on our bedroom wall for a few weeks. And, as it catches my eye in lamplight or as morning brightens, it has definitely grown on me. Update since the first time I posted this: This painting and several others are now available at a lovely local shop in the San Marco section of Jacksonville, Trends Home Decor. If you visit there, you will be amazed at the variety of distinctive art, home accessories, and furniture at affordable prices.

Question: What experiences have you had with the art of knowing when to stop?


  1. Hello Mary. The image has a wonderful atmosphere. Can you use color very well. Cool Blue forest in the background and the foreground detail, expresses a distance the best way. Also, I like this special light and peaceful atmosphere that you captured. Bravo.
    The experience question when to stop. Meanwhile I never know when the end. I can not predict when the end to do. Always go for that imaginary line :-))). Perhaps someday it will come ....
    I hope you understand me a little. My English is terrible ....

  2. I have such poor abilities in art...I think for me, I hold out hope that I can still pull a piece together even when I can see it is degenerating. Currently I am working on my third attempt of a glass challenge. If I can't get it this time, I am done. My first two tries were bad enough I can't even show them! The only real areas in which I know I have a hard time stopping is when working leaves and grasses and when working water. I keep trying to get it to look like a normal artist's work and not my own particular brand of childishness. I have overworked paper terribly in those efforts (though once my watercolor prof wanted to know what I had done to give the water such a cool texture! LOLOL)

    I love this painting Mary and my first thought was that it looked like the rise of a mellow can hear the frogs and the birds, the hum of the cicadas...sigh...

  3. Since I've never grown up, haven't been able to master that talent yet.

  4. Thank you, J.B., for your helpful, detailed comments about this painting. You are very perceptive, and it is wonderful to hear that the piece affected you the way it did. I agree with your hope that "someday it will come"--the sense of precisely when to stop. However, it seems more like it comes and goes; sometimes it is clear and on other paintings, quite difficult. Please do not apologize for your English; It is understandable. I am very honored that you visit and write a detailed comment when I know it represents so much time and effort on your part.

  5. Sherry, you are brave to tackle the challenge of representing glass--that sounds hard! It's interesting that you can identify a few particular subjects that you may tend to overwork. Thank you for the thought--maybe I can train myself to be more aware of possible particular temptations to overwork in my work, too. Thank you for your sweet response to the scene in this painting--always love your observations.

    Hey, troutbirder, good to hear from you. From what I have seen on your blog, you are resisting growing up in all of the very best ways. Is knowing when to stop a "grown-up" skill, then? Maybe you're right--then there is not much hope for me to master it either :>).

  6. Usually, I get the feeling that the piece is finished, and I do stop. But occasionally, I will keep messing with just something small, and sometimes make it worse. Although, a few times, when I thought I was finished, an idea would pop into my head to add something else, and it usually does make for a better painting. It is very difficult to know when enough is ENOUGH!!

  7. Hi LIsa; thanks for stopping in and for your interesting comment. Your reflections are helpful, especially your final comment. I have had similar experiences and have benefitted from keeping a piece displayed in our home for awhile to think about before declaring it finished. Once I have coated an acrylic painting with clear media, it is much more difficult to make that one last improvement.