Years ago when I was in college, my watercolor teacher commented favorably on something I had dashed off in a matter of minutes. I resisted the praise-somehow I didn't feel right about the painting because it had happened too fast, too easily. His reply, which has stayed with me all of these years, was exactly right. "So, if you don't spend enough time wrestling with it, it doesn't seem like your work?"
It's true. Until I've gotten to know a painting over time, worked through a few issues, and had some interesting back and forth dialogue, it doesn't seem sincere or authentic to me.
Though I move quickly and intuitively with the paint, speed does not characterize my work as a whole. I engage in a long process of continually burying and embedding marks and color fields until there is a substantial and rich foundation of color and texture, with those spontaneous marks visible on the top layers, or exposed from underneath.
Last weekend I started three 30"x30" paintings on Claybord that proceeded very quickly (Claybord is a surface on which the initial layers dry fast.) Within a few days I had developed satisfying images on all three, and even the richness of surface that I like. Since these are paintings that I have reason to finish in the near future, I told myself that this was good, and that I should be open to the occasional "fast" painting experience.
But I guess I wasn't very convincing. A week later, all three paintings have changed beyond recognition. None are finished, and I feel much more connected, involved, and excited to see what will develop.
Sometimes people ask me how many layers of paint and cold wax I build up under my work. A better question might be how many nearly-finished paintings are under there. Every painting I do goes through one or more stages that seem close to being resolved into a decent painting. Often think I am done, but a few days later, I am less satisfied, and I push on. It's important to refuse to settle for something that doesn't truly move me (especially hard when there is a deadline or time pressure.)
I try to follow my mantra--"work it, work it, work it." If I keep at it long enough, the result is always a step beyond what I might have settled for. Sometimes the resolution is reached through endless tinkering, other times in one surprising, decisive final move. Artist Catherine Carter discusses her similar painting process in a recent blog post
, "Trials, tribulations, and finally, success" and related Facebook comment, "After days of battling it out, a painting finished as if by magic!" I know that feeling!
(The photo above is a studio shot that includes a couple of the 30"x30" paintings at an early stage.)