A few years ago I posted about an idea that had really caught my attention. It came from a book by Malcolm Gladwell and it looked at 2 types of painters: those who just seem to know what to do, ie they ‘get it’ right away and those who need to work things out. His example of the first type was Pablo Picasso who just burst onto the scene almost fully formed. He knew exactly what he wanted to do and achieved a lot of success right off the bat. The example of the second type was Paul Cezanne who struggled for years and years, practicing, failing, floundering but always learning and striving. He didn’t achieve success until much later in his life.
The reason this analysis was so important to me is that it made me realize that I am an experimenter. I have to work things over and over until I figure them out. It’s almost like I can’t visualize things until I see them on paper. Then I notice that this part of the painting works and this other part doesn’t so I do it again making adjustments and then I notice new things. However, if I do the work and keep at it eventually I do figure things out.
These images illustrate the case completely.
This is my original photo of a street corner in Charing Cross, London. I liked the composition so I did a large 18 x 24 version. There was no sun on the day I took the photo but I wanted a scene that had part of the buildings in sunlight.
I quite liked it but the foreground was always confusing to me. I also wasn’t happy with the effect of the sunlight so I did another 18 x 24 version.
In this version I liked the cleanness of the sunlit parts of the building I also liked the suggested windows and doors at the bottom of the shadow part in the centre. Unfortunately, I still found the foreground area not quite right. In particular I began to see the car as a mistake. Therefore I decided to suspend work on this painting.
Due to some positive response to this painting from my watercolour class I decided to use this image as the next demo for the class. I knew I would have to simplify it in order to teach it so I played with the buildings quite a bit. This next version was done 9 x 12 and the pressure was off. I just did a quick sketch and the process of painting was much more playful.
I liked a lot about this version but found the tree on the left confusing (even though I like the technique I used). I also noticed that the dark building on the right is too large. It serves a useful purpose to lead the eye into the painting but it just takes up too much room. I definitely prefer this version of the car. I then tried it again to incorporate these changes.
I liked this version better without the tree, the smaller dark building and a very loose interpretation of the left edge of the painting which again leads the eye toward the centre. So, inspired by this version, I just set up my camera and made a video for class of me painting it again.
This one I am quite happy with and I feel it is definitely a stronger composition and a stronger painting. For me, however, it would never have happened without all those preparatory steps and the insights gained through them. Unfortunately, I still see things I would like to improve such as the contrast between the roof and the tower at the top centre. Fortunately, I am working on a new 18 X 24 version so I have another chance to make changes.
In summary this process is a lot of work and sometimes I wish I didn’t need to do it this way but I do. I’m just thankful that I have the desire to keep striving and growing because I’ve learned that when you do it always works out.