One of the skills that is necessary for an artist is the ability to self critique, in other words, to study, analyze and correct a painting in order to solve the problems and issues that come up. I’m a firm believer that everyone has the ability to self critique their work. I say this even though I have found many students really want to rely on someone else like the teacher in order to figure out what they need to do to keep their painting progressing. A working artist can nearly always identify parts of a painting that work and parts that don’t. Further, experience has given the working artist a number of options to correct areas that don’t work.
A case in point is this painting of the area downtown that contains both the Mustard Seed and The Inn From The Cold, organizations that work with the homeless and other vulnerable people. This painting came from a plein air study done this winter on an overcast day. I enjoyed painting it and I enjoyed looking at the finished painting. I wanted to do it in a much larger format and came up with Version 1. (I should mention that I never took a photo of it at this stage so this image has been digitally created to represent that painting. It is very close.)
Anyway, I finished it about 6 months ago and when I looked at it I loved the bottom half. I felt that it had a very compelling story to it and the arrangement of shapes was original and effective. But over those months people who saw it never reacted with the enthusiasm that I had. Eventually, I had to admit that while it had some great parts, as a whole it had problems. Maybe because I liked the bottom half so much I never could see the faults. Eventually I decided that looking at it just wasn’t getting me anywhere so I turned it to the wall for 2 months.
Just last week I turned it round again and the second I saw it I had a flash of insight that overall the painting was not interesting enough. Then right away my eye went to the bottom half and again I fell in love with the painting. After when I thought about this reaction I was finally able to see it realistically and put it my thoughts into words. The bottom half is great but the top half isn’t. And now, understanding the entire painting I knew the solution: bring some interest to the top half. To create interest we must use contrast. So even though I wanted to keep to my original vision of an overcast day without a lot of shadows I had to up the contrast. I used a lot of glazing to bring more sublte contrast between the buildings. I also added contrast to many of the windows both by using darks and by adding colour contrasts. Finally I added a bit of detail up there with various railings, lines etc. Now my eye travels around the entire painting much more effectively.
So the lesson I take away from this is that I can figure out any painting if I give it all the time. I’m reminded of the line I’ve heard a lot lately: Everything works out in the end, and if it hasn’t worked out then it isn’t the end.
In conclusion this painting is now a favourite.