Step Back, Try Something Different

I pulled out my paints again for the first time in a month and had… uh, a difficult experience.

I guess it’s to be expected; I got on a roll prior to April, and then went absolutely cold turkey for a month, and in my natural urge to jump back in with both feet, got overly ambitious.  I was not happy with my efforts; I’m near completion with one painting that Bear insisted on “helping” with; it was a silly little effort that is likely going to hang in his room anyway, and he’s happy with it, so I can’t bring myself to hate it.  It’s an alien invasion scene, and I actually really, really love the background (painted in March) but hate how amatuerish the ships look, and completely believe that it’s almost entirely because I rushed into them with very little planning.

So I set that painting aside, and turned to another piece — a portrait — that I set aside in March and proceeded to absolutely butcher it with impatience and frustration built up from the previous painting.  Seriously, write drunk, edit sober — but never paint frustrated.  I eventually had to toss that canvas aside and do some deep breathing to remind myself, hey, this is what it felt like when we first started, too.  Initiation is always hard.

Then, I had to remind myself of the Tumblr post that I referenced in a previous entry: I don’t have to abandon an idea just because I used it once.  If I’m unsatisfied with the results, I can just re-do it.  My whole over-arching goal this year is follow-through — surely it counts as follow through if I (for the first time this year, mind you) abandon a particular canvas, so long as I pic up the project again on a fresh one?  If I wear a hole in a drawing from erasing and erasing, it’s not abandonment if I start over on a new sheet.

So I pulled out a third canvas, ready to jump in, and then thought — no.  Hold back, just a bit.  Paint something that you have no investment in.  Use one of the cheap canvases in case you mess up.  Don’t have any expectations, don’t have any plan, don’t even think of this as a painting.  This is troubleshooting.  This is finding a solution to the troubles you’ve been having.  The first painting, ok, was more or less pure over-enthusiasm.  But that second one is a recurring problem you’ve been having, and one that maybe you shouldn’t set out to solve while you’re painting something you have an emotional investment in.

In the case of this portrait — and several other painting I’ve tried — it’s shading.  Shading, I’m sorry, is a bitch for me.  Blending colors.  Partly, I think, this is because I’m usuing craft acryllics, which is really all I have the budget for (it’s got multiple uses, it’s cheap, and it washes out of other things pretty easily, which with a four-year-old, is important).  I need a solution to this problem that is workable with the materials and resources I have.

I did a quick sketch, a front facing portrait with a basic hairstyle.  I did not sketch features, just draw some hasty proportion lines, and pulled out a ridiculous shade of purple for the skin.  I squirted some on my palette, and dipped my brush in.  Then I stopped.

Craft acryllics dry incredibly fast.  They go on the canvas thick, weirdly viscuous, and hard to really spread.  They are incredibly opaque, and hard to match shades when trying to create a palette.

…What if I did a wash?  Like, not just a wet palette, but what if I treated these paints entirely like watercolors and soaked them, so I could layer by opacity instead of creating a gradient with the paints themselves?  Maybe it would be easier to manipulate the colors that way.

And it would mean I would have a hella wet canvas and I would have to wait between layers.  That might be a good thing.  No, no, that’s definitely a good thing.

I soaked the paint on my palette, and started painting.  It was quick, and rushed, but this was all just to test a theory.  And, oh my God, with a little work, I think I may have finally solved my problem.

If you are in any way a painter with any experience, this probably sounds like, whoa, duh, obvious.  But I don’t… paint.  I mean, I do, now.  But I don’t study painting.  I just… paint.  Anything I do well, I’ve learned through trial and error, and anything I do “right” is through sheer luck and experimentation.  I’ve only been told that my acryllics are not the “right” acryllics for painting, but they’re all I have, and to find a solution that make them do what I want them to do is exciting.

And it’s just a reminder to myself that, sticking with something doesn’t mean just endlessly repeating the same thing over and over again and getting agitated that it doesn’t work.  If it doesn’t work — do something different.  Try something else and see what works.  And especially with art, I feel like, aside from dangerous and gross misuse of a product (like, gargling the paint to spit it back on the canvas, or something, or mixing them with incompatible or dangerous chemicals or solvens) there is no wrong way to paint, no wrong products, no wrong methods.  If it’s giving you the results you want, then it’s working.

I’m going to go and try a few more layers on my experimental canvas, and if I’m happy with the results, will restart Canvas Two tomorrow.  Canvas One, ehh, I’ll sit on for a while longer, but I may just paint over the offending spaceships a little more conscientiously this time.  Canvas One, as is, can be salvaged.

Hope everyone’s May projects are coming along well.

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