Cypress Pot Hole / 36×48 / oil


What I learned from “The Cypress Pothole” painted May 4, 2017                               

“Sometimes, the last thing we figure out is what to do first”.  Whoever said that landed on a truth that occurred to me yesterday when I was painting this scene of ducks landing in the Cypress Pothole. 

It is so important to get the background right and to have the patience and maturity to trust yourself to handle the foreground after the foundation has been laid.  Now those are easy words to say but we are in such a hurry to have a successful outcome that we do not carefully plan the background. 

I am an ala prima painter, which means that I try to complete the work in one setting.  “How long did it take you to paint that” is a frequent question that I struggle to adequately answer.  True, the painting itself may have been completed in hours, but it takes years of experience and failed efforts in order to master your art to any degree.  So I am especially prone to rush through the beginning of a painting, believing that I can make it come alive at the end.  But no amount of talent or hard work can overcome a poor design, which includes careful thought about the background.

What I learned a long last yesterday was that the background has to be blended so that it is seen in the way that our eyes see the world.  We focus on an object and everything else is blended.  Our eyes were created to focus specifically on a point, which causes other colors and shapes to blend softly together to form a wonderful background.  Squinting is a critical element in reducing all that we see into big shapes and contrasting values.  But to paint that way requires real courage.  Why do I call it courage?  Because we risk our time and talent to a process that we cannot control on the front end.  If we only achieve our original design we cut off the possibility of learning something wonderful.  We must be confident enough in our preparation to risk a failed painting.  Starting over, after scraping your painting with a pallet knife, is the luxury an artist enjoys.

What I have learned in the past few weeks is the key to creating a blended background is to put down your brush and knife and use your fingers to soften edges.  That is when the painting starts to talk to you. Listen.