Monday, September 8, 2014

When is a Painting Finished - And Grand Canyon-Bound!

At the 2012 Grand Canyon "Celebration of Art"

I'm in the midst of packing for the Grand Canyon "Celebration of Art" plein air event this morning.  Fortunately, most of the art gear is in my Arizona studio in a tidy pile that I made back in May, just before leaving for my summer studio on Campobello Island.  Even so, there are odds and ends to remember.  Plus, I'm now in the process of shutting down that summer studio in preparation for the cross-country drive.  It's a crazy life, this back-and-forth.

But of immediate concern is the Grand Canyon.  I'll be flying out Wednesday.  Then, after spending a couple of days in Sedona to acclimate - I have to remember I'm going from sea level to a gruelling event at 7,000 feet - I'll drive up on Friday.  We have an orientation that evening, and then the starting pistol cracks Saturday at dawn, and we are off.  This will be my third time participating as an invited artist.  I'm really looking forward to visiting with old painting buddies, to making some new friends, and to talking with folks who might like to take a piece of the Canyon home with them in the form of a painting.  The goal of the event is to raise funds for an art museum on the Canyon's South Rim, so I'm hoping all the artists sell a lot and at good prices.  I will try to blog daily while I'm at the event.

I've seen the Park's art collection, which is being stored in a cramped warehouse.  There are some amazing pieces by Thomas Moran, Gunnar Widforss,  and other artists of note.  A proper museum will allow the public better access to this collection and give it the space it deserves.

For a full schedule of events, please visit

Now - how do you know when a painting is finished?  This is a question students often ask me.  To be honest, even painters who've been working at the craft all their lives still ask themselves this question.  The standard answer is:  When you've accomplished your goal (or achieved your vision), the painting is finished.

That doesn't help us much, as quite often the goal or vision is ill-defined at the start.  Sometimes it becomes clearer as you get further into the painting.  But sometimes not.

In my workshops, I teach about capturing the moment.  For me, the moment can be defined as the quality of light in a scene.  To take it further, and to get a little more technical, it has to do with establishing an accurate relationship of the color temperature between light and shadow.   I can get this all established early on in a painting, though - quite often right at the end of the block-in and adjustment stages.  If you've taken one of my workshops, you'll have heard me speak of making your "best guess" in the block-in and then going on to adjusting that "best guess" in the next phase.  (I also talk about this concept in my new painting instruction videos.)

At the end of this adjustment phase, I may stop, if I wish.  Or keep on going.  Basically, at this point  I have a very simplified - yet very accurate - painting of the scene.  If I want to take it beyond this, I am moving from the simplified toward the more detailed, like this:

Where a painter stops on this line is completely up to him.  It's a personal choice, usually defined by one's comfort level with the agony of creating detail and the point at which one gets totally bored with the piece.

An example of someone toward the more simplified end is Wolf Kahn; at the other end, we have Rackstraw Downes.  You can pick your spot anywhere between them.  My own zone is somewhere along the middle.

Wolf Kahn · "Heavy Haze of a Hot Summer's Day."
1979 ca, Oil Painting, 27.50 x 37.5 inches.

Rackstraw Downes, “Under an Off-Ramp from the George Washington Bridge”
2011. Oil on canvas, 26 x 56 inches

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