Monday, September 16, 2019

The Great Painting Cull

Sorting out piles:  the Good, the Bad, the Ugly

A few weeks ago, I arrived at my winter studio in New Mexico.  Piled up in wooden boxes and crates and plastic boxes are hundreds of small paintings; stacked up in a closet are scores of larger ones.  Except for the paintings that have sold, these paintings more or less cover the entire Southwest portion of my career as an artist.

That's a lot of years and a lot of paintings.  As with any painter's inventory, the paintings vary in quality.  Some I look at and say, “Wow—did I actually paint that?”  At others, I cringe and wonder why I didn't scrape them off in the field.  Many, however, fall in between these two extremes.

Half-heartedly over the years, I've gone through the paintings and destroyed a few of the cringe-worthy ones.  Right now, though, I want to reduce the inventory even more, so I've embarked on the Great Painting Cull.  I'm being more discriminating with the ones that look merely “okay.”

Over time, we become not just better painters but also better critics.  When we look at our old work, we see the flaws.  Older work no longer pleases us like it did when we were just getting started.

Some artists recommend not discarding old work that no longer meets your current standards.  The reasoning is that there is always something still to learn from them; and also that they remind us of how far we've come.  Personally, I think these are poor reasons.  You already have learned from them—that's why you now recognize the flaws.  And if you need a reminder of your days as a beginner to keep you humble, well, just keep one.

I am, however, saving a few that are technically poor but which still offer pleasant memories.  Some still hold that spark of excitement from when everything was new.  These I'll keep, but hidden away for my eyes only.

What will I do with the culls?  I'm always in need of panels (or paper in the case of pastel) to sketch on.  If the paintings don't have too much surface texture, I'll first use Gamsol to remove any varnish and then give them a light sanding.  Next, I'll paint over them with one of three archival products:  Either Winsor & Newton's Oil Primer, Zinsser's B-I-N (a shellac-based product suspended in ethanol) or KILZ (the oil-based version, not the latex one.)  Once dry, they'll be perfect for sketching.  I also apply a coat of the same to the back where I may have written information about the now-destroyed painting—just in case I paint something I love and want to give it a title.

Pastel paintings, I just take a stiff brush to and erase them outdoors.  Some of my dust may soon be showing up on a countertop near you.

As for the oil paintings with too much surface texture, I'll either scarify them or cut them in half and toss.  Last year, I used one of them to board up an unwanted cat door that came with the house.  There are probably other uses for these, so maybe I'll keep a few on hand for construction projects.

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