“A work of art is the trace of a magnificent struggle” -Robert Henri
Phase one: the honeymoon
The blank canvas. Empty. Stark. Daunting. It’s got a bad reputation, but honestly, we’re good. I show it who’s boss with a single stroke of Egyptian violet.
My brush sambas across the surface, loaded with loose and drippy paint, laying down the composition with abandon. I block in major shapes, making sure they’re comfortably situated, happy with each other. Lines form a map, establishing the underpainting. No fear, no possibility of mistake. None of these early marks will remain once the work is finished. It’s pure exploration and all elements remain in flux, moveable.
Phase two: problem solving
With a sense of urgency, I lay in base colors, cover up the raw canvas establishing sky, ground, figure, etc. The brushwork stays loose, inaccurate. There is danger in getting it “right” too soon. I want a good excuse to build up the surface, revise, edit.
The middle phase requires the greatest amount of faith. The honeymoon is over and the relationship gets complicated. Colors muddy, structure comes and goes, lines and edges waver. The image remains in the dark for hours, or days. With oil paint, the light tones come last, buttery mixtures riding on top of silky darks where they appear all the more brilliant because of their shadowy neighbors. But it takes discipline to hold back until the time is right.
I work with abandon for a while, then slow down, step back, assessing the progress. And the problems. Working yourself out of a jam is an opportunity for something wonderful to happen.
Phase three: finishing
“Can I be done now?”
This is my least favorite part, an explanation for the the sixteen unfinished pieces laying around my studio. Towards the end, creativity begins shutting down in favor of fine tuning, fixing small elements, and trying not to screw up what you’ve already done. I am restricted to the smallest brushes and a kind of tunnel vision.
Ideally, I would be willing to risk it all right up until the end. But that’s pretty much impossible.