In my experience it’s very rare for a painting just to “work” without many alterations and soul-searching as to what is wrong. Sometimes it pays to set the painting aside and come back to it some days later with a “fresh eye”, and sometimes looking at it in a mirror helps. It always takes a lot of stepping back away from the easel during the painting process to view it from a distance, and requires a good deal of problem solving. Sometimes other people can be helpful in this process, and there are times when I ask other artists for help. Here are some of the problems I had while painting roses recently:
Above is the finished version, but this was how I started:
Having sketched out the composition on paper, I did an underpainting on the canvas with red for the pink roses and a neutral background, and added some darker greens to see how the composition felt. Happy with that, I continued:
This time I added more pigment and particularly more darks to add form. Again, I was quite happy until:
Adding opaque colour is always a dangerous part of the painting, and especially whites. I shouldn’t have added them at this stage, but I thought they would mix with the reds in the underpainting to form pinks. However, the underpainting had dried too much, and the whites didn’t mix well. You may ask why I persevered, but I didn’t really notice how bad it looked until I got to this point and stepped back from my easel. I should have stepped back sooner!
At this stage I could have given up and thrown out a failed painting but, instead, I scraped off the white paint and started my flowers again, adding a further layer of red and orange before adding white again to the wet paint.
You will see that I also altered the shape of the vase as I wasn’t happy with the upper portion, and I brought the greenery down lower.
My next painting was of red and yellow roses. I decided on five flowers this time:
This started out as a sketch on the canvas and an underpainting:
An almost completed painting showed me that the composition was not good:
I set it aside for a few days, and then when I returned to it I could see what was wrong – the flowers were in two lines. I changed the lower flowers slightly, and raised the centre top flower:
The flowers looked better, but something was still very wrong! Again I had to set it aside for a few days before I could see what it was: the greenery under the top rose. I had to darken it because the top rose would put it in shadow, and I decided it needed some defined leaves as well:
This one started with an underpainting:
I used orange paint for the yellow rose and also for the foreground so that I could allow the orange to show through both, to bring harmony to the painting.
The next picture shows the painting almost complete, but I could see that the top greenery was not working at all:
Should I define the upper leaves? Was it because the lower leaves were defined and the upper leave weren’t? What was wrong? Finally I realised I needed another flower – I added one that was just opening and put in some more defined leaves as well. The jar also needed a shadow side, and I added a purple shadow on the table top.
One can always find problems with a painting, and see things one could have done better, but there comes a time when you have to decide it’s finished. Constantly tinkering with a painting can ruin it just as much as leaving an obvious problem, so the artist’s dilemma is always when to stop!