Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Progress of Failure

(detail) Horseshoe Crabs on Sill, oil on panel, 8" x 12"

I have several figurative paintings going on at the moment, all at different stages - but it has been too hard a shift for me to jump right back into these big painting projects after "coming down" from my Southern Weeds exhibition.  I needed something to clear my head and to be able to paint directly from observation.  Walking around my house searching for something interesting to set up for a small still life painting, I found a few dried horseshoe crabs that my nephews had sent me from Florida.  They know how much I enjoy nature and they had saved these little gifts from the sea for their crazy Auntie.  I had thought that this was going to be a quick painting that would sort of cleanse my palette, so I could get back to my more serious works.  Instead this little still life became a bit of a frustration and struggle.  I will share with you the progress of this little failure.  I should say that though I view this painting as less than successful, I am grateful for the lessons learned for having gone through the process.   

This was my set up.  My studio is normally in my garage, which is neither heated nor cooled, so with temperatures in the mid 90's I found our dining room a much more temperate environment to paint.  We have a nice view of some woods in our backyard that I thought would be an interesting juxtaposition for these sea creatures.  The first problem with this choice was that although the view is good, being a south-west facing window, the light changed very rapidly.  I basically only had 2 hours of painting time each day, before an immense glare (on our very dirty windows) totally obstructed the view and even changed the light on my little horseshoe crabs.

Failure two was not working out the composition well before plugging away at the painting.  I was so excited and eager to just get into paint.  I had wanted to do a horizontal image, but didn't have a good sized panel to start on - so instead of taking the time to run to the store to get the proper size, I used what I all ready had -which happened to be a 12" x 12" square.

Here you can see in the forrest on the top half of the window the shadows are moving diagonally up - but then as the time went on the shadows changed so on the bottom half the shadows lay diagonally down... Which one to pick?

Here you can see me trying to make sense of why I needed all that grass in the bottom portion of the composition.  I was considering putting some land creature (bunny, robin, squirrel) frolicking in the grass, but I thought that would detract from what was supposed to be the real focus of the painting - the horseshoe crabs.

Horseshoe Crabs on Sill, oil on panel, 8" x 12" 

In the end, I took a drastic measure - I broke out the table saw and cut her up!  Its sort of scary how empowering the hum of a power tool is.  Really, I know this is a cheap way of trying to solve some of the problems I set up for myself.  In the end though, I do believe it is a better composition.  And from the struggles of working this one out, I have learned much about working with nature and its fleeting light, and taking the time to plan in the beginning.  Without having to fight yourself and the problems you create early on, you can more easily get to the joy of painting.