|Prothonotary Warbler Along the Wissahickon. Acrylic Painting in progress. 9x12 inches. Copyright 2020 Ken Januski|
The smart ass answer to the question in the title is: right before you screw it up. I should know, as I'm sure should a lot of other painters. I'm working for the third day on this nearly finished painting of a Prothonotary Warbler along the banks of the Wissahickon in Philadelphia. I have made very minor changes to it today and yet it is a different painting than it was when I stopped working on it two days ago. (After I'd posted this I went back into my studio and realized that the painting there looked different than the one here. I posted the older version. So now I've added the newest one. But I'll leave the viewer to decide which is which. Sorry....)
|Prothonotary Warbler Along the Wissahickon. Acrylic Painting in progress. 9x12 inches. Copyright Ken Januski 2020|
I made those very minor changes because I wasn't completely happy with the shape and color of the Prothonotary. I hope I've made it better but I'm not sure. I hope this painting won't stay in my memory as one of the "before I screwed it up" types.
Though I run across a number of painters, rarely ones who make a living from it, who brag about how much time they put into their painting, time spent has nothing to do with when a painting is finished. For me it is mainly when the painting seems to have a coherence, to look like it is all of a piece.
But you might ask, well couldn't you have a coherent painting that was just dull, dull, dull?? I suppose you could. There certainly are plenty around and probably have been throughout history. This is where the answer to the question gets difficult.
For the artist I think the painting has to have some excitement to it, something that keeps the painter interested in painting. So I'd say it's finished when the painting still interests the artist and also seems coherent. I think many artists, certainly myself, assume that if it's interesting to them as a painting it will also be interesting to at least some others.
In this painting the coherence came very quickly. And I think it is still exciting. When that happens I think it's very wise to just stop. I did for two days and then went back into it because something bothered me a little bit about it.
Artistic wisdom I think is knowing when you shouldn't worry about the little thing that bothers you.
When a painting comes together quickly like this I think it has a freshness that is rare in painting. That's another reason to stop and let it sit.
On the other hand sometimes a day or two later the painting will just look dull, or wrong, just too bad to leave as is. That is the case with the next painting. I'm not sure how long I left it sit but I think it's somewhere around seven years.!!
I don't believe I'll go back into this but I do think it is now a coherent painting. To me it doesn't begin to have the artistic excitement of the Prothonotary Warbler painting but it does at least seem like a reasonable, workmanlike and coherent portrayal of the scene.
|Spring Hill #4. Collage of old drawings with Charcoal and Pastel. 23x29 inches. Copyright Ken Januski 1981|
There are also artworks, in this case a collage/drawing rather than a painting, that seem to need to be kicked into submission. Or that finally defeat me or other artists. Sometimes you just feel like you need to break through to something new, that your old way of working is just stale and dissatisfying. It's the exact opposite of the method in the Prothonotary Warbler painting. Because I have a long history of working this way in my older abstract work I will often work this way in my paintings and sometimes my prints. It is NOT a good way to work in watercolor, and perhaps not Moku Hanga either!
This way of working can be both incredibly wearing and incredibly rewarding. The main time I worked this way in printmaking was when I did reduction prints, mainly linocut but sometimes woodcut or both together. I decided it was just too wearing for the reward, particularly when coupled with the oil-based inks I was using at the time and the solvents that they required.
It can also lead to constipated paintings. They can become just thoroughly overworked without a hint of freshness. And yet at other times they can be the epitome of both excitement and freshness. The collage/drawing above isn't my favorite drawing of all time but I am very happy with it.
It came about as I was getting disgusted with some of my abstract charcoal drawings and decided that the best way out of this was to just tear them up and use them as the basis for something new. It was liberating and led I think to some very good, and at least to me very satisfying , art works.
But I'm equally satisfied, at least I hope I still will be tomorrow by painting at top. There are many ways to make a work of art and many ways to know when it is done! Some happen far more quickly than others. I think what's most important is to in dialogue enough with the painting to know when it seems done even if you'd already planned to do something more.
P.S. Blogger seems to have been kidnapped by a new interface. I've had to edit most of the html that it 'automatically' came up with because it seemed so bad. But I don't have time to write html, nor do I want to. So if this looks bad, and if it was that bad you probably wouldn't reach this point, I would blame it on Blogger's horrible new interface.