Sunday, December 28, 2008
Winslow Homer - Baaad Example!
There is no doubt in my mind at all about who my favorite watercolor artist is: Winslow Homer. I couldn't say this about drawing or painting but I can about watercolor. So I was very happy to get a new Homer book for Christmas: 'Watercolors By Winslow Homer: The Color of Light' from my old haunt of the 1960s and early 1970s, the Art Institute of Chicago. While working my way through it today as I stared at some tentatively finished paintings in my studio I came across examples of his scraping and blotting to alter previously applied pigment. This is something I can use I thought.
A while later I decided to remove the staples that attached my 'Greater Blackbacked Gulls' watercolor from its stretcher board.
But after I had taken off a couple of staples I remembered what I'd said in an earlier post about the painting: it was really lacking in tonal variety. I'd also just read about how important tonal clarity was to Homer. As I looked at the painting I thought: What a dud!
So I went back to work on it, using scraping, blotting, erasing into wet paper, and variations on these to try to bring more tonal variety and clarity to the painting. I think that the new version is an improvement.
When I labeled this post 'Winslow Homer - Baaad Example' I of course wasn't criticizing Homer. My point is that the good example of quality art can persuade you to alter your own work, perhaps destroying it in the process. But that's really my artistic background. You work and work and work at a painting until it seems finished. For some artists this will be primarily a 'visual' finish. For others some other category/value is applied to determine finish. There have been many times where I've ruined a work by going back into it, sometimes with an idea that was brighter in my mind than when put into practice. But generally speaking you become a better artist by setting higher standards for yourself and not always settling for your first attempt at something.
But watercolor, particularly if you're new to it like I am, presents a dilemma. It's so easy to ruin the freshness of a watercolor by overwork. On the other hand Homer is a great example of ambition in watercolor. He shows you that you can go back into a watercolor and try to improve it, knowing that you may in fact ruin it, but also showing many great examples of exactly the opposite result. What a great example he sets for all watercolor artists!