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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The trouble with Hortense

See what I mean about her paint handling?
Hortense* has been my painting student since the very beginning. I haven’t taught in my own studio since last spring, so when she came to class on Saturday, I had a fresh perspective about her painting.

She handles paint as well as I do, and she draws beautifully. Given a plein air or still life assignment, she can draw several iterations, come up with an arresting composition, lay down a brilliant underpainting, and finish it with lovely highlights, all in the time it takes most students to crank out a decent sketch.

She hates when I tell her this, since she thinks it’s empty flattery, but it’s absolutely true.

A three-hour still life by the same student.
However, at hour 2.5, Hortense frequently self-destructs. She decides she hates some aspect of the painting, start mushing the paint back and forth to correct a problem that isn’t there, and in the space of the last half hour of the class will push her work backwards to the level she imagined was there in the first place. I find it as frustrating as she does, because I think she could be a great painter if she could just get past this.

I reject the notion that you can “overwork” a painting. That’s a modern conceit that leads to many half-baked paintings. You simply must battle through whatever phase is hanging you up. However, I’m starting to think that Hortense’s problem isn’t a painting problem at all, but a conceptual one, that maybe she needs to be imbuing her paintings with some of the Big Ideas that drive her.

Any suggestions, my fellow painters?

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click 
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*If you’re gonna give someone an alias, it may as well be an entertaining one.

4 comments:

Sandy said...

I get too hung up in the details. My bold strokes evaporate if I'm not careful. My friend Jean, gets flummoxed by color. When left to her own devices without the rest of the class yelling at her, "It's done," she would turn everything to gray mush. Perhaps we're too close to the painting -- literally and figuratively.

Carol Douglas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Carol Douglas said...

I hate the "it's done" thing, though. You have to work through the process of failure to grow. "You're overworking it" is, except in rare cases, the sign of a teacher who can't figure out what is wrong. It’s what I DON’T want to say to Hortense—for one thing, I don’t believe it. (Although all Brad Marshall’s points on Facebook about leaving it alone and about it being a process are also true.)

Of course you and your friend raise two different teaching questions. Mixing clear colors is an objective problem; losing your boldness is a subjective problem. The former is easy to guide people through; the latter is far more difficult and I think closer in spirit to Hortense’s problem.

Thanks for your always-thoughtful comments.

Carol Douglas said...

And, BTW, if I haven't mentioned it before, everyone should read this book:

http://www.amazon.com/Art-Fear-Observations-Rewards-Artmaking/dp/0961454733