Working the whole composition
One of the the most important lessons I’ve ever learned about painting came from Alexandra Hirsch, an instructor at the Pacific Northwest College of Art. I was barely 16 and studying acrylics formally for the first time by taking Alex’s Continuing Education painting class. I was working on a self-portrait and having trouble with the background, an abstract color field. Alex approached my easel and recommended I take some of the color I had mixed for my cheek or my eye and put a dab of it here and there in the rest of the composition as a way of tying the whole together.
As you can see, the results were not all that spectacular at the time, but in the last 10 years or so I’ve figured out just what Alex meant. It’s safe to say that I still paint by her words. I make it a point to work the whole composition every time I put brush to canvas or panel.
This method comes naturally when working on miniatures, like this one which measures just 7 by 5 inches.
In a few brushstrokes, the entire composition is changed drastically.
It’s exciting and sometimes unnerving how quickly the painting evolves when there’s only a small surface to work…
...but it’s also a good reminder of why working the whole composition is essential even with bigger paintings.
Focusing on just one area of the painting at a time isolates it from the rest of the dynamic. It makes for a very disjointed or even mannered look.
Reworking the whole piece every time I touch it is sometimes scary, especially when I’m convinced that I’m on the right track like I was here.
But, by the time I got here…
...and even here…
...I was aware that certain aspects of the painting a few process shots back would never have worked out.
Working this way is a discipline of not-getting-too-attached.
It’s akin to the ceramicist who, to some degree, must kiss her-his pot goodbye when it goes into the kiln.
There’s always the possibility of a complete overhaul…
...or even a complete do-over!
Nothing is finished…
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