Change is Good (on revising oil paintings)

I’m not afraid of anything in this world
There’s nothing you can throw at me
That I haven’t already heard
I’m just trying to find a decent melody
A song that I can sing in my own company
— Songwriters: Adam Clayton / Dave Evans / Larry Mullen / Paul Hewson (U2)

I've heard it said that there's nothing new under the sun, and that's probably true when it comes to painting. Nevertheless,  I never stop striving to improve, both in terms of technique and in how best to express myself. I want to make work that speaks to me and hopefully speaks to others as well. No one painting can say everything and I don't expect it to. The best paintings say just enough, with sensitivity, but without overstating. 

And then there are the ones that need re-stating. :-/  Often with such paintings it is easier to just wipe down or tear up my first effort and see if I can try again on a fresh canvas. Sometimes though,  it seems worth the effort to attempt a revision first before scrapping the whole darn thing. If the painting is fresh and new, reworking is a fairly easy and straightforward task, as there isn't an under-layer of built up paint to compete with.

But it may not occur to me right away exactly what change is needed, and it's only after sitting with it a while that I want to go back into it again. In these cases, a little bit of elbow grease is required, both to ensure proper adhesion of the new paint layers and to knock down any unwanted texture. 

My painting, "Rugosa Coastline" is a studio piece that was based on a smaller plein air piece I did when I was up in Maine. After a few months of thinking about it I decided that it lacked something that the plein air piece captured. I felt the studio piece was labored, overall too busy, and the colors, especially in the foreground greenery,  too intense for the time of day. So I set to work to see if I could make a few changes, to maybe loosen it up, and tone down the colors to ones more faithful to the time of day I was trying to capture.

 First pass of my 24x30" studio painting based on the smaller plein air piece below.

First pass of my 24x30" studio painting based on the smaller plein air piece below.

 "Day's End, Lane's Island", Oil on linen, 11x14" ©Jennifer E Young

"Day's End, Lane's Island", Oil on linen, 11x14" ©Jennifer E Young

My first order of business was to knock back some of the texture. Not all texture in the under layer is bad, but if there is  a lot of texture that shows through as a "ghost" image I will sand it down a bit. If it's really built up I may find I need scrape it away razor blade, very carefully, (and pray I don't poke a hole in the canvas). 

Next I will "oil out" to give the new paint layer better adhesion to the partially dried layer underneath. To oil out, solvents or medium (or a combination) is brushed in a thin layer on the surface of the portion of canvas you want to rework. Most often I just use a little Gamsol for this purpose. 

 "Rugosa Coastline" (SOLD) Oil on linen, 24x30" ©Jennifer E Young

"Rugosa Coastline" (SOLD) Oil on linen, 24x30" ©Jennifer E Young

The resulting painting was still a bit different than the little plein air piece, but it felt truer to the time and place and to the feelings that I had when creating the painting on the spot. I felt significantly happier with the revised version of this painting, and wouldn't you know, someone else did too? It sold not long after the revision. 

Tune in to part two in my next post, where I'll share another revision I undertook, which ended up with more extensive and fairly dramatic changes. 

On Color and Social Media, Obsession and Restraint

Is it possible to be addicted to a paint color? I'm not sure that's a good thing, as I don't like the feeling of being overly-dependent on anything.  So I am really trying to temper my use, while at the same time exploiting the values of having it around. This also describes my experience with Social Media, and particularly with Facebook. I imagine Facebook still has some value to the small business, but on a personal level, it can prove a real time-waster, not to mention maddening, irritating, and downright invasive. On a personal level it's also a source of inspiration and community and sharing, which is why I joined up in the first place. But it is really hard in this case to exploit the positives while also avoiding the darker temptations and traps, so I am limiting myself overall.

 "Afternoon Breeze, Rockland Breakwater", Oil on linen, 20x24"

"Afternoon Breeze, Rockland Breakwater", Oil on linen, 20x24"

For a long time I was resistant to jumping on the Facebook bandwagon. And it could be argued that when I finally did sign on, I may have come in at the tail end of an era where the platform provided a real benefit to small businesses for little to no investment other than a bit of time. As time went on, though, Instagram and Facebook began to replace blogging for me. After all, it was faster and seemed likely to reach many more people quicker than I could through blog subscribers alone. 

 "Forsythia and Blue Delft", Oil on linen, 20x24"

"Forsythia and Blue Delft", Oil on linen, 20x24"

That's still an argument that can be made, but aside from the fact that Facebook is very much in the headlines these days, (and for reasons that are not all that flattering to the company) it seems harder and harder to find the same kind of reach that one could find in the good old days. I guess that's by design, in order to tempt users to buy ads. That's fine. It's a business model, and business is business I suppose.

But the price to be paid goes beyond money. It's the price of time, and yes, privacy. Say what you will about the fact that "nothing is private online." I don't argue with that or hold any illusions. I have never taken the silly quizzes or posted anything deeply personal that I haven't minded sharing. I understand that all of my info that I share is "out there". What bothers me is that my privacy decisions affect the privacy of my friends and vice-versa. Not only that but friends of friends. And not only them, but it turns out Facebook will even track the internet habits of people who never signed up for the service at all. That bothers me.  Facebook argues that anyone can go in and lock down third party apps and ultimately control a lot of what is shared. I have gone in and done that as much as I am capable of understanding how to do it. The problem is that in doing so, it renders the ease of sharing posts across platforms nearly impossible without spending an excessive amount of time on it.

Aside from all of that, I've found that my over-reliance on an outside platform to promote my work has resulted in the neglect of my self-hosted blog, and to a lesser extent, my website and even my studio time. I'm so incredibly short on time these days, and, let's face it, even peeking at your news feed or groups makes Facebook  a real time-suck.

Truth be told, I'm not sure how many people even read blogs any more, but I feel they still hold value, and think it would be a good idea to give blogging another shot. My hope is that people who are truly interested in my work will come find me here on my own domain first, with social and search serving as feeders. That seems to be the way it should be, but it's not the way it's been. 

 "Winter Light at Stony Run Trail", Oil on linen, 20x24" 

"Winter Light at Stony Run Trail", Oil on linen, 20x24" 

I'm still sharing my work on social media (my preference these days is Instagram) but I'm going to step back from it a bit and give the old blog a little more love. As for the other obsession I mentioned, I have left a few clues for you in this post. These are a few of my recent paintings that I've shared on social media that I had neglected to blog about. The commonality among these pieces is the predominance of that certain color. Any guesses as to what it might be? Let me know in the comments and I'll 'fess up about it in my next post. 

VIDEO- Art Talk; A Maine Experience

Happy Fall everyone! I have spent so much time traveling and painting this summer that I have hardly had any time to post except on the fly on social media. So these next few posts may actually be a bit of a summer recap. First up, Maine. As you may have read here and on social media, I spent a couple of delicious weeks in June painting the Maine Coast during an artist's residency on the island of Vinalhaven. 

Gallery Flux was kind enough to have hosted a pop-up exhibit of my work for this trip, as well as an artist's talk about my experience painting there. Even though it was a nice and intimate setting, I'm not all that comfortable with public speaking, but I actually had a good time, and the attendees were all very gracious and patient. Thank you to Gallery Flux for hosting me and making this little film. 

The paintings in this exhibit represent my impressions and experiences from the island of Vinalhaven, Maine, where I was fortunate to have spent a fortnight in June as an artist-in-residence. This video, taken at Gallery Flux in Ashland, Virginia is an artist's talk I gave in conjunction with my September show featuring paintings from my residency.  

Island Mystique

Some of the most romantic and beautiful moments of my Vinalhaven, Maine residency were when I awoke to see the island enveloped in mysterious fog. Attempting to paint that fog from life, however, takes actual work and perseverance. The shifting atmospheric effects on the land and the oh so subtle value ranges require astute concentration and alertness in the midst of the peaceful stillness. 

Not too far from where I was staying sat a lovely field of wildflowers fronting some wetlands. Purple-violet lupines, as beautiful as any hothouse flower, grow wild throughout the region in spring, as do buttercups, pink clover, daisies, Queen Anne's lace, and numerous other beauties I wasn't able to name. 

 "Lupines in the Mist", Oil on linen, 11x14" (SOLD) ©Jennifer E Young

"Lupines in the Mist", Oil on linen, 11x14" (SOLD) ©Jennifer E Young

My 11x14" plein air piece (above) found its home on the island, but I wanted to return to that experience back in the studio while my memory of it was still fresh.  I painted the larger version with a slightly different angle to include the hint of wetlands in the background in order to give it a better sense of place. Click through on the image below for more info.

So many paintings, so little time!

Going through my notebooks and photos from my Maine trip, I'm made aware of just how many paintings I have swirling around in my  consciousness, and never enough time to execute them all. I guess it's better than the alternative of a dry spell, but only slightly less frustrating.  

The reality is that I'm a mom with a family and a household and a very busy summer on top of it., and since my return from the trip I have had to work in fits and starts, and not without some failure. Still, I do what I can to make time for art. Here's my latest, which was first attempted on site but had to be aborted when the wind turned my painting into a virtual kite! 

 "Evening at Carver's Harbor", Oil on linen, 16x20" ©Jennifer E Young

"Evening at Carver's Harbor", Oil on linen, 16x20" ©Jennifer E Young

Those boxy shapes you see are lobster cages. They are kind of an iconic symbol to me of this town. Vinalhaven once had its heyday as an island for quarry mining, but workers later turned to lobster fishing for their livelihood. The sun rises at 4:30 a.m., so I was told the fishermen are up by 3:30! Now that's dedication. A far sight more dedicated than I was on the evening I attempted to paint this scene. After my painting did a face plant there was nothing left to do but resign myself to the realities of the wind and eat a delicious lobster roll as consolation.

I have another Maine piece on the easel that I'm hoping to complete this week, and then I am off to Floyd, Virginia to paint with my fellow plein air painters in the Floyd Plein Air Festival. This is a week-long event of painting in the mountains, farmland, and vineyards in and around Floyd. I participated in the inaugural event a couple of years ago and we had lots of clouds, wind, and some rain. Here's hoping the weather is a little more cooperative this time around.