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. 

Marinating, then celebrating!

I completed this painting (or so I thought) a short time before we left for our annual summer trek to the beach. I really liked it, for the most part. And having considered it finished, I stuck it up on my studio wall before our trip. After our return though, I started looking at it with fresh eyes. Some things that tugged on me before were now really starting to become more bothersome. But I decided to let it marinate a while longer as I was distracted with other projects. 

surfside1_jenniferyoung

Finally, I decided that while I liked the overall mood in this piece, I did not like the little closed umbrella to the left of my grouping of sunbathers. It kept pulling my eye away from where I wanted to go, and it was sort of an ambiguous object sitting there. Still I wanted something near that spot that would perhaps pull the painting together a little better. So I began flipping through my trip photos for some ideas and inspiration, and came across a snap of a little boy digging intently in the sand. I sketched it out quickly in a nearby notebook and set to work. 

boy_surfside_sketch.jpg

There wasn't a lot of built up texture where the umbrella was, so I only had to scrape it down just a little bit with a razor. Then I proceeded with a little "oiling out"  (in this case with just a little gambol and solvent free fluid) to help the new paint layer adhere to the older but still very fresh under layer. Here is the revised painting with the little boy. I also brightened the sky a bit more as it was feeling a bit intense and heavy.  

 "Surfside", Oil on linen, 20x24" ©Jennifer E Young

"Surfside", Oil on linen, 20x24" ©Jennifer E Young

Here's a detail of the figures: 

 "Surfside" (Detail) ©Jennifer E Young

"Surfside" (Detail) ©Jennifer E Young

I don't know about you, but I like this much better, and I find it finally worthy of celebrating with a frame and a signature.  :)

Plein Air to Studio

Though I have a great love for plein air painting and do it as often as my time and circumstances allow,  I have, out of necessity, become much more of a studio painter these last few years. Working on location is like painting calisthenics. It demands one's full concentration, advance planning, additional travel time, and a good amount of in-the-moment ingenuity in order to capture the particular color notes and light effects of that point in time. As with physical exercise, I get both an exhilarating rush and a bit of a drain afterwards. 

 5:30 a.m. wake-up time ensured that I captured this sunrise in all of its colorful glory. As you can see, all of that color was long gone when I photographed the setting at around 7 a.m.

5:30 a.m. wake-up time ensured that I captured this sunrise in all of its colorful glory. As you can see, all of that color was long gone when I photographed the setting at around 7 a.m.

While I love the spontaneity in my plein air work, my studio work has its advantages. For one I can be more deliberate. Without the limitations imposed by time and changing light, I can go larger in the studio, and at times, improve on my drawing and composition. I can also experiment more easily with various formats, color combinations, and other formal aspects of 2D artistry. 

While I have been engaged in both practices for many years now, I want to do more to relate the two disciplines to each other in a more purposeful way. Part of the reason I haven't always managed this is because I tend to consign my plein air paintings to galleries almost immediately after I complete them, which means I am separated from them for either the length of the consignment, or forever if the painting is sold outright. I do have photographs of all of my plein air paintings as well as photographs of the location (though as you can see above,  the latter often tells me very little about the true color I saw in the moment.)

Therefore I'm making a concerted effort to do more plein-air to studio paintings, using the actual plein air paintings as my primary reference when at all possible. Here's my most recent effort:

 "New Day Rising", Oil on linen, 20x24" ©Jennifer E Young

"New Day Rising", Oil on linen, 20x24" ©Jennifer E Young

Here's my setup, in progress. I used my tablet holder to prop up my plein air painting so that both pieces would be under the same light for better color accuracy. It actually worked very well. Necessity is indeed the mother of invention!  :) 

 

 

 

Coastal Shimmer

This has been the strangest winter. One week we have blizzards and the next tornadoes. Given all of this chaos it seems a very good idea to just cozy up in a warm studio and work out some ideas on some larger canvases. Granted, I'm still not painting on an enormous scale, but this 24x36" is the largest I've done in a while.

 "Coastal Shimmer", Oil on linen, 24x36" ©Jennifer E Young

"Coastal Shimmer", Oil on linen, 24x36" ©Jennifer E Young

I kept the composition fairly simple. I wanted to see what I could do with brushwork and color to create the drama that I felt from the interplay of the sky and the dancing light on the water. This painting unfolded over a number of sessions and the paint is quite thick. I am currently searching for a way to be more expressive and less literal in my work. It is so, so much easier said than done! I am constantly fighting with my inner nature to control, to spell things out. My heart reaches for more expression, even abstraction; but my head still clings to realism. Somewhere in that conceptual arc lies my voice. I've been feeling around for it, and grazed against it a few times, but I still don't quite have it in my grasp. Nevertheless I did enjoy this painting. It's different than what I imagined it would be, but not in a bad way. And it's already given me some ideas about how I want to approach the next one. Onward ho!