The Art of Finishing
This week I am returning to a favorite topic of mine which is the importance of completing a painting or work of art. I have several unfinished paintings and sketches pilling up in my studio lately. They are the remnants of ideas not fully thought out, false starts, or brick walls I didn’t know how to climb. In trying to figure out what caused this to happen, I have a few theories…Maybe life got really busy, I got stuck and didn’t know how to fix a problem with composition or color, lost interest in it, etc. I call these paintings and sketches, UFOS, unfinished objects. They clutter my studio, and remind me reproachfully that I have unfinished business. What to do, what to do?
About two weeks ago, I tried to break this trend in my work flow habits, and I returned to a sketch that I have been working on and off for about a year. Facebook reminded me of this event this week with a post about the sketch, And Still I Rise. The sketch is called, And Still I Rise, and it is based on a Maya Angelou poem entitled, And Still I Rise. This poem describes the struggle that African Americans have endured as a legacy of slavery, prejudice, and Jim Crow Laws of the South, and the power that they ultimately exercise when they rise above it. I’m sorry to say that my own ancestors played a part in the history of slavery and plantations.
I’ve been looking at my various attempts to finish this sketch and make it into a painting, and the below photos demonstrate my struggles to complete the painting. Some of these struggles include: breaking out of old habits of just putting things in the middle of the page, or not really thinking about art as a story to be told, or not knowing what medium and color choices to use in telling a complicated story like this one. Ultimately, I decided to limit the color palette to burnt sienna, black, and white, with tonal values, so that the focus is ultimately on the symbolic content of the painting’s story line, such as: the slave ships, slave manacles, (all to symbolize slavery), the phoenix bird (re-birth), and the sun (which rises every day). Two other central figures in this piece include a Caucasian woman, to symbolize the legacy of slavery and white prejudice, and the other, an African American woman, in this case, Maya Angelou, who serves as a representative of the African American population. She has risen above her circumstances and refuses to be beaten. Here are a few lines from the poem, which demonstrate Angelou’s indomitable spirit:
“You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.” (Source: Poetry Foundation, www.poetryfoundation.org).
So why is this important? I feel that I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and saw some growth happen, despite the frustration. Sticking with this sketch and making it into a tonal watercolor painting, forced me to re-think my art process and habits, and it has been helping me to define my unique voice as an artist, by making work that is content based and tells a story. It’s also been a good lesson in problem solving and determination. And I felt great when it was finally finished! Here are some progress photos, starting with the three value graphite sketch, oil painting, pastel, and finally the mixed media watercolor painting. The biggest inspiration I had in bringing this painting to a conclusion was Pablo Picasso’s, Rose Period. These paintings are limited in color and feature narratives about various characters, such as circus performers. Without the inspiration I received from this work, I doubt I could have brought it to a conclusion. All of which reminds me of an earlier post I wrote about the importance of copying master art works, in this case, they can provide new ways of thinking about value and color. I definitely want to keep studying the masters as I continue in my journey to define my voice as an artist. What about you? Do you have any tips for completing unfinished art?