detail from Kaleidoscope: Chinese Pipe and Glass
Before revision (left), and after (right)
Most of the last 2 weeks was spent paying attention to some family issues, and then getting over an ugly cold (I don’t get sick all that often, but when I do…). Though it didn’t leave much time for work, when I did sit down at my easel, I worked on revising an earlier painting. Revision is something I haven’t done all that often, since I don’t ordinarily keep works around for long after they’re finished. This year, though, I made the decision to hold on to a number of pieces until the economy improves a little.
It was an interesting experience, so I thought I’d talk a little about it. This was a piece I’d finished about 3 months ago. I was completely satisfied with the composition, so I knew nothing about that would change. From the beginning, though, I was also a little dissatisfied with the quality of the color, and the general attention to detail. There wasn’t any one thing that struck me as wrong; there was simply this overall feeling that “it could be better”.
The entire process consisted of going over almost every piece of the painting, literally moving a square inch at a time, and simply restating brushstrokes. It’s my impression that I spent a sizable fraction of the time reworking highlights; where originally I had painted a simple white, introducing a more subtle tint, paying greater attention to the “halo” effects around its edges, and giving more specific definition to it’s shape. And so it went; the revision probably took at least half, maybe even more – of the time required to do the initial painting.
The results are anything but dramatic… anything. In fact, when I first made the side-by-side before and after detail shots (see above), I could barely pick out any specific differences, aside from it being overall a little lighter. My first thought was that I’d just wasted my time. The more I looked at it, though, the more I could see the results emerge. Here a highlight popped a little more, there a detail seemed fresher and crisper, and yet another color seemed deeper and richer. In short, the painting ultimately felt like it came to life.
It’s just this sort of thing that makes the kind of painting I do worth it. Learning to concentrate more and more deeply this way is really the heart and soul of how I paint; and it’s very much an ongoing process. The devil may be in the details, but so are the angels.