finishing a painting for a friend

it’s a painting of the little fountain in my friend marie’s backyard in dublin.  i loved it when i saw it, took pictures and got them developed way back in 1999, and started painting.  but it got complex, and i put it aside, and it was the last watercolor i worked on before i moved on to oils.

but i’ve always meant to finish it.  and now that my friend marie has died, i will complete it and give it to her husband, because he built it, and because she always loved it too.

no, it’s not turned funny, and it’s not some strange writing.  this is the whole board, painting and scratch area.  i started this painting maybe ten years ago, and have had to mash the old masking tape back down a couple of times since then.  i’ts been on the board the whole time, and i’m pretty sure it’s not an acid-free board since it was my kid’s first easel ™.  but i can still make it archival by a secret new method (tba).  anyway, i only used the right half of the paper for the painting, and ended it arbitrarily on the left.  yes, it does get wider as it gets lower.  but one of the first things i did was to establish the middle line (thru the kid’s belly button) and measure out from there.  the painting area is something like 12×22.  i’m using heavy duty arches watercolor paper cut from a ten-yard roll (i’m a practical artist:  buy essentials in bulk, on sale, and make everything else myself)

it’s a good thing i reserved the left hand side, because over the years i’ve picked the painting up and done a little maybe once or twice (the beginnings of the darks in the foreground), and it’s appropriate that i left working notes the way i did, which i don’t usually.  no words, just scribbles and color combinations.  it’s an historic record.  and then, after taking the picture you see above, i got out my palette and put up samples of all the reds and blues and greens i have, so i’ll know what i’m working with, and can then figure out how to get what i need.  i’ll show the whole board again in the end.

so far, the painting is about half done.

here’s a closeup so you can see the pencil lines (which i always erase because that’s where i’m a purist (don’t get me started on fundamentalism)).  i had to mess with the shadow / reflection of the kid many times, upside down and sideways – literally – trying to get the curves just right.  and they’re not, because a simple glance at the negative space shows the awkwardness.  nobody else would notice it but me once it was done, but i have my standards.  like i said.

it’s going to take a lot of work, and that work will consist mostly of darks.  negative space.  the heavy duty stuff that you save for last because it’s so definitive.  so scary.  so hard to correct.  (not really, not when you use non-staining, liftable pigments.)  what you’re seeing here are the lights.  there’s going to be a great swath of dark starting at the top left and going diagonally all the way down the bottom right.  it will change everything.

i always meant to give the painting to marie, altho it would have easily sold, but i’m past the point where i need to make a living from my art (because i live on miracles), and so give most of it to people i love.  it’s so appropriate for her now.  all the water references – the emotional depths, the place we come from and return to, the stillness of life gone to stone.

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7 thoughts on “finishing a painting for a friend

  1. aloha jeannie – first. clearly there is no reason to listen to me. 2nd. i’m speaking my thoughts as if i were in your place (which i’m not and which is at least one reason why there is no reason to follow what is the path of another…).

    for me… when i have this kind of painting that is at this point – and particularly after the kind of time you are speaking of – 10 years – and the passing of your friend… i prefer to leave the work – even at this stage – as it is.

    this work is this way from that place in time that was 10 years ago. to go on, i’d start where i am now, even if i start where i was then. …does that make sense?

    my thinking is that i’d do another work. i might start in the same ways as i thought i was working 10 years ago (altho i’d allow myself to work with the experience and knowledge i have gained in that time), with the intent of taking this new work up to the point of this 10 year old beginning of a painting – and then i’d go on from there.

    if i could do what you intend, that’s what i’d do with a new work. this way, i would keep everything that is in this first beginning as it is.

    to me, this work is speaking to you, it may speak to you for years to come. it may even become a gift to you from your friend, just as it is. if you continue on with this work then you will have only this new work over the place you were 10 years ago – if you get to an end point – or may be another place that isnt entirely finished, however it will not be the place of what you have here… – okay, may be that’s good too. however, if you continue on with another work you will always have and you can always listen to this place from 10 years ago – where it was and is – and still do more new beginnings from this place.

    in fact, as i see it, the work can remain to speak to you from that time when your friend was still with you in this world. if you paint over this work, then you and the painting continue on and this painting as it is now (from 10 years ago) will no longer exist… am i making sense? may be not. it’s just how i am. it’s just imo.

    personally, i’d encourage you to take another piece of paper and complete your ideas from where you are now, because this one, as it is, is where you were then. …to me, it has value that is irreplaceable just as it is… and may continue to inspire you for many paintings (or other works) to come. and even if it does not inspire you, you will still have this time of 10 years ago, present and there for you.

    this work, as it is , is from the time and your relationship with your friend as it was 10 years ago… i value that. the potential within this work is there and will remain there for as long as it exists as it is. either (or any) way that you go, i wish you well in this process of completion regarding your friend. – aloha – wrick

    • hello, rick, you make an interesting point.

      a painting is an entire universe unto itself, and the entirety of what you are feeling and thinking about and taking in aurally while you are painting, goes into the surface you are working on and permeates it like a dye, leaving a tangle of energy that stays with the painting forever.

      there is another unfinished painting i have hanging on the wall in my studio. it’s of a local diner, with a particularly striking waiter famously associated with the place. it will forever remain unfinished, altho there is a particular buyer pressing me to complete it. there is a difference between the two paintings that will allow me to complete one, and prevents me from completing another.

      i’ve been painting since the late ’70s, and am pretty completely self-taught, which means i had a million teachers. it was watercolor only for the first 30 years. and my style was basically a thorough breaking of all the watercolor rules. out of ignorance at first, and then because it worked for me. i still don’t know how to mix a green “properly”, but my foliage doesn’t suffer much. the rule i break the most is “paint from light to dark.” while i reserve my whites and tone my lights, i also jump right in with the darkest darks, and work toward the middle. in the past, also out of ignorance, i used a lot of staining pigments, like the pthalos. but that was years ago, and since then i’ve discovered dry pigments and various media, and have developed a whole nother attitude toward making art. and i am in a completely different place mentally, skill-wise, and emotionally than i was then, ten years ago.

      strangely, ten years ago, i was so drawn to the scene that i made a special trip to get photos, and so compelled to paint it that even when i encountered the stunning complexity of the various layers of this painting (rocks in the depths, shadows in the shallows, stuff piercing the plane of the water, stuff on the surface of the water, stuff in the air on top of other stuff in the air – that’s six layers right there), even after realizing that i was going to have to paint this in a completely different way than anything i’d faced yet, thinking that i was growing very tired of having to resort to photo-realism in order to paint a picture like this, i started painting it in a completely different manner than i had the diner.

      unlike the diner painting, which has staining darks thrown into the path of any correction i might want to make (and it needs a doozy – the two halves of the diner have drastically different vanishing points), the fountain painting was done light to dark and only with lifting pigments. i was too chickenshit to commit myself to any hard edges, so i did only the toned lights. then several years later when i came back to it, i did that little streak of dark in the lower left. and then quit again. and it’s been sitting there reminding me that i quit, that i gave up and walked away and said yeah someday, but that i never got around to it, and now my friend is dead.

      so, i would normally leave this painting alone. but it’s out of fear, rather than respect. out of a fear of doing the darks wrong, since that’s all i have left to do. out of a fear of the kind of boldness of stroke, the kind of strength of commitment that i need to finish this and have it looking good rather than stiff, completed rather than cobbled together. i need to finish the statement i stopped making so many years ago.

      i have changed, and so has the world, and so have my loved ones. and rather than enshrine an unfinished gesture, i’m going to complete it, since it’s the final gesture i can make in this case. i don’t see it as covering up what’s there, since it’s just the lights. and to give the light expression, you need strong darks. besides, it’s entirely appropriate to take the unfinished canvas of someone’s life, or my relationship to someone’s life, and put the final, deadly touches on it to make a shadowed, dimensional, finished, eternal memorial.

  2. aloha Jeanne – i have to apologize for taking so long to respond. my comment to you was one of the first few i posted after i started here on WP and somehow i didnt mark this thread well enough. it took me a long time to re-find it. i never did in fact. i eventually saw your next post on this painting and got here that way. your painting is way fun to watch progressing btw.

    i also thought alot about what i had said in my first comment. sometimes i think on the keyboard and then later realize there are things off in my thinking.

    one of the good points you made is that there are at least two kinds of unfinished paintings. those that can be finished at later times and some that can not. …or at least are less likely to be finished. …altho i suspect that depends too on how much we grow and whether we learn in the ways that will allow us to finish a painting that at one time we thought was unfinishable.

    in fact, i realized that i do go back and finish work that i had left unfinished for various reasons. to be sure there are some i wont touch again… at least i think it’s unlikely. even if i know how to do so.

    also in fact… because we’re having this discussion (i did read your reply prior to my comment now – and didnt have time to respond – and then couldnt find it)… so because i had read your response when i was looking through some older work – may be from about 3-4 years ago – i found something that clicked with me and i plunged in on it. i like the way it came out, altho i’m not sure if i will show it here yet or not.

    your thinking made a lot of sense to me. like you, i have – and i think many people if not most – all have a lot of teachers. even if we’ve gone to school In Art, i think we still learn after our schooling no matter how high our schooling goes and may be that learning beyond school is just as important as the learning in school. it really isnt how we get to where we are as long as we get there with our work. – imo. again.

    also like you i like the granular pigments for the lifting quality that is possible – among other things. i still use staining pigments too tho. the bottom line for me is if something works then i’m going to do it that way. …like you again however, i think it’s good to know which of the myriad rules i am breaking when i break them. altho may be “working” is really more important than knowing. …i’ll have to think about that. …

    your process and thinking on this painting and where you are in your world is the right one to follow – no matter what my thinking is, imo. it’s also great to interact with your thoughts – at least for me it is. . .

    i think i can find your posts now. …i’m self taught on the computer and with all things digital. it’s way fun. but sometimes i’m reasonably sure i’m missing some simple bits of knowledge that might make things easier for me. still… i find work-around-ways when i need to and that’s how i progress, a little at a time. for me, that’s fun. because as long as i keep at it, the knowledge and experience continues to build and i learn. i like that.

    cool on your painting progress and process. – and a few of the other images i’ve taken a peak at too. – aloha – Wrick

    • the problem with being self taught is that you end up thinking everyone else has the secret but you. however, this is the problem with being human, also. so you have to proceed inside of this huge insecurity until you prove to yourself that you can do what you set out to do. proving it to others is not the point, making a success or selling paintings is not the point of art. it’s to be you, and in a way that others can see.

  3. aloha jeanne – you think right out of my own skull. bwahahahaha. …or i think out of yours. …at least on some of these things…

    when i went to school i learned from the get-go that i had to attend every class. other wise that “everyone-else-knows-something-i-dont” syndrome kicked in and i could never catch up.

    …just like being human. human being. and that’s the point, yes. be human. being human. if i were perfect (other than a perfect human being that is – which we all are anyway) i wouldnt be a human being – i’m not sure what i’d be, but i am sure i wouldnt be a human being. good thing i can do all those things that are human. because i am human. and i do them.

    spot on with your art insight. altho i dont feel i have to prove anything to me, what i do feel is that i just have to keep being me and doing – or… in other words… i just have to keep breathing (a phrase others have said even tho i have come to that conclusion on my own as well). doing is related to searching (imo) and searching is what art is – okay, it’s part of my personal definition of art – my art. …it’s also what being human is (again imo). this searching, in every thing we do – that is being human. ..

    …even when i’m not always sure what it is i’m searching for i still do it. one thing i have found is that i feel good when i’m searching in my art. i like that.

    spot on again. proving something to others is not the point. making a success and/or selling is not the point of art either. it may be nice or helpful etc. but it’s not the point. you being you (and me being me) is the point. …or at least one of them. and being me in my art is to be the best me i can be (something no other being on this planet can do better than i can do, so there is no real point to competing either because i’ll never be a better someone else than that other person is either) being the best me i can be, will mean i am doing the best art i can do – in fact the art i do is the best i can do if i am really being me… even tho i can become better at what i do if i keep making choices in that direction…. how ever until i do my art it will never be any better than what it is that i have done. i like that but i have to keep trying to become too. that’s the point for me, reaching, learning, becoming, searching to become the better me i can be.

    i think one catch we have to get past is thinking that our own art should look like the work of someone else. it shouldnt (imo). in fact if i’m really being me, no one will have seen what i do before i do it – including me. and we are not likely to know how to think about it without taking the time to think about it and to live with it over time. okay. cool on that. so time to get on with it, yes. yes. do it. now. that’s it. that’s all i have to keep doing. do it now.

    allowing others to see what we do, including them in the process is seeing our own art in a way that we can not see without those others as viewers. some art may be extremely personal or intended for only one other viewer – or may be only one viewer. may be only the audience of the artist. that’s okay for one work and/or occasionally, but if that is the only way a body of art is intended to exist it probably isnt going to exist. …i may have to think on that some more…

    one of the things i like about this kind of thinking is that it places art at a human level. that’s where i think art should be, for human beings. there is nothing wrong with art that is for human beings and beyond, but i think it looses something when it is no longer for human beings at all (may be that is impossible, or may be there are degrees). at some point art has to come back to being for human beings.

    one of the things i like about mail art is that mail art embraces being human and art as art for human beings. it’s way fun too (in my personal experience). i like that as well. i’m not opposed to art in other ways and forms and formats or selling it, or making it for institutions for example… especially if it’s for the human beings connected to the institution… in fact i do that at times, or i have. i like what mail art does for human beings and for being human and in that sense for the world of human beings around this planet… it connects us. i like that.

    it’s good to meet you Jeanne in your art and in your words. thank you for taking the time to converse… aloha – Wrick

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