Sometimes I like my paintings

To be clear there is a time with all my paintings, except the failed ones, that I like them. I’m half-way through a painting now and it’s just starting to jump off the canvas. I like it and enjoy working on it. This has happened with other paintings I’ve worked on and its fun. Unfortunately when I finish I see areas that I like and others that I like less. Generally I work on the parts of a painting that are seriously lacking so by the time I’m finished I don’t hate any part of it, but I always see the shortcomings. This leaves me in the unfortunate position of having to say that I don’t like my work; it would be more accurate to say that I’m unsatisfied with them.

I don’t really know if I like a painting until a year or so has passed. At that point it’s been in the attic or somewhere else out of sight. I don’t immediately remember it and find myself wondering who painted it. At that point I can decide if I like it or not.

I Paint Until Disaster

I’ve been thinking about painting methods. I’ve never worried too much about doing it right the first time because I know that I can change it. This is why I don’t like water colours. With pen and ink the image needs to be almost complete in pencil until I start inking. Lots of time to change things. I’m constantly reworking paintings as I paint. I work on various areas, constantly improving and adding to.

My style is generally to work until disaster. I work until I have something that I just cannot fix then I paint over the area. Acrylics give me an advantage here because the fast drying time makes it so much easier. I did the same with oils but that meant taking the canvas off the easel and leaving it for a week or so, to dry. It’s not a complete waste of time because I’ve been trying different things and have often settled on a particular technique when disaster strikes. Now I can start again on the area using the technique I’ve settled upon and repainting the area takes me half or a third of the time. This may not be the best of methods, it’s certainly not the fastest but as I’ve said before I’m slow.


For years I have used a glass pallet. This is an old thick window pane. It allows me to scrape it clean with a pallet knife and works very well. Unfortunately with acrylics drying so fast the paint is dry before I get to the point of scraping it. As a result I’ve been using a smaller area for mixing paint and resorted to mixing the paint on wax paper so that when the paint starts to dry I can throw it away and wash the brushes.

Lately I’ve been using a very small traditional pallet. I’ve never used a traditional pallet. I find trying to hold a large pallet with brushes and medium cumbersome and difficult. The small pallet allows me to paint detail without turning and bending to put more paint on the brush. This is detail work so I’m not doing it long enough for the paint to dry. My daughter was laughing at me that it seems the height of laziness to be concerned with turning and bending down to get more paint but it also allows me to keep my eyes on exactly where I’m painting. I try hard not to put too much detail in my paintings but if I’m doing something like flowers I still get lost in the petals. I use the full pallet when I’m doing large areas of background.

Small Things

It’s interesting how small errors in a painting will bother me. Sometimes I dream about them; in this case I’d already decided that there was a problem and how to fix it. So no dreams but I had to get up and start fixing it first thing in the morning. This time it was a small perspective issue with the windows. The photo that I’m working from shows an ugly awning so I left it out and didn’t get the window perspective quite right. Usually I’m not so anal about things like this but in this particular case it bothered me.

Art of the Con

The price someone pays for art sometimes makes me feel a little guilty. I paint because I enjoy it. I don’t need to paint to eat. I am grateful for that because starving would not be a happy place. The value I place on my painting is based on the amount of time I spend so I think they are all worth a fortune. Sadly most people don’t agree.

OK so I don’t lose sleep over what someone pays for my paintings. For that I thank my mercenary bent.

I just watched a documentary about copying paintings in China. The western world calls it forgery. I’m sure Vincent van Gogh worked quickly but not as quickly as these painters copy his work. Often they specialise in one particular painting and paint it over and over again. Sometimes they are mass producing them by working on many copies at the same time. I’m sure some of them do original work and I would love to see it.

Creating a new work takes time. At least it takes me a great deal of time, but I am slow. The creative process is odd in that it’s not very linear. I work in fits and starts, but I paint a little every day; sometimes very little. It’s interesting that occasionally I have to force myself to pick up my brush yet other times areas of the painting are crying out to be worked on. Sometimes there is not time enough in a day to get the work done. There are times when I am impatient and annoyed that areas need so much attention. This is usually when paintings are close to being finished and I’m thinking about the next one.

It occurs to me that the title of this post might make some think that art is dishonest in some way. It can be but to the artist usually not. An artist creates because he/she must or just can. To the artist the work is satisfying and fun. To others who don’t create it can also be satisfying and that’s where money enters the picture. Art has no intrinsic value like a machine that someone designs, builds and saves time. Arts value rests on what someone will pay to possess it.

I would like to say that the artist is incapable of the con but that is very clearly not the case. There are some very talented artists that have survived by using their skills to make forgeries. I don’t believe I’d be a very good forger but luckily I’ve never had to find out.

So my advice to artists is ignore any guilt you might feel. Work on your art and don’t think about the value as long as you are eating.

Reality Contrast

Reality is full of low contrast. As artists we are generally pushed toward hi-contrast but I believe that much of what we see is low-contrast. When a painting starts to jump off the canvas it’s often when I’ve painted a low contrast area. Sometimes it’s after painting the highlights but I think that is a different process. Certainly highlights can trigger the reality illusion but I think that’s usually in association with low contrast areas.

I’m running a test at the moment with a painting that has a great deal of low-contrast area, at least the low-contrast area is obvious. The reality-illusion was just triggered with a shadow area that is relatively low-contrast hence this post. I’m going to continue working on low-contrast areas to see if it continues.

There have been several times that I’ve been surprised with the reality-illusion after painting backgrounds. The backgrounds were low contrast and really just area fill-ins. I didn’t give any real weight or significance to the area, nevertheless it triggered the reality-illusion. I’ve posted before about the reality-illusion and how it probably has something to do with the way we view reality. If the illusion happens when the painting starts to match our inner reality construct, then if it happens when the painting is composed mostly of low-contrast then perhaps reality is composed mostly of low-contrast.

As an artist if this illusion is my goal then I should be focusing on low contrast areas; or at least giving them equal time.

An added note with this image is that the perspective is off. I drew it on canvas and didn’t bother much with perspective since I could fix it later. I’ve decided to leave it as is. I always want the painting to be obviously a painting and not too realistic. So does the reality-illusion work when perspective is off? I think it will.

Different Things

I paint different things. Whatever grabs my attention at the time is what I paint. Many artists specialise and paint similar things constantly. There are many advantages to this method and if they sell it’s money in their pocket.

When I have an idea I often search it on Google. I’m a little disheartened when I find an artist who has painted many paintings around the same idea and often better than I could have done. The moral of this story is to not search; just create. What I do will not be the same as another artist. It might be similar but not the same.


No matter how I describe it paint is a subtractive colour method. There may be some argument for light passing through layers of glaze but it still ends up being a subtractive colour method. If two glazes are trying to subtract colours from the same spectrum of light falling on the canvas then the resulting colour will be muddy brown or almost black. If we get other results it’s because the paint is so inefficient as a reflector. This is why there are colours on my monitor and in reality that I can’t reproduce with paint. I think the best use of paint to create a colour is to mix the colour on my pallet and paint it on the canvas. Glazes can certainly make fine adjustments but the best colour is a mix and apply. This is also why there are some colours that I just can’t get by mixing the paints I regularly use; I need a different pigment for that special colour and I often apply it as purely as I can without mixing in anything else; I’m sure this is why there are so many paint colours using different pigments.

Take a butterfly for example. The wing colours are created by the shape of the scales on its wings. They reflect only a very small frequency range. If you illuminate them with a sodium ark light for example the only frequency available to reflect is the yellow of the sodium ark. If the butterfly’s wings don’t reflect this frequency then I will see only a tint of the sodium colour or black. The butterfly’s wings are much more efficient than paint.

On a monitor this is easy to show. There are normally only three colours; red, green and blue. Add them together in equal amounts and you get white. With paint when you add a colour to white you are reducing the reflected spectrum on everything except the colour that you are adding; the result is slightly grey. It’s not just a lighter tint of the one added, it’s grey because of the inefficiency of paint.

So far the best results I’ve had with glazing are when I want to lighten an area or shift the colour slightly. Create a warmer look for example. Some artists get wonderful results with glazing. They add forty or more layers of glaze to get a wonderful colour. I don’t have the patience.