I knew it was only a matter of time, of course. Despite my initial successes with oil painting, sooner or later disappointment and discouragement would rear their ugly heads, leaving me to wonder why I ever thought I could learn to paint.
Today was that day.
My painting session was an unmitigated disaster. No matter what I did, it didn’t work. After several frustrating hours I finally wiped most of the canvas clean, walked away, and resolved to come back another day to see what — if anything — I could salvage from the wreckage.
It began like any other day. I was excited to think about painting, had already planned out a scene and printed out a reference photo. Just as I did when learning watercolors, I’ve been focusing on one single element of landscape painting to work on each day. Already I’ve grown fairly comfortable with skies — clouds, not so much — but mostly I’m wanting to work on mountains now.
I’ve also been painting on a larger scale. My first paintings were 9 x 12. Then I moved up to 12 x 18. Today was the day I was going to make a gigantic leap. For me, at least. Yes, I was going to work on an 18 x 24 canvas. I didn’t have a canvas that size, but I knew where to get one. Our friendly Wal-Mart is only minutes away.
Once the bed was made and the breakfast dishes were done, I grabbed my coat and headed out. I had a fun time shopping, of course. It always brings a smile to my face when I can stroll down the “arts” aisle — or visit an art store — and feel that I actually belong there.
I bought two stretched canvases — triple primed — then grabbed a couple new brushes and from the paint aisle of the hardware section, I picked up a nice little bucket and even bought some terry-cloth painting towels. As messy as I am, I figured those would come in handy.
Back at home again, I couldn’t wait to begin. I had a few chores to attend to, and since it was nearly 10:00 AM, it was time to eat. (We get up about 4:00 AM, so lunch time comes early for me.) I fixed a sandwich and finished up a few chores, fighting off a big bout of impatience. I wanted my mind to be free of distractions.
I straightened my workspace, organized my supplies, and put the canvas on my easel. Now, this is a stretched canvas. That’s fine. But…I’ve been working only on canvas panels until today. Wal-Mart didn’t have panels in the 18 x 24 size, but how much different could it be, right?
To make sure I had a successful day — yeah, right — I looked at my reference photo and then used a drawing pencil to lightly sketch in the basic shapes of the mountain peaks. I was quite pleased with the results. I was feeling like a “real artist”, let me tell you!
After that small triumph, it all went downhill. Fast. Using phthalo blue, I began painting the sky. It looked fairly good, but I couldn’t exactly paint around those mountain peaks I’d drawn, and brushing over the marks seemed to smudge the graphite a bit. Oh, well. I’ve drawn and painted lots of mountain peaks. I didn’t really need an outline, did I? Besides, I had the reference photo right in front of me.
The sky turned out all right, but then I tried adding in fluffy white clouds. Nope. Not good. I sort of “brushed them out” and tried again. Better. I tried adding a few pale reddish highlights. It was all right, but not great. After looking at it for a bit, I brushed it out and tried again. Eventually I got a sky I was willing to live with. Time to move on to the mountains.
That’s when it all went wrong. I couldn’t get the shapes right. I couldn’t get the colors right. I couldn’t figure out where the lights and darks should go. Most of the problem, I think, was caused by the fact that I had far too much paint on my brush. Plus working on a larger scale meant larger arm and shoulder movements. I felt totally uncoordinated — not to mention fatigued! And, yes, I learned that there’s a considerable difference between painting on a canvas panel and using a stretched canvas.
Still, I persevered.
At one point, I was almost satisfied with the mountains, so I moved on to adding foothills at the base. Wrong. Again, I had too much paint. Again, my colors were all wrong. Again, I couldn’t tell up from down, top from bottom, sunlight from shadow.
I wiped away the foothills but in the process, I wiped out a bit of my mountains, too. I re-did the mountains, smeared more paint onto the canvas, and tried the foothills again. And again.
At that point, I gave up on the mountains and foothills. I grabbed a bit of sap green and attempted to make a distant tree line. Bad went to worse, and after doing a bit of this and some of that and not liking anything, I grabbed one of those terry-cloth towels I’d bought (see, I knew they would come in handy) and started trying to wipe off all my mistakes. I wiped and scrubbed, unable to believe how much paint I was taking off and yet how much remained.
I did leave the topmost portion of the mountain range. Now, I’m going to let it all dry, and then I’ll see about re-painting the foothills, a tree line, maybe a bit of ground with a few pine trees.
For now, here’s what I’ve got:
Note: The streaks you see on the left side are actually reflections from a glass cabinet next to my easel.
Stepping away and looking at the unfinished painting now does give me a little hope. I do like the sky, and while the mountain peaks aren’t anything like what I’d planned, they’re not completely awful. Or maybe they are. I’m losing my objectivity here.
But can the rest of the painting be re-done? I’m going to leave the painting alone for a few days, and then I’ll decide how I want to finish it. I’m open to suggestions!
Of course, the real question is whether or not I can learn to control my heavy-handed paint habit. I’m definitely open to suggestions there, as well.
UPDATE: I won’t be working on this painting again. Earlier this morning, I attempted to move it from one place to another and managed to make an even bigger mess of it. I finally just grabbed my paint rag again, wiped as much of the original painting away as possible, and I’m going to re-use the canvas in a totally different way. I don’t think I would have ever been happy with this particular mountain scene. Now, I have plans! I don’t know how my idea will turn out, but I’m feeling adventurous. This “ruined canvas” will be a good opportunity to experiment.