Sometimes it’s best to leave well enough alone. Unfortunately for me and my art, that often means leaving something half-finished, if even that, and that, my friends, is something I’m working diligently to avoid.
It’s easy to make a start — sometimes even a promising start — and then walk away, letting the painting remain unfinished. I do it often because I have gotten off to a good start, and I know that anything more I do will spoil that good beginning. But there’s nothing to be gained really by having a collection of unfinished paintings sitting around, so one of my new rules this year is that I have to finish what I start — and especially I have to resist the temptation to wipe away what I’ve done.
I start a painting, I finish a painting. That’s how it is, and that’s why you’re going to see a lot of sorry sights, like my poor disfigured tronie who is looking quite pathetic today.
Yesterday’s image seemed to have a bit of character. There was, somehow, a suggestion of something quite human about the man. At least that’s how it felt to me.
Today he simply looks ridiculous. Now the shape of his head is all wrong, the lights and shadows have all but disappeared, and he’s just a very sorry sight.
“It’s a tronie,” I hastily explained to my husband earlier this morning when he made an unscheduled visit home from work and carried a few things downstairs. I wished I could have thrown a curtain over poor Piet to hide him from view, but there was no time for that. I had to grin and bear the embarrassment of having my husband view this awful thing on the easel.
“A tronie,” I explained. “It’s supposed to look weird.”
Yes, I fell back on my new knowledge of art history and appropriated the word for my own purposes, making of it a convenient excuse for bad art. That, of course, is not what a tronie is all about. So, what happened? Quite simply, I tried to finish my “study in light and shadow”, and obviously it did not go well.
Instead of using light and dark flesh tones, I worked today with black and white, wanting to once again exaggerate the lights and shadows. I made quite a mess of it. First, my lights and shadows were too distinct and unnatural, and then, after blending, they were all but gone. I tried again. I played with the eyes, tried to add a bit of detail, and only succeeded in making them cartoonish.
If I did anything I like, it would be the hair. I darkened it, and in the process I was able to create a sense of actual hair by using a coarse, bristle brush. (See, I have learned something!)
Now, if I step back away — far, far away — from the easel, I can still see something human about poor Piet. In many ways, I think he’s a reflection of who I am — an artist who wants to create, an artist who is struggling to learn, and thank goodness, an artist who is willing to do something ridiculous as part of that process.
Yes, it’s a sorry sight, and maybe I’ll never get better. But as long as I keep trying, I guess I should feel good about my art. Had I left this little painting unfinished, I would have gained nothing. So, I made a mess of it. So what? Each time we pick up a brush and add a stroke of paint to a canvas, we’re increasing our understanding, improving our abilities, and adding to our knowledge.
I’m not a good artist. I may never be a very good artist. But I’m going to keep painting.