I love to cook. I love planning our menus. I love nutrition. I guess I could say I simply have a love affair with food. In many ways, I consider culinary art to be a very real form of art, but yes, I’m stretching it here a bit. This is an art blog, not a cooking journal.
At different times, I’ve compared making art to making dinner, and I do find many parallels between the two activities. Setting a lovely table and serving a beautiful meal require knowledge of color and design, and again, I’m stretching it.
This post isn’t really about soup, although I do have a link to some great low-carb soups, just in case you’re interested. For what it’s worth, my husband and I love our low-carb life, and we certainly enjoy having soup and sandwiches — we have some great zero-carb breads. If you’re so inclined, check out these delicious recipes: Top 14 Low Carb Soup Recipes.
All right. Enough kitchen talk. What does any of this have to do with art? A lot, actually. Just as our kids might stand around the stove, tugging at our sleeve and asking, “Is it soup yet?” — a line which comes from an old Lipton’s commercial — we, as artists often stand at our easel, fretting, fussing, and wondering, “Well, is it finished yet?”
Since I began this awesome journey toward becoming an artist, I’ve not only run into that question many times in my own work, but I’ve heard it over and over from other artists. I’ve heard, too — and experienced first-hand — the frustration of overworking a painting, fiddling and twiddling with it long past the point when we should have called it done and walked away.
Hopefully I’m overcoming that bad habit now, and I’m doing it with some excellent advice from impressionist painter Joe Gyurcsak. He was the featured artist at a recent online art presentation from Dick Blick Art Materials.
Not surprisingly, the question came up. Not “Is it soup yet?” but the artist’s variation. “How do I know when my painting is finished?” Spelling it out this way almost makes it seem comical. We’re artists. We’re the ones doing the painting. Shouldn’t we know if and when we’re finished?
Of course, it’s not so easy, and it’s certainly not funny. Countless paintings have been ruined, or at least diminished, because the artist didn’t recognize that the work was complete. It’s so tempting to add just one more brush stroke, or to think maybe I need a little color here… or there… Before we know it, we’ve gone too far, and at that point it’s too late.
Gyurcsak gave a great answer to the question, but before I share it, I want to say a little bit about intentional painting. It’s relevant here, you’ll see. Intentional painting is essentially having a plan of sorts. Intentional painting is knowing what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.
As artists, we talk a lot about accidents in painting, and sure, accidents do happen. I’m referring to those good accidents, those brushstrokes we lay out on the canvas that are exactly right, that little touch of color that ends up in the perfect place, those awesome little things that somehow just happen as we’re painting. Those are great, but they don’t happen wholly of their own accord. Those fortuitous accidents come about because of our actions, and hopefully, our actions come about because of the decisions we’re making each time we pick up a bit of color on our brush and put it on our canvas.
When I started oil painting, I had little idea what I was doing. I slapped paint on willy-nilly, just because it was fun. It felt good. It was only later — much later — that I learned about becoming intentional with my brushstrokes. Before I make a brushstroke now, I ask myself “Why am I doing this?” I ask, “Does the painting need this?” I ask, “Is this the right color? Is this the right texture?” I don’t always make the right decisions, of course. I’m still learning, and I still make a lot of bad choices. But the point is, it’s a conscious process. I think about what I’m doing.
Now, back to Gyurcsak. His response to the “Is it finished yet?” question was simple. When you find yourself fiddling but can’t find a reason, it’s time to think about stopping. All right, no, he didn’t say it in exactly that way, but basically his answer goes back to being intentional. If I have a loaded brush in my hand and I’m itching to add a stroke of paint, but I can’t find a good reason for doing so, it’s probably time to put the brush down, probably time to back away, probably time to consider that maybe the painting is done.
So simple. So logical. So accurate!
I thought at once of all the times I’ve spoiled paintings because I just couldn’t put the brush down. I dabbed paint hither and thither — all with absolutely no reason — and I saw good paintings go bad. I saw lights and shadows destroyed. I saw beautiful color schemes spoiled by a few impulsive strokes.
Oh, how right Gyurcsak is! When there’s no good reason to add another brush stroke, walk away. Our painting is speaking to us. It’s telling us, “Stop!” It’s ready to rest.
A good point to keep in mind is that we can always come back to a painting and add more to it later, if we know for sure it’s the right thing to do. But once we’ve gone too far, it’s all but impossible to undo the damage.
It’s a lot like soup, really. Take it off the stove too early, and you won’t have all those perfectly-blended flavors. But, you can put it back on the stove until it’s just right. If you leave it on too long, though, you’ll have a mushy mess of indistinct, tasteless flavors, and if it’s a cream soup, it might even get scorched.
Nobody likes scorched soup. And nobody likes overworked paintings. Better to take the pot off the stove or the painting off the easel too soon rather than too late.