Consistency is an interesting word with two very distinct meanings, both of which can be applicable to art.
- Conformity in the application of something, typically that which is necessary for the sake of logic, accuracy, or fairness. Synonyms include: evenness, steadiness, stability, constancy, regularity, uniformity, equilibrium, unity, orderliness.
- The way in which a substance, typically a liquid, holds together; thickness or viscosity. Related words here are: density, firmness, solidity, heaviness, texture.
Many of the words I’ve written above — from both definitions — are undeniable elements of art. Several words leaped off the page at me. Since I’m now re-reading The Theory of Pure Design by Denman Ross, I quickly noticed ideas of regularity, unity, and, above all else, orderliness. In Ross’s theory, Order is the underlying principle of all good design. Another word that grabbed my attention was texture, often considered one of the most basic elements in art, along with line, shape, form, color, value, and space.
Lately I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the principle of consistency — again, considering both definitions for the word. Before I say more, let me share with you an oil painting I more or less finished recently. Remember that I said yesterday you’d be seeing more yellow flowers? Well, here’s a scene based on a walk I took along one of our park’s hiking trails last fall.
As with so many of my paintings, there are parts I like and parts I don’t like. From the start, I knew that painting these yellow flowers would be a challenge. In fact, I thought the entire scene would be difficult.
I worked on it slowly, carefully painting the wooded background first. I was pleased with how that area turned out. I was even more pleased by the pathway. I was off to a good start.
So, what happened?
What happened was that I set the painting aside while I worked on other projects. I think this was partly due to the fact that I did like what I’d done. It was starting to feel a bit precious, meaning I worried about doing more to it and ruining it. That’s not a good approach, and we all know it. So, I made it a point to put the painting back on my easel to work on the grassy foreground and those bright yellow flowers.
As soon as I’d painted in the grassy hill and the flowers, I knew I wasn’t going to like the final results. At that point, the painting became more of an experimental practice piece than a painting I might someday hope to frame and put on display. But, once again, I had other projects going on. Once again, my Flowers in the Field painting was set aside.
Finally I got over my discouragement and resolved to finish the painting without fussing about the outcome. And here I began to think about consistency — in terms of viscosity and thickness. In other words, how thick — or thin — my oil paints are.
Consistency of oil paints has been a troublesome thing for me from the start. Sometimes I have my paints so thick that I can barely apply it to the canvas. At other times I have it so thin it’s actually dripping. I need to find a happy medium, right? Well, more to the point, I need to find a good medium and learn how to use it. I’ll have more to say about various oil-painting mediums in tomorrow’s post, but for now I’ve been playing and practicing with a few various basic additives that affect the consistency of paint:
- Cold Wax Medium
- Linseed Oil
- Liquin — by Winsor & Newton
So, as I painted and re-painted all those yellow petals, I tried various thicknesses of paint. I used different paint consistencies as I painted the stems and dark leaves. At this point, I was in pure experimental mode, so I played at creating a sense of grass growing here and there.
In the end, I still had a painting that I don’t like overall. I still like my wooded background and the pathway, but I don’t care for the yellow flowers and grassy hillside, and the main reason why I dislike this — overall — is because there is an obvious lack of consistency in the painting, referring now to the first definition.
To me, this looks like it was painted by two different artists with two different styles. The greens used in the painting are inconsistent, too, from the background to the foreground. The inconsistencies I see are caused in part by the lapse of time between starting and finishing the painting, but they’re caused more by my lack of skill in creating detail — and that is caused in large part by my struggles with paint consistency.
Over the next few weeks, I plan to work a lot on this one aspect of oil-painting. Flowers in the Field was a good starting point for me, and I think my flowers probably look better than those I might have painted a few years ago. I think I’m seeing at least the beginnings of improvement. I hope to see more improvement as I focus on consistency in my paints, which will lead to a greater consistency in my art.