The Painty Mire

When painting goes well, it seems to hinge purely on some mysterious internal factor, not on any objective quality of the piece being worked on. If the gods will it, magical transformations can happen in any painting at any moment, but if the mood isn’t right, for whatever reason — if lunch didn’t sit well, or a phone call caused agitation, or someone stepped on an ant in Australia — well, then a bout of thrashing in the painty mire usually ensues. One day, I am cruising along and can do no wrong; it feels like every time my brush touches the canvas I am in love with the mark it makes. I can finish a painting in one happy, charged day. And the next day I can do no right, sweating it out in the studio for eight hours in increasing desperation. But perhaps you only get to have those perfect days of smooth sailing in exchange for all those days when perspiration did not end up equalling inspiration.

The relationship between perspiration and inspiration is perverse, not to say inverse, exactly, because you do have to work to build up your craft, but it seems that pieces usually come together on the days when you’re not working so hard on them. You have to have one to get the other, just not at the same time, generally.

The truth is that the piece of art which seems so profoundly right in its finished state may earlier have been only inches or seconds away from total collapse.

— Art & Fear, David Bayles & Ted Orland

I guess there just different kinds of paintings, different ways to end up with something good. Sometimes it comes easy, and sometimes you have to get to that point where you don’t give a fuck, the thing is so bad —you’ll do anything to it — and that recklessness, that utter disregard for the precious object, can sometimes lead to an unexpected and wonderful breakthrough, something that you could never have set out to do sequentially and deliberately.

The secret (your methods) to painting needs to be discovered everyday. This is necessary because these secrets only work for a little while.

— Ken Kewley