"untitled/girl tree"


woman-tree-legs15 This painting is stuck right now.  I want to finish it, and move my thoughts on to other paintings, very badly. But I just can't figure out what to do to make that happen. It is a kind of failure of vision:  I look and look but the forms stubbornly refuse to coalesce into resolution. All I can do is wait it out:  wait for the moment when I look at the painting and the solution - or at least the next action - proposes itself to my mind's eye. It might be a small adjustment, or something large and radical. But no matter how much I desire this revelation, it seemingly cannot be forced.

The legs are basically done, except for the right foot which needs a final pass. The main issue is that I can't figure out how to resolve the foliage, and I'm hampered by the fact that the potted peony, which I had been using as a model, has died:


When I bought it, at the beginning of September, I knew that it wouldn't make it through the winter as a potted indoor plant, but I was blithely certain that the painting would be finished by Christmas - three whole months away! How could I not finish a 16" x 12" painting in three goddamn months??

Dying Peony

girl-tree-legs-14 Um. I just realized that the horizon line is nowhere near horizontal. How could I not have noticed that it has a distinct slant to the right? 

In other potential problem areas, I've been away from the studio for almost a week over Christmas, and I turned the space heaters off and let everything go into cold storage. I took almost all my plants home, except for my pomegranate tree, which has been struggling with an epic scale infestation, two succulents, and the peony that has been my model for this painting. I wasn't sure how long it would survive indoors in its pot - planted outside, they die back in the winter and re-leaf in the spring - but I think it's now coming to the end of its rope. When I left, stems were turning brown and the leaves, which had become very brittle, were starting to desiccate further and droop ominously. I'm afraid to go back to my icy studio and find that it's totally dead! How am I going to finish this painting without the peony to work from??

Another Day's Work

girl-tree-legs-12 By all rights, this painting should be feeling close to finished by now. And yet, it isn't. The problem is that I can't seem to put my finger on the problem. I only know it just doesn't look right to me yet. The foliage is not resolved, somehow. Too piecey, perhaps? I feel a dangerous need to obliterate something, and then fix it. Eeek. It's probably good I'm going away for a couple of days for Thanksgiving.

Another Tree-Person

As promised, here is the second "tree-person" painting that I'm working on. Dave, incidentally, thinks it's hilarious that I call them "tree-people" as a place-holder name until I come up with their real title. It makes him think of those Californian hippie/activists who live in trees to prevent loggers from cutting them down. Not really my intention with this work . . . but I'm glad he's amused. I've decided that the unit of progress is a day's work, so all of the photos you'll see below contain a day's worth of painting, more or less.

The underpainting:

First layer:

Second go round:

Starting with the leaves:

Filling in the foliage:

And on . . .

and on . . .

and on . . .

Where things stand currently: 

A detail shot of an area I'm happy with:



I begin to see the finished painting starting to emerge at this point. This part of the process usually makes me incredibly anxious, because I'm afraid I'm going to fuck up the parts I already like trying to fix up the parts that don't quite work yet. What I try to do at this stage in the proceedings is to slow way down, and only work on the painting when I have a very clear, confident idea of what to do, and how to do it. No more playing around with various ideas to see what might work. How many potentially good paintings have I ruined by over-working? Oh lord, it makes me depressed just thinking about it. Finishing a painting is hard, though: Dave often asks me how I know when something is done. One answer that would be ideal, if I could follow my own advice, is that a painting is finished when there aren't too many parts of it that annoy me too terribly. When I can live with the level of my inevitable feeling of dissatisfaction. It's kind of a zen-like goal: just enough to finish, and no more. But getting there - and more importantly, knowing when to stop - is a tricky balancing act.

In the future, my plan is to post progress reports on various paintings as I go, not a giant fell-swoop post like this, but I haven't quite figured out how to organize the blog in a smart way yet, so bear with me while I work it out.