When to Stop…

Trembling Aspens...

Trembling Aspens – 9×12 – Oil on Canvas Board

As part of Alberta Cultural Days, the Leighton Centre held two days of activities including an invitation to plein air painters to come and enjoy the beautiful scenery that makes the Leighton such a treasure. A.C and Barbara Leighton’s house sits on a hill west of highway 22 on Range Road 23. The vista looking west is breathtaking and I have witnessed several people who, after parking and walking around the north side of the house are left speechless, motioning to their significant other to come quick as if what they are seeing isn’t real and will vanish from sight before the other has a chance to see it.

Normally, when I have arrived and have seen what others are painting, the view is paramount. How can you resist sitting on the hill and not be seduced into staying right where you are and painting the colourful foothills and mountains. After all they’re right there in front of you.

But, I try to make things as difficult as I can. I walk around looking for something more intimate with colors and texture and light. Oddly, I realize that I shy away from the “Grand Vista” because it is so complex. Too big, too broad and open. I can’t have a conversation with it. Yet I am drawn to the complex colors and textures of a stand of trees nestled in a bed of prairie grass.

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This painting was done in two hours and is probably the most abstract subject matter I have painted to date. Simple color and value, yet unbelievably complex. Squinting didn’t quite do it. I put my reading glasses on and used them to see my canvas up close, and happily blur the natural subject matter. Simplify and mass as the rule states.

Stephanie Doll, the curator of the Leighton thinks this is one of the best piece she’s seen so far. I instantly bite my lip and become doubtful as usual – the rules of painting flooding into my brain. It seems complex and yet crude at the same time. I understand it’s abstract but I’m not sure I hit the mark. It’s a sketch but I instantly want to make changes. The main tree trunks are not defined enough. the sense of depth in the foliage isn’t where I think it should be. Do I stop or keep going? I find it interesting that I am becoming much more aware of what I feel the problems are in a painting, whereas before, I would stare at it and not be able to put into words what was needing attention on the canvas.

What I begin to understand is, a work of art, any work, whether it’s painting, sculpture, or dynamic video, will find an equilibrium. A place where the artist and the subject meet. if your shy of the mark, you are too tentative. If you overshoot the mark, you didn’t stop when you should have. It’s a feeling. It comes with discipline, challenges and years of practice. A sensibility as many have called it. I guess as every artist through the ages has discovered, each shot at the target is a crap shoot. One shot is right on, while the next three are way off. Practice brings the cluster closer to the center and a silent understanding that every attempt after will never be perfect. There will always be something that can get in the way of of your success on a given day and something equally as powerful which will move you forward to a better understanding.