With the New Year comes the time for a new painting! I was wandering around my house looking for something I wanted to paint. I found amongst the Christmas wrappings, some crinkled, stiff brown paper that had been used as packing material. I thought it might work for a backdrop in the same way I might use fabric. I pinned it up on the wall behind my set-up table and shone a light on it. I had a Greek vase nearby, so I added it to the new scene.
I have an orange and black woven wooden box I got at an antique store whose colors were harmonious, so I added that. I needed some smaller objects, so I put in some stones (as usual!) and a geode.
I was pretty pleased with this. I liked the crinkled surface of the paper and the play of light and dark across it.
I got busy and didn’t look at the set-up for a few weeks. When I did, I was surprised to find that I didn’t like it so much. The pattern of light and dark wasn’t as strong as I like. It seemed a bit dull. I wanted to try again.
I’m often surprised by how often I work on a new set-up and think I’m pleased with it, only to discover later that it is flawed. Somehow, after trying so hard to make the relationships between the objects work, and coming up with a possible solution, I become blind to other possibilities. It’s as though I convince myself that the current set-up is somehow inevitable. I focus on the good points that I’ve been working so hard on, and ignore the problematic ones. I think that I need some time to pass to return to the set-up and judge it objectively.
I also think that it is tempting to try to solve a problem quickly. Composing is a tricky business that requires a lot of thought and hard work. Sometimes part of me wants to skip the work and get right to the painting! Looking back at some of my paintings, I wish that I’d taken the extra time to work a bit harder on the compositions, and not settle for the first solution. This time, I decided to try again!
If I had used fabric in the background I would now be reluctant to make changes for fear I could never put the fabric back the way it was if my experiments weren’t successful. Fabric has a mind of its own! A pleasing pattern of folds casually created by tossing down a cloth, can never be repeated! However, these paper wrinkles were stable. I could move the paper around as I liked, and be sure that I could replace its original position if I wanted. I felt free to take down the paper, reverse it, and see if I liked the other side better. I moved the vase closer to the center, and placed the box on the right side. I balanced these with the rocks on the left.
I like this so far. I like the way the darks all interconnect into one large dark mass in the upper right, as do the lights into a light one on the lower left. At certain points, the light shapes make in-roads into the dark area, and vice versa. I remember reading in a very old painting composition book that it was a good idea to connect your lights and darks in this way. I think the reason is that massing them prevents a spotty appearance and gives the composition solidity and weight. Also having the dark and light areas intermingle unites them and adds interest.
I do notice that perhaps I like the other side of the paper better. Next time I’m working, I think that I’ll reverse it. Maybe I’ll change everything around!