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Old 05-13-2011, 11:57 AM   #1
Mary Sparrow Mary Sparrow is offline
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Overworked.. can it be rescued

I need a little help here and wasn't sure where to post this question.

I've had some trouble with a portrait I have been working on and never found myself in this position so wondering if it can be rescued or if I just need to call it quits and start over, and I hope not because I have put alot of time in this one.

I have "overworked" for lack of better word, the face. It is SO close to being where I want it that it seems a shame to stop, but because I struggled with it and just kept reworking it, the face has more paint build up than the rest of the portrait. Is there anything that can be done about this? Can I in theory get a fine sand paper and buff out some spots?
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Old 05-13-2011, 02:20 PM   #2
Marvin Mattelson Marvin Mattelson is offline
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Hi Mary,

It's hard to answer this specifically without seeing the painting, but I can give some general feelings on the subject. If you want a specific answer you need to post the image and details of the area in question.

First of all, if you are working on a canvas with tooth, sanding will create a very different surface. If you're painting on a panel you can sand. Many artists working on panels regularly sand between layers, assuming the under layer is dry.

But I think your query calls to mind another type of answer. Today there is a big emphasis on attaining a more painterly finish, so in that case, there is an illogical fear of refinement. I feel, a lot of people have been brainwashed into thinking this is the only way to approach painting. The notion that art erupts onto a canvas is a romantic fantasy that informs our idea of the way artists are supposed to be. In my opinion, the majority of "painterly" artists have made refinement a bad thing because they are incapable of achieving refinement without sucking the life.out of the end result.

I tell my students that you can't overwork a painting, as long as you know the end you are trying to achieve. In your case it sounds like you were trying to work things out as you painted. Never a good idea! Things need to be resolved first, before attempting a finish. That's what studies are for. Time management guru Steven Covey says, "Begin with the end in mind."

Certain master artists achieve different degrees of finish throughout a singular painting. Someone like Bouguereau juxtaposes very fine finish in the head against a looser background. Various elements in the painting fall between the two extremes based on their importance in the overall hierarchy. This was all the result of great forethought. Bouguereau, arguably the most successful artist of his time, did extensive studies for every single painting he did throughout his long and storied career.

My advice would be to consider what you've done as a very involved dress rehearsal and start anew. I guarantee the next version will go faster and more smoothly.

I scrapped a painting after three months of work. It was on a previously untried brand of canvas, with a brand of paint I had never used either. The longer I worked on it, the more I hated the way it was coming out. Finally, my dissatisfaction trumped my justification regarding the amount of work I had invested. Here is how it came out on the second go around: http://forum.portraitartist.com/showthread.php?t=3553 In the end I'm so hoppy I tossed the first one.
Marvin Mattelson
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Old 05-13-2011, 07:02 PM   #3
Mary Sparrow Mary Sparrow is offline
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Hi Marvin, and thank you for your reply.. I think I'm just going to start over.. the reworking of the face came from me feeling like the likeness was off and the more frustrated I got the worse it got.. oh well live and learn.. I think just starting fresh and calling it a day on this one may be my best bet at this point, and you are right, second time will surely go much faster.
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Old 10-03-2012, 08:19 PM   #4
Michael Fournier Michael Fournier is offline
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Marvin I have a deep respect for you and your art but I have a problem with this statement
" In my opinion, the majority of "painterly" artists have made refinement a bad thing because they are incapable of achieving refinement without sucking the life.out of the end result.?"
I do not completely disagree but I think a clarification is needed.

As I would not say that Richard Schmid choses a more painterly effect in his work because he is incapable of a tighter finish. Nor do I feel your style is the ONLY proper path to follow or goal for all artist. Many artist the paint it self is as important as the subject As much as I enjoy your work I also love the work of David A. Leffel and Everett Raymond Kinstler.

Also the notion that just because the painting is more painterly should NOT be confused with messy In fact it is Much more important that if your goal is to let each stroke of paint stand on its own all the more accurate those strokes must be.

I often use the analogy of a blues guitarist the real masters put more feeling one Note then all the flashy notes of a 80s rock master

I again am not saying painterly is better but doing it well takes just as much talent as a tighter finish does. In a really good painterly painting you see the paint up close but at a distance that single brush stroke of heavy paint no longer looks like a mess of paint it looks like what it was intended to look like. Sargent is a good example of that as well.

I also like the illustration work of Howard Pyle and NC Wyeth if you have ever seen the Treasure island paintings in person you see perfect examples of what I mean. http://www.wikipaintings.org/en/n-c-...and-his-parrot
In this painting that parrot is just a few carefully but boldly placed strokes of paint but as you see it reads as a parrot. Also much of the under painting still shows in these paintings.

I also like the illustration work of Norman Rockwell which is much tighter finish but honestly I prefer a more painterly finish but that should NOT be confused with a messy painting trying to hide an inaccurate drawing or excusing inaccuracy as being looser and fresh.

Also what may look like a spontaneous one time application of paint may in fact been put down once then removed then reapplied many times before the final stroke you see in the finished painting. (I have seen Richard Schmid Take his pallet knife and take off paint then do it over until it is how he wants it.) It may seem like instant results but it was NOT.

I am sure you know all this as well but I just feel many artist have a false understanding of alla prima painting. I Also do not want to say one style is better then the other you lean more toward a tighter finish I strive to let the paint show (not always successfully like I said to do it well is still takes skill just as it takes years for many blues Guitarist to play like their heroes
) For me that is part of what makes a painting more interesting then a photo

I do not want to sacrifice accuracy for painterly.
Michael Fournier

Last edited by Michael Fournier; 10-03-2012 at 08:43 PM.
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Old 10-06-2012, 07:41 PM   #5
John Crowther John Crowther is offline
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Thanks for that response, Michael. I agree wholeheartedly with everything you say. I'm thinking of Robert Henri, and though he's not everybody's "cuppa" Lucien Freud, for my money, one of the great 20th century artists and portraitists. His journey from a young modernists doing technically "tight" work to painterly realism is instructive.

Ironically, when I was in my twenties I struggled to do tight, slick representational painting very much against the mid-20th century astract-expressionist fashion. My mother kept telling me she wanted to "see more brushstrokes." I of course resented and rejected her suggestion. It's taken me decades and a lot of effort to understand what she was talking about.
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Old 12-06-2015, 03:57 PM   #6
Jessica McCallister Jessica McCallister is offline
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Hi Mary,

I hope you are well!

I just wanted to check in to see if you managed to find a way out of this? Would you mind sharing your experience?


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