I started oil painting a few years ago because we needed something on the walls, and I couldn’t stand the though of my wife going to the store to buy a picture. I’m not bad — I did go to art school way back when. The problem is, I’m not very quick at it. I’m on my fourth painting in four years and this one just isn’t getting finished.
So a couple weeks ago, I challenged myself to a painting a day while I was on vacation that week. My goal, was to loosen up and use broad strokes. I thought I would become a faster, better painter. And perhaps a little more abstract wouldn’t be so bad. These weren’t going to be oils, I needed them to dry quickly enough for me to keep working on them. After a quick trip to Ocean State Job Lot (the cheapest place to buy art supplies), I had a new set of watercolors and acrylics along with some inexpensive canvases and a pad or watercolor paper. I was up for the challenge!
I chose a photo I took at Disney World from last Spring. I thought, if I could abstract the castle in a day, I could brush stroke anything! I went about my usual grid transfer and quick pencil sketch onto the canvas. Then I took the acrylics out and started in with the colors and details. I’m pretty happy with how it turned out, but finished late that night. It has some nice qualities to it, even if a lot of the lines are crooked and the brush strokes a little fat.
I wanted a simpler subject and medium, so I tried the watercolors on paper. Again, I gridded and transfered the image from a photo of my daughter from ten years ago with a light pencil sketch. I hadn’t used watercolors in probably 25 years and was a little nervous about their lack of forgiveness. But the scene came together very quickly. I was relieved that the figures didn’t come out looking like little fat blotchy things!
Feeling a little cocky, I went big. I took this reference photo off the Fourth Street Bridge in Boston’s South End and had colored it more gray and monochromatic. I thought I could abstract it and keep the brush strokes loose and still have it look like this dark dramatic train yard. This is where I fell apart. The loose brush strokes didn’t capture the image the right way for me. And the train tracks, while all straight and correctly in perspective in my pencil sketch, were fat and crooked. It didn’t help that I wanted to make this larger — at 9×18″. It’s been two weeks and it’s still not finished.
My problem is that I couldn’t let go of it. I wanted to paint a very technical and complex painting, and that didn’t fit the goal I set for myself. Now I sit here thinking about the same advice I give my kids constantly, “Just because you CAN do something, doesn’t mean you should.” I think my style of painting is more detail-oriented, and less impressionistic. Those are the paintings that I like to make and am more proud of. Perhaps in another year, I’ll show you my next one.