Why Paintings Fail

A painting is like an investment. Sometimes, your investment pays off, landing you wealth, happiness and a tidy sum for the future, and sometimes, it doesn’t. Whether its down to a bad decision, an unstable market, or perhaps just bad luck, you can’t always predict whether your investment is a ‘sure thing’.

It’s exactly the same with painting. Now, I may know nothing about investments, but I know a fair bit about painting. And what I’ve come to realise is, no matter how much you paint over it, how much you fight with it, sometimes a painting will fail, and you won’t immediately know why. Given the time, energy and money that you’ve put into a painting, from sketching away furiously to scribbling down notes, mixing and discarding colours and sweating at your easel, to finding that the fruits of your labour have failed can be a damn hard feeling to swallow. If a painting is going badly for me, you’ll know about it. Even the dog will know about it.

IMG_2835
My faithful assistant Luna, keeping guard

I have discarded numerous paintings over the years, probably more in the last two years than the previous six combined. Not because I’m becoming a worse painter (far from it, I hope) but because I’m becoming more selective about the paintings that I carry to full term. Many others transform into experiments, giving me the freedom to try out a new style, a new mix or brushstroke when I cannot get a clear idea in watercolour, or as a sketch.

You can learn a lot from paintings that fail; from why that colour mix didn’t work, or why that composition looks so….wrong. It’s all research, warming you up for the next one.

I thought I’d talk about this in more detail, by sharing with you a few of my recent failures, and why I think they went wrong.

(Also, if you’re anything like me, you won’t have kept much of a photo record of the failures!)

Lack of Coherency

Deer

I love the idea behind this one; the intention was to create a big, rich, forested scene with the deer merging into his background, in a similar vein to my Palaeolithic Inspired paintings. The composition is dominant, it works, but I didn’t define the planes and the lines clearly enough before I started, so what should have been a coherent abstract/cubist canvas became a busy, cluttered mess.

No Planning

IMG_2679

I had the vision of painting Malta’s national bird, the Merill, or Blue Rock Thrush, in a paint-by-numbers style – letting each colour sit beside each other with a subtle shift in value to create a flat yet rich painting. Yet I didn’t know what I would do after that. I used to love paint by numbers, but when you have to choose the values and draw all the little shapes, it’s not so easy! At this early stage, I have to admit I loved this painting. Then, I got stuck – I didn’t know how to get my rocks to look like rocks, and I feared that the feathers would lose their effect the more I painted. I think I painted over him now, but I’m not sure. I will try him again one day soon.

Painting Under Pressure

10665090_10152760526475610_5020250357859027876_n

Never, ever go and paint live without a plan. Granted, the passers by were thrilled watching me paint as I threw colours here, and there, and here again during a Notte Bianca event in Malta’s capital city of Valletta. But I didn’t know where I was going; it was dark, uncomfortable, I was painting out of my comfort zone, trying not to spill paint on a 16th Century floor. If you’re going to paint live at an event, or for charity, or go plein air, make a sketch beforehand, start putting some colours down a few days before. Get the basics in, and know where you’re going before you arrive.

Thanks in no small part to these three pieces, painted between 2015 to just a couple of months ago, I’ve learned to plan my paintings better. In fact, I would say that I paint less now, as I spend a good month or so gathering resources, backtracking on ideas, scribbling notes, snippets for blogs, taking photographs and producing concepts and colour sketches. Planning takes away some of the trepidation of diving in head first, even though often the temptation to just plunge in and start painting is overwhelming. Don’t do it!

So there you have it, three reasons why I think many painting, including my own, fail. What are your thoughts on paintings that you feel didn’t turn out like you expected, or those that ended up being the underlayer to an entirely new piece?

Advertisements

Paintings Selected in ‘Animals’ International Art Exhibition

 “Mandril” and “Fleeting” have been accepted for inclusion in the November 2016 art exhibition and show, “Animals” at Colors of Humanity Gallery in the USA.

 

Polar Bear Arctic Oil Painting
Fleeting, Oils on Canvas, 70 x 70cm, available for €400/$420 to the first person asking nicely!
mandrill-oil-painting
Mandril, Oils on Canvas, 100 x 50cm, available for €500/$550

Multiple accepted entries came from 22 different states in the USA and 12 other countries: Bulgaria, Canada, Germany, Italy, Malta, Moldova, Romania, Russia, Singapore, Sweden, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom.  A variety of styles and mediums were entered including, acrylic, aerographics, charcoal, collage, digital, ink, mixed media, mosaic, oil, pastel, pen, pencil/graphite/colored, photography, spray paint, tempera, and watercolor. The judging criterion was originality, interpretation, quality, demonstration of ability, and usage of medium. Other factors, such as the clarity of the images provided and their ability to be viewed online, as well as relating to the theme, also contributed to our decision.

We were very happy to donate 10% of all the entry fees from this show to the Humane Society. Colors of Humanity Art Gallery, LLC is not affiliated with any Humane Societies. It is our hope that this small act of kindness will blossom and grow to help someone else.

No Forest Too Far

The world is quite literally on our doorstep. Thanks to globalisation, immigration, airline travel and our amplified imagination, almost every corner of the world has been discovered, trampled on, and had a selfie taken with it.

Yet there are still places in the world that most of us have never heard of. Species we’ve never heard of; a habitat we never knew existed. What is even more surprising and sobering, is that some of these species could be gone before we even realise they were ever there.

A prime example is the saola, affectionately known as the Asian unicorn, an animal as legendary as its name implies. The saola is only as old as I am (in terms of its exposure, having only been discovered officially in 1992), but already it is facing severe pressures. Its evergreen forest habitat sits caged in from all sides, hemmed-in by the Annamite mountains, along the borders of Vietnam and Laos. The saola is unfortunate enough to be caught between two extremely industrialised and developing countries, and it faces habitat destruction, which people to exploit to hunt for food, traditional medicine and more.

Saola Watercolour Painting

“Only recently discovered, saola are already extremely threatened. At a time when species extinction on the planet has accelerated, we can work together to snatch this one back from the edge of extinction.”

Dr. Barney Long, WWF Asian species expert

 

No forest is too far away for us to ignore any longer.

Finding Harmony in Art Through Nature

The process of formulating a painting is fraut with difficulties.

What may seem to be a very simple relationship between colour, subject and form to an outsider, is often a complex web of decisions that you made, un-made, and didn’t make at all.

735546_428583447208589_1777453126_o
Songs in Miniature, Oils on Board

The above painting is at first glance a fairly straightforward piece, in composition and chromatically. There are only really two tones here, and the piece holds itself together thanks to this quiet harmony.

10665090_10152760526475610_5020250357859027876_n
A beautiful location, painting in a 16th Century Palace…and I love the shot of this painting, but somehow, the harmony just wasn’t there. (I will paint this piece again one day!)

Nature works in harmony with itself; even though it doesn’t always seem to be the case. Raging savanna fires restore the balance of populations and fertilize the grass, the weak die so that the strong can survive. There is a delicate, complex web that unites all species, all habitats and all natural phenomena.

The harmony of nature is the theme I approach in painting. And New Zealand’s sparky, fat parrot the Kakapo is a perfect example of this. This unfortunate flightless parrot had evolved in perfect harmony with its natural forest habitat that was free of ground based, furry predators. But times change, and we, like the Kakapo, have to evolve with them or find a new harmony.

The purpose of this blog is for me to lay down some ideas for my next painting; figuring out what harmonies I need to figure out before I put paintbrush to canvas. It’s important for a painting to appear unified and effortless, whilst at the same time evoking a sense of a deeper meaning behind it (and I’m not talking the meaning behind a black square, either, I’m talking something real). How do I transform a subject, a topic that moves me, into a canvas that moves others?

Kakapo Watercolour Painting
Watercolour study for the upcoming Big painting!

Instead of looking at the finished painting as the goal, look at the whole process. An evolution in itself.

Finding Happiness as a Painter

Every time I paint, I feel like I’m learning a valuable lesson.

I’ve spent a lot of time recently reading about painting; colour theories, techniques, and trying to get to grips with my craft. As it turns out, taking a more painterly approach, as apposed to an artistic one seems to be my current muse.

At the moment I’m working on a series of three oil paintings which express what it means to be maasai; the semi-nomadic warriors of Kenya and Tanzania. Their culture centres upon intricate rituals and rites of passage, their unique relationship with the land and the natural world; the maasai don’t eat wild animals but herd livestock and obtain the vast majority of their sustenance from their cattle. They also have a complex and often hostile relationship with lions, their adversaries; lions have targeted the maasai’s cattle, and lions have thus been killed both in retaliation and as a rite of passage for the young maasai warrior coming of age. Today though, the maasai’s traditional ways of life and lifestyle are changing; former enemies; maasai and lion have become a unique partnership. One’s knowledge of the other allows the maasai to keep their precious cattle safer, whilst protecting the lion, which has rapidly reduced in numbers throughout the African continent. And it is this changing dynamic between human and animal which fascinated me in my series of painting The Endangered Peoples.

African Oil Paintings

Working on the first of three paintings, featuring a zebu, one of the species of cattle common to the maasai, I’ve discovered that its the process of painting; planning and applying colours, laying on specific sweeps of colour, then at other times a random flick of a palette knife here and there…the process of creating the work is not about conceiving the idea and then simply laying it on a canvas, but deconstructing its elements, and then constructing it again in away that is unique to you.

Zebu Oil Painting Zebu Oil Painting Zebu Oil Painting Zebu Oil Painting

Zebu Oil Painting
Still some more work to go!

Finding happiness as a painter is the first step to finding happiness as an artist.

All paintings featured in this blog post are for sale unless otherwise specified. Enquiries may come to cjwaterfield@gmail.com

View Website
Follow my Facebook Page

If it wasn’t for Attenborough, I wouldn’t be an artist…

 

attenborough
David Attenborough, Oils on Board, 2014

If it wasn’t for Attenborough, I wouldn’t be a painter

and I think this same sentiment is true for a lot of wildlife artists, photographers, filmmakers, zoologists, biologists and more.

As David Attenborough turns 90, it seems clear that his time for documentary film-making is far from over; I personally cannot wait to see what comes next. But it is the legacy that will linger; his legacy of inspiring, educating, as well as pressing on some much more sensitive and political issues; but never dictatorial, never inciting blame. Instead, his aim was always to show us the wonders of the natural world, so we can truly understand what we are missing.

Not all of us will get the chance to stand on the South Pole, swim alongside a blue whale, watch the unfurling of the world’s largest flower, have to conduct a serious interview while Konrad Lawrence gets pooped on by a goose, or get sat on by a rambunctious baby gorilla, but thanks to Attenborough, at least part of us thinks that we will.

Thanks to extraordinary insight, captivating filmography and dialogue that hooks you in and makes you want to care, David Attenborough has in no small way helped to raise awareness of the state of our planet for future generations (and there are many other heroes in this arena – just watch The Selfish Green, where some of the finest minds come together to discuss how to save the planet).

Thanks to growing up glued to BBC One, visiting every zoo and bird park and wildlife reserve I could and devouring animal encyclopedias, I have come to understand just how much we are shaping our planet; both negatively and positively. There is a carefully composed mix of dedication, drive and also, hope. And those are the same values that drive me to paint, so that I can maybe touch a little upon that legacy. I hope to recreate just a tiny bit of that magic in my paintings.

Happy Birthday, Sir David.

 

Here is just a small selection of some of my favourite moments:

David Attenborough – What a Wonderful World

The incredible Barnacle Goose – The Hunt

Penguins and a Life of Crime – Frozen Planet

Africa – Epilogue

Unknown Social Behaviour in Rhinos – Africa

Colour Theories: Purple

We are a pattern-seeking species, and this is never more evident than in the career of any long-term established artist. From signature brush-strokes to colour meanings and even position and juxtaposition of objects, patterns are evident within any body of work. Evolution from disjointed works of art to art with purpose, evolution and a timeline doesn’t happen overnight, but sometimes it does seem to happen by accident. Look at Van Gogh’s early works, thickly pasted potato peel and dripping in mud-hues, or Marc or Monet’s early experiments with muted hues and brush strokes.

We all have our comfort zone, our comfort colours, even if we don’t necessarily have our feet on the ground artistically.

Purple is a colour that was once prized for its rarity, instability and its costliness. The colour purple is not overly feminine or masculine, and it doesn’t come into my daily life at all. I don’t own any piece of purple furniture, fabric, home decor, pottery or flowers. Yet it seems to be becoming the dominant colour in my watercolours.

DSCF6268

This colour has the ability to hold a painting together; it transforms something black into something solid, alive and that interacts with its environment. It can be used for hard and soft equally well. When used with complementary colours it transforms into depth, shadow, and light.

To find out more about commissioning a painting or to enquire about specific paintings for sale send me a message through my Facebook Page or take a look through at my website: cjwaterfieldart.com