MicroGallery Update: Persistence vs. Obsessiveness, and Perfectionism

A few posts ago, I posted a couple of watercolors that I did for the upcoming Micro Gallery Show at Gallery Nucleus.

I've since painted new versions of both of those paintings to fix problems that were bugging me....here's the new version of the first one:

Once again, these pictures are only 3 and a half inches by 5 and a half inches, so they're small. If you click on them you get a much bigger version then the real thing. Here's the previous version:

Every time I looked at the original painting, I felt like the purple on the boy was too dark for such a small figure and "grounded" him...he just felt too heavy, like the dark purple was weighing him down. So in the new version I painted less coats of purple so the color would be less saturated and dark - also, I mixed a warmer version of the purple, with more red in it, and kept all of his colors fairly warm, to contrast with the cool shadow color. Both versions are based on a yellow background to accentuate the purple of his robes, and in both I greyed down the yellow by adding purple, but in the original, the background looks more green than yellow, so I changed the mix in the new version to be more yellow.

With the leopard picture, here's the new one:

And the old one.

Again, this one has a simple scheme: it's all based on red and green. The green of the foliage is meant to contrast with the red tint of the leopard's coat, the leopard's red spots, the red/brown of the hunter's book and the red/brown on the gun's stock. In the original I added a shadow pass over the top which I felt dulled down the green trees too much and killed the nice vibration between the reds and greens. So in the new version I made the greens more bright and I covered them less with the shadow color. It feels better to me.

Also I added a little bit of white smoke coming from the hunter's pipe. This helps make it clear that the shape is a pipe. And the extra added detail helps draw your eye towards the hunter because detail always attracts the eye.

It's funny, the more paintings I did, the more monochromatic they got. You'd think I would get more complicated with color as I got more experienced, but instead I got simpler. The last two paintings I did have less complicated color schemes. The first one is based entirely on (once again) the contrast between red and green:

And my final painting is simply based on a dark blue wash, set against the color orange (which is the complement of blue, of course).

They will be exhibited at the Micro Gallery Show and they will be for sale along with the work of many, many other talented artists.

I painted many, many versions of my first painting as I experimented and learned about watercolor (and I'll be the first to admit that I still don't know anything about the subject). All told I probably painted 40 versions of the first one.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to re-doing artwork. Many people don't like to re-do the same piece over and over. Many people have the philosophy that you should just do a piece once and then move on, applying what you've learned to the next one you do. And on the other hand, there are people who believe you should re-work a piece as many times as you can until you get it as good as you can and, when you've learned all that you can from that work, move onto the next one.

I guess a lot of it comes down to your personality and how you work. I've always enjoyed the process of re-working my animation and my storyboards because I'm never happy with my results and always restless to make everything I do as good as I can. I'm a bit of a perfectionist. But being a perfectionist can be very, very dangerous and can make you very miserable, for the simple reason that "perfection" is unattainable. Perfection is an ideal but nothing in life is ever truly "perfect". And striving for something that's unattainable, and feeling like you're falling short, can make you very discouraged.

Also, when we talk about "perfection" in art, we often mean on a technical level: like a life drawing where everything is perfectly constructed and proportioned. But does that make for a great drawing? Any photograph can capture the model's proportions perfectly, but that doesn't make the photographs "art". Usually the life drawings I like have an energy to them, and a sense of caricature where proportions are tweaked to exaggerate the pose and the anatomy of the model. So being technically perfect - to me - doesn't usually make for the most exciting or interesting drawing. So what is "perfection", anyway, when it comes to art? It's different to everyone, I suppose, and therefore meaningless.

So if you find yourself making yourself miserable because you're trying to reach perfection - as I did for many years, and still do - try to catch yourself and approach your work another way. You'll do your best work when you're relaxed and actually enjoying what you're doing, and trying to be perfect will tend to make you tense and frustrated. Learn to embrace the mistakes, the imperfections that give your work character and, at the same time, use your perfectionist eye to examine your work and help you see where you can do better next time.

The only reason I did so many versions of my painting was that I enjoyed the process of doing them. I really had fun seeing how I got different results each time and learning what effects were created by changing my techniques. If I had started to find the process unbearable, or if I found myself repainting it without knowing what I was trying to fix, I would have taken a break and set it aside for a while (which I did a couple of times). That always gives you perspective on what could be better.

As an example of perfectionism, and how it can lead to less interesting results, in all of my paintings, the background color is a wash. It's not easy to get a perfectly even wash of watercolor, especially when you're leaving unpainted spaces in the middle of the wash. In my painting of the boy king, I painted the background yellow but left the figure of the King and the plotting Duke behind him unpainted. You can buy a liquid mask that you can use to block out those areas but I didn't want to mess with them, because I didn't know how they would affect the paper after I removed them. So I taught myself how to do an even wash while skipping over certain areas, which wasn't exactly hard, but took me a while to figure out how to do it consistently and "perfectly" evenly.

And then I was reading "The Twits" to my son before bed tonight, and I realized that Quentin Blake doesn't do even washes for his backgrounds. He embraces the uneven-ness of them and they give his paintings a real sense of life. Check out the uneven washes in the background of these Blake watercolors:

So while I was proud of my perfectly even washes, Blake wasn't worrying about it, he was letting the paint be uneven (which is what it want to do) and letting that feeling give his painting a livelier and more vibrant feel. It simply never occurred to me to do that. Silly, huh?

Oh well, another lesson learned!

If you can make it to the Micro Gallery show on December 11th, I will see you there!