Sunday, May 13, 2012

Knowing When to Finish


There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning. - Louis L'Amour

Eighteen months ago my calendar was blank; nothing but empty squares staring back at me, waiting to be marked across with confindent slashes of confident blue ink.

As offers to exhibit came in I accepted almost all of them. After all, I had 300-some blank squares to fill, right?  I filled my date book with group shows, dual exhibits and one giant Featured Artist obligation. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

I’ve mentioned before that keeping these obligations and creating art constantly was like riding a bicycle down a steep hill: just don’t think about it and you’ll be fiiiiiiine.  Screaming might make you feel better, but it doesn’t really help, and bothers the neighbors. If you keep your wits about you, you will find yourself safe at the bottom; sweaty, heart thumping wildly and doubled over laughing off the remnants of fear, swearing you’ll never do a crazy thing like that again.

It was a wild, crazy, intense experience, and I can say that I painted some pretty great pictures. That is the upside.

I’m finding there’s a down side though. In my efforts to not overwork a piece, to be fresh and clean, maybe I didn’t myself enough time to think problems through; maybe I finished a few of those paintings too quickly, thereby not finishing at all.

Reviewing my stash of signed art recently I found a few that surprised me, and not in a good way.

Have you ever caught your own reflection in a window unexpectedly?  Occasionally you recognize yourself and smile, maybe you’re pleased with what you see. Maybe you use the opportunity to adjust your hair or check your lipstick.  Now and then, however, you feel a stab of concern for that poor lost soul and wonder why their keeper let them out of the house looking that way.  Then the painful shock of recognition; they’re wearing the same shirt I am – why, that’s my … that’s … me…oh dear.

Copyright 2010 Patricia Scarborough Firefly Morning 30 x 40 oil

Either way it’s an honest assessment.

That’s the lesson I derive from those months of painting constantly.  Showing up ready to produce is absolutely necessary to create a body of work.  With that, however, is a need for time and a little space.
I anticipate that I will again, unexpectedly or not, come face to face with a painting that I signed and declared finished.  Will I recognize it with a gasp of delight, or will there be that moment, that long pause before I realize with a nasty start that it’s my signature in the corner?
Copyright 2012 Patricia Scarborough Firefly Morning - revised  30 x 40 oil

I see now that it takes a few days, sometimes even months to know for certain that a painting is fully mature and ready to leave my studio.  As I look over the calendar for the next several months I’m pleased to see how delightfully clean it is. I’ve made it to the bottom of the hill in one piece, laughing and pleased with myself. Just the same, I’m looking forward to the longer, slower glide downhill and see if I don’t get to the bottom just fine. 

4 comments:

Karine said...

Hi Patty! It used to be one of my weakest traits - an inability to complete my paintings. I think I am getting better now, but knowing when one of them is finished remains a challenge.
Enjoy your quieter moments!

Patty said...

Karine, I'm afraid my problem may be the opposite. I'm hoping the extra time will give me space to see the finish line more clearly.

Hannah Hunter said...

Using the metaphor of the plains--there is definitely a time in our artist cycle to let the fields lay fallow! I think we often skip this step in our culture. I'm trying to keep my calendar clean so that a series I'm working on (not the watercolor) can take form without pressure--'cause gosh darn, I sure don't want to catch sight of it out of the corner of my eye some day and think "Oh my!!"

Patty said...

Your metaphor is a perfect fit, Hannah.
Already I am enjoying a slower pace in the studio. No more surprises!