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Reworking a Painting, What I Learned

There are many moments in our art journeys where we unexpectedly have a "lightbulb moment" and we realize something we've not understood. These moments never fail to continue to happen and I want to share with you one of my unexpected "aha moments". 

The inspiration for my oil painting of Ingelosi, a boy from Swaziland, Africa; came from hearing many stories of orphans, the stories that grip your heart and are not easily forgotten. The pain of not having a father and mother and the voices from within of rejection are for some a great emotional battle that seems impossible to silence, yet at the same time many of the orphans struggle with just trying to survive.

There is something in me that has identified in a small way to the heart of the fatherless and motherless, I believe many people can. I'm very grateful for my parents and the way the heart of a loving father and mother has been expressed to me through them and other father and mother figures in my life, I can't imagine the depth of pain that some live with, but even with good parents there are times in life that you believe a lie that says something like...

"your not good enough,

 you have to be this way or that way to be liked,

 to be accepted, to be enjoyed".

After all that, where is the freedom to be yourself anymore? Where's the freedom to be open and transparent, and be able to have intimate conversation with someone? Where is the freedom to joyfully express yourself without self-conscious fear about what others think holding you back? These subconscious fears can control you to the point of isolating oneself and creating walls to protect ones self from feeling the pain of rejection again and again. The roots of rejection can go deep and can be horribly pervasive in ones life! I guess I'm getting personal but art is usually an expression from within the artist's heart, a reflection of something in the artist's own soul. 

So this painting is called "Hiding In My Shadow."

It's so helpful to have a message in order to guide your thought processes while painting, here is this painting's message...

The boy is....           

                                in a place of mis-trust, 

                                a closed heart;

                                with others, yet alone;



                                hiding in his own shadow.    

Even though the light is all around, turning his face toward the light and reaching out takes courage, especially when you're stagnant in your own shadow. Only in reaching out can he connect and have freedom and have real Life.    

So now that you know the message, here is my unexpected "aha! moment."

It's easy to sometimes think "this looks about finished" or feel like you don't know what more to do on a painting, and usually that is a good place to stop or you're likely to overwork a painting. But this one sat leaning against the wall for a year and I knew I wasn't completely satisfied with it but just didn't know what it was missing. Finally after a year I looked back at the painting, and also looked at the preliminary drawing I did for it and realized some things the painting was missing. Below is the oil painting when I wasn't completely satisfied.

My preliminary drawing.

If you compare the two you can see in the drawing the contrast of the shadow is stronger / darker which I believe gives him a more hidden feel, it puts the attention more on the shape of the head and the shadow and takes away from the transparent feel that the shadow has in the painting. The darker shadow feels more like a wall is up. The black on the drawing emotionally communicates the message better than the lighter values in the painting. The warm naples yellow tones give a stark contrast of sunlight against the cooler shadow. 

So the painting finally got back out on the easel and was repainted (thankfully it's an oil painting and not a watercolor painting).   

Below is the finished painting...

"Hiding In My Shadow"

So my unexpected moment was that I had accepted this as finished but it reminded me that it's always good to question each painting, to try to imagine it with certain changes and see if you like it better. If the painting is not as great as the vision you have for it or feeling you have, ask, "what's it missing?" and maybe even do some studies or sketches to experiment and see if it reveals any new ideas to you. It's good to have studies before starting the painting and I did have my drawing, I just didn't pay enough attention to it!    

This also shows how vital it is to our growth as artists (and people) to always have a good teacher around, someone who can see and envision things that you don't, someone who has had more experience and has a keen eye. Time after time I've taken my "finished" painting into class for a critique from my teacher Chris DiDomizio and every single time would go home with ways to make it better and often he would show me an idea to radically change it to better communicate the message. A good teacher can help you have more lightbulb moments and when you rework paintings it will always be a lesson you will keep with you.   


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