Wednesday 13 June 2012

painting the edges

(paintings with edges drying. the big one hangs vertically)

I'm sometimes asked how I know when one of my paintings is finished.  Perhaps it's the nature of non-representational painting (or perhaps painters who paint representational works have this issue as well) but it can be difficult sometimes to know when a painting is "done".

Sometimes with a piece, I know the instant it's finished.  This glorious moment can come after a while of struggling, and I'll suddenly be facing what was a moment earlier, an adversary, who has now revealed itself to be a good friend who was just having me on; or it can come after a slow and smooth evolution and the piece slips comfortably into completion.

Then there are those pieces which refuse to congeal.  I work and I work and I apply layer after layer of paint; I scrape, scratch, mould, but it refuses to cooperate.  With these, I usually have to make them stand in the corner for a while.  When I return, with fresh eyes, it's often obvious what needs to be done to bring it closer to finished.

On rare occasions, I'm uncertain whether a painting is finished or not.  I think it might be, but something holds me back from saying "yes".  With these paintings, I leave them for a while, but keep them in my view. Sometimes it's a very simple thing which needs to be added, a dash of colour, a line or two.  Other times, the painting is actually finished, but I just needed a bit of time for something in me to catch up to it.

The absolute "this painting is done, there's no turning back now" moment for me is when I paint the edges.  I paint on double depth stretched canvas frames (4 - 5 cm.) and I paint the edges black (usually) so there's no need for traditional framing.

That's what I've been doing the past few days in anticipation of a one-day show which I'm participating in, along with another artist, at an Architect's office on Friday.  Yesterday I put the final coat of acrylic paint on the edges.  That's always a good feeling.  A very good feeling.

Most of the paintings in these photos are from my newest series.  I've completed six, and am part way through another one (it's leaning against the wall in the bottom photo).  I'm looking forward to pursuing this new direction.

The process of painting is so much one of discovering.  And I love the way that an element which appears in one painting, can lead to, and open up a whole new direction of exploration.  Like secret gates, doorways, opening up to hidden paths.

It's those moments of discovery, when you experience that wonderful tingle of excitement, which makes all the struggles worthwhile.  Something all creative folk recognize.  That feeling which tells you that you are on the right path, you are connecting with something, that you are communicating something, something that comes from within, but something deeper than yourself.  It's that wonderful dichotomy of having to dig deep within the individual in order to touch the universal.  The quest of all artists, whatever their medium.  The reason we create.

(the one against the wall is not complete)


  1. Lovely post, I wish I lived closer so I could visit your exhibition and be up texturally close to your paintings... Wishing your work appreciative new homes!! Cass

  2. I think because most of us can't get there to come view and support your exhibition, you really ought to have an online one for us, Lynn. Ticket entry only, obviously! I particularly love the painting in the last photo, closest to the camera; the muted shades are very calm inducing :-)

  3. Wonderful post, and the paintings look beautiful! Hope the show goes well!

  4. Hooray, blogger has finally let me comment! This looks like a wonderful series of work, I do hope your exhibition is a huge success!
    It's great to hear about the evolution of your paintings...
    One of my favourite artist's quotes by Paul Gardiner is: 'A painting is never finished - it simply stops in interesting places'

  5. Thanks, Cass. You're right about getting close to the paintings, there is so much texture that the camera just can't catch. I always love being able to see the brush/pallet knife/spatula/etc. strokes of the artist in their work.

    Thank you, Kate. I'd love to have an online exhibition! I'll be sure to post photos once I've taken some of the new paintings. The new direction is very calm and meditative - lots of ideas about memory and the past, but in a gently nostalgic way. (At least, that's what I had in my head at the time...hope some of that comes across.)

    Thanks so much, Claire.

    Carrie, thanks. And, I've just written down that quote - love it!

  6. Wow . . I could have written this post, because it ALL happens to me. Congratulations on arriving at that feeling of joy and satisfaction, when it all comes together! Thanks you for sharing this, even though I know this is how the creative process works, I still like to be reminded. :)

  7. Oh... that is it "done" question.... a little easier to determine with watercolor cause it might not be well resolved, but it isn't going to take more work, so, its done and headed for the recycle bin - unfortunately. And sometimes I can carefully get one more wash on and it is rescued, but the best ones are the ones that come out seamlessly at first and might get one more pass of a ridge or a line of trees, but I know and it knows its done right away. Those are the ones that find their way out into the world, or framed and in my world.

  8. Hi Jann. Painting is usually such a solitary thing, it's always good to hear about other artists' creative process - and reassuring and interesting to hear that we share so many of the same issues and struggles and triumphs!

    You're right, it is different with different media, Valerianna. I love using watercolour, but it's SO unforgiving! With oils (which I use as well as oil and cold wax) you can fiddle around and even if the whole thing is a disaster - which has certainly happened to me more than once - you can wait 'till it dries and start the whole blasted thing over again, and the underlayers actually add to the painting. Not so with watercolours. That medium demands quick resolution. Part of its magic when it does come together.

  9. Your last paragraph says it all.These paintings look very vibrant and fresh........good luck with the show!
    Happy weekend,

  10. You sound really happy about your paintings. It is so nice to hear you sounding so positive. Hang on to that feeling.
    You can see how much you have been enjoying it by all the finished work, which looks great.

  11. Dear Lynn,
    I would like to see some close-ups of your paintings, but I bet that you plan to do that once they are hung (is that right? hope so!)

    Wow, you completed one show and are now working on a new series ... I need your strength and determination or I am going to have to hang-up my painters' smock (I don't wear one, it is just a literary tool.)

    And your last paragraph is instantly quotable. I do so like that you remain vulnerable when writing down your thoughts to share on your process. Author! Author!


  12. Yes, yes, yes! I always enjoy posts about artist's process and I can very much relate to this one. It's much the same for me, for both words and photos. Had to grin at the notion of making a painting "stand in a corner!"

    YAY for the show ~ those painings are gorgeous and wonderfully evocative!

  13. Hi, Jan, and thanks. I will certainly post close-up photos of the pieces. I'm hoping to go into the office where they're hanging either today or tomorrow to get some shots of them. I didn't have a chance to photograph them for my website before the show. I'm looking forward to seeing more of your work - don't think of hanging up that smock!

    Thanks, Donna! I, too, love reading other people's posts about the artist's process. Insightful and encouraging. As I was writing this, I was thinking that I could have been writing about my experience of creating poems and short stories. (Especially poems - there seems to be a moment when it's done, and stopping too early or labouring too long is damaging to it. Doesn't seem to be much "wiggle room" with poetry.)

  14. Hi Lynn, your new work looks beautiful, I too would love to see it up close. Good luck with your exhibition, I hope it's going well.