Moody, Minimalist Landscape Painting

Posts tagged “perfecting a painting

Repainting a “Finished” Piece

  I occasionally indulge in the practice, either when a new idea jumps out at me or I deicide that a piece that I had considered finished could be improved upon. Just lately, I must be in a housecleaning/recycling/problem-solving kind of mood, since I have repainted four pieces pretty much in a row. Below, the before and after versions.

I liked the delicate sunset color when I painted the bleow, and think that it could have been very successful in a more horizontal piece, but in the vertical the up and the down did not pull together quite enough. I also kept examining the reflections, feeling over time that the shapes did not fully captivate me.

Verticals are huge challenge for a landscape painter, since the sweep of the landscape is intrinsically horizontal. They have to persuade beyond doubt, presenting a visual reason for choosing that format.

Thunderstorm with Seagleams

Thunderstorm with Seagleams

In the new version, I upped the saturation of the color and changed the sweep of the reflections from narrowing as they went down to the reverse. I also decided that the large area of water needed to have more shape variation, so I added a rounder sun refection (this was not about being literal, but rather about making the area interesting). That decision also creates a strong relationship between the upper and lower portions of the painting. The area that I had really been in love with in the first place—the sky—retains everything that originally drew me to it: the right to left alteration in value; the soft salmon and peach tones; and the shimmering whites of the sun popping through.

SeagleamReflectedSeagleams Reflected, 36″x12″, final version.

I was never really sure about “Night Surf”, so even though I photographed it, it remained in my studio for months turned against the wall. I had already moved the surf around from a diagonal line to a horizontal one, but was still finding it too static. I liked the sky all along and even considered making a field or mountain beneath it.

Night Surf, 20″x20″, version #1.

Finally, I decided to do some really dynamic waves.

Night Surf, 20"x20".

Night Surf, 20″x20″, final version.

It is true in painting that when you change one thing, other areas look substantially different. So, after laying in the green and teal hues in the water, and even adding some of the warm purples found in the sky, I felt that the sky was too purple, and tweaked the color on it, as well. Now, a favorite part of the painting is how the soft moonlight comes in from the upper left in a white/green color.

Winter Field, 10"X30", version #1.

Winter Field, 10″X30″, version #1.

With this pair I really did like the first version. But I had been admiring trees emerging from foggy fields in my travels, and decided to add that element to the piece. I also added a bit more vibration to the sky by scumbling in a soft white layer with a hint of mauve toward the horizon, so that the whites of the sky include both warm greens and cool reds.

Winter Field, 10"x30".

Winter Field, 10″x30″.

Prepping for one of my Affinity Series pieces is a huge amount of work,  involving many steps of cutting, fraying the linen, gluing, gessoing, gridding, painting, and re-gridding. The larger the piece the more time-consuming the prep, especially since some aspects of the job are just way more difficult in the larger sizes.

So, about ten days ago, as I was ordering supplies for two new 36″x48″ Affinities (stay tuned!), my eye fell on the Waterspout piece, still in my studio after many months.

Affinity/Waterspout, 48"x12".

Affinity/Waterspout, 48″x12″.

Why not turn it into a whole new piece, using not only my prepped board but some parts of the existing imagery?

And so I did.

Affinity/In Motion, 48"x12".

Affinity/In Motion, 48″x12″.

I feel that the composition in the second piece is most unusual, the long diagonals intersecting with the short  line of the horizon, and that pleases me a great deal. Not completely visible in the photo is how much more color I added to the sky, both soft cool greenish and warm tones.

Last, this piece I repainted last summer.  I think I just craved something different. I do like the first version, but prefer the second.

Areas of Light, 36"X36", $5,500.

Areas of Light, 36″X36″.

A substantial re-paint. I particularly love a piece that has mood shifts within, and feel that in the below—thunderstorm coming across the mountains, but with the lift of the blue sky and white cloudbank behind.

Walking Rain, 36"x36".

Walking Rain, 36″x36″.

It’s just one of those things, I guess…artists following the prompts of our obsessively examining eye.

Let me know your thoughts.

Do you rework “finished” art?

Do you agree/disagree with my choices?


In the most lovely rejection that I have ever received, the galleriest involved set me thinking when he wrote of my pieces,  “…I find many of them really perfect.”

I was intrigued by how much food for thought this simple comment gave me.

Perfect still means…well, perfect. And yet the word has acquired a bad connotation in some instances, becoming almost not PC. We are frequently chided for trying to be perfect; that the effort to perfect something is a bit rigid; and that perfectionism is soul-destroying (and probably elitist).


My process involves laying in a slightly transparent layer of paint during which time I find my composition and colors; move shapes this way and that; paint things in and paint them out and maybe paint them back in again differently, or elsewhere. After this layer dries, I continue with a second, making any needed changes that I didn’t catch the first time, and creating richer color, more complex edges, deeper blacks, and subtlties of surface and shape.

This second layer feels as if I am polishing the piece like a gem, bringing out the luster and so making visible the intricacies of composition, shape, color, and edge that weren’t fully developed before.

So yes, I am indeed trying to make my painting perfect. The process is done when the whole and  every part of the piece hit my eye just so and vibrate to deep satisfaction, pure joy, or uninterrupted absorbtion as the eye travels around the canvas.

This version of perfection (and of course there are others) is a process of refinement. In my version, the compositions and shapes are  softly flattened, and detail is reduced. My feeling about minimalist work is that what is there must be just so because there is not a lot of detail to distract the eye.

SandflatswithCloudbank copy

While reading the introduction written by my  brother-in-law Harold Augenbraum for his recently published book,  The Collected Poems by Marcel Proust , I was struck by his closing observations, including that the poems “…were not rewritten many times, and they represent a shortening of the distance between creator and reader, not a lengthening”.

Mulling over this concept, I asked myself why a creator would want distance between themself and the reader/viewer. Surely we don’t want to hold our audience at arm’s length?

The answer is to create a space, a sort of moat, where our viewer can plunge in and participate. A leap must be made not just from creator to audience, but also from audience to creator. This open space, though, in my case, is actually created by the process of refinement, which allows all of the parts and aspects of the painting to unite to invite the viewer in to spend time.

SundrenchedSaltmarsh copy

There are probably as many permutations of perfection, through refinement or directness, as there are artists and creators in other fields. I love hearing discussion of how they strive to arrive at their perfect.