When A Painting Gets Stuck

Some years ago, after a long holiday break, I had trouble getting back into a painting I had begun earlier.  What was I thinking when I started this canvas? 

Who knows, not me.

The background on this painting was black with two-inch parchment stripes across it.  I had worked on it once or twice after that, and there was a design or pattern taking shape, but it seemed too amorphous.  What I like to do often is to bring order out of chaos while leaving in enough signs of the chaos to retain a sense of ambiguity or chance.  There is a delicate balance that I find if I'm lucky. 

The reason I bring "luck" into it is that you have to simply take the plunge and try something to see if it works.  If it doesn't, you can't simply "erase it" and start over.  Once you've made a major move on a painting, you are pretty much committed to making it work.  You're not going to be able to remove the last layer of paint without disturbing what was beneath it. 

Well, on this particular painting, I chose to use raw umber lines to outline the parchment shapes, thereby creating more definition and less chaos.  From there, I went on to feather those lines with a brush, and the painting did look much better at that point.  I could almost have signed it and moved on.

That might have been the wiser choice, but instead I kept working at further definition. That is, I went too far in the defining direction, which then left the amorphous background looking out of place or "wrong."  To sum it up, I destroyed the delicate balance I had going for me and now the painting was completely out of kilter.  There was no way to simply "tinker" with it to bring it into balance. 

I waited a day for the canvas to dry, and tackled it again.  This time, I had some success.

Here it is, finally finished: my "stuck" painting:

Ringed Migration, 40" x 40" (sold)

Ringed Migration, 40" x 40" (sold)

Abstract Artist Linda Jaekel

Linda Jaekel is an abstract artist living near me in Ithaca, New York.  Her work has a lot of texture, which she achieves by using various tools other than brushes to paint with.


Stratosphere, 24" x 18"

Stratosphere, 24" x 18"

Linda grew up in the San Francisco and New York City areas and has been making art since she was a young child.  She won her first art contest at the age of five from the San Francisco Chronicle.

Linda says, "I explore the ways of creating a peaceful beauty out of chaos, but I leave a portion of chaos for the viewer to use to create their own story. "

Linda currently works with acrylic paints on canvas and paper.  You can find her paintings on her own website, or at Vangoart.com.

Using a Modified Pointillist Technique

Recently I created a series of abstract paintings using a modified pointillist technique.  Pointillism was made popular by George Seurat and Paul Signac in the late l800's in France.  They painted small dots of color in patterns to form images. 

In my modified technique, I apply spots of color while the paint is still wet, letting them blend together so that the spots of color are not necessarily distinct.  Here's an example:

Abstract Art 631

Abstract Art 631

Recently I added another layer to this process by painting the whole canvas in an undercoating of parchment and white.  Then I added the dots of color while the undercoating was still wet.

Once I'd covered the whole canvas in spots of color, I took a larger, flat brush, and while it was barely wet, pressed it against the canvas.  This process blended the surface colors with the background. To keep the colors from becoming muddy, I cleaned the brush often throughout the process. 

You can see how the light background colors blended with the surface paint, creating a more muted effect. 

Here's another impressionist landscape painting using the same technique:

Here's a square painting I made using this technique, with a denser collection of surface paint:

How to Appreciate Abstract (non-representational) Art

In a non-representational painting, I am not attempting to capture the likeness of a landscape or figure. My subject is the painting itself.

What do you actually see when you look at the painting? Color, shape, line and texture are the physical elements that combine to make up the image. A selection of dark, heavy shapes may impress you as somber--light, airy images as mystical--balanced, temperate forms as peaceful. Shape, color and form have meaning in and of themselves. We react emotionally to these elements even if they create no recognizable object for us to hang onto. Thus, a painting of ragged, angular forms in deep reds will evoke an entirely different feeling from one in soft curves of yellow and white.

The handling of space--or the illusion of space--is another element in the artist's toolbox. Are you drawn into a world of three-dimensional space stretching beyond the framework of the painting, as you might be in a landscape? Or are you kept visually taut, as a skater on a pond, skimming across a two-dimensional surface? The impression of depth, perspective, airiness, solidity, and other spatial relations are created and controlled by the artist.

Looking UP

Looking UP

The overall composition or design of a painting is what guides the viewer's eye. Have you ever looked at a painting or photograph and felt it was off balance? One of the big differences between amateur snapshots and professional photographs is the quality of the composition. In an amateur photo, perhaps all the action is centered on the left, with nothing but empty space on the right. The lopsidedness gives you a sense of unease. (Of course an artist may use this unease deliberately as well.)

Composition is one of the fundamental tools an art student is taught. The goal is to have a balance of visual elements without making the weight so balanced that the art becomes boring. If everything on the left is exactly equal to the right, and the top to the bottom, you may have balance, but you lose interest.

Getting the composition right, or balancing the elements of color, line and shape while maintaining a dynamic tension is a major preoccupation of the painter. If you add a blue brushstroke to the bottom left-hand corner, for example, you may have to change something in the top right-hand corner because of it. You can't concentrate on one section at a time, ignoring the rest of the canvas, and expect to end up with a composition that works.

With Fresh Eyes

With Fresh Eyes

Energy is the life force that is present in all good art. This is not something that is easily defined, but it is the opposite state of static flatness. It is this energy that makes a painting speak to you, and makes an artist's work original and identifiable as the work of that artist. Energy is created out of the artist's materials and tools, but the end is more than the means in the same sense that a musical composition is so much more than a collection of notes.

The next time you look at an abstract painting, or any kind of "modern art," don't begin by searching for some identifiable object from your world. Instead, try to enter the world the artist created. Relax and let your eye leisurely wander over the painting's surface. Let your heart and mind react to its colors, shapes, and textures. Let yourself be drawn into the illusion of its spaces, the action of its lines, the mood of its atmosphere.

Step back and look at the painting from a distance. What is its impact as you approach it?

Move up close and explore the intricacies of brushstrokes, paint thicknesses and compositional details. See how the parts are woven together to form the whole.

Give the painting time. No artwork can be understood and appreciated in a ten second glance. Good art should grow on you, becoming more interesting and more enjoyable to look at as you live with it.

You may still see things in abstract paintings, finding birds and trees and animals hidden in the forms. This is as natural as turning clouds into recognizable shapes. But by opening your eyes to the possibilities of the world the artist created, you may see more than you ever expected to see in abstract art.


How to Select Art For Your Home

Selecting art for your home can be an exciting adventure and a source of enjoyment for years to come. Keys to success are figuring out what kind of art you like, how it will fit in with the rest of your interior design plans, and how to exhibit the art to the best effect in your home.

What kind of art do you like?

If you regularly visit galleries and museums, you probably already have a good sense of what kind of art appeals to you. If not, there are many opportunities to browse art within your community at local exhibitions and art fairs. Even small towns usually have a non-profit gallery space, and your local café or restaurant may exhibit the works of local artists. In larger cities, galleries often get together for monthly or periodic "gallery nights" where all the galleries hold open house receptions on the same evening. It's a great way to see a lot of art in a short time.

Today the internet provides the largest variety and depth of fine art available worldwide. You can visit museum websites and see master works from ages past, check out online galleries for group shows, and visit hundreds of individual artists' websites. One advantage of using the internet is that you can search for the specific kind of art you are interested in, whether it's photography, impressionism, bronze sculpture, or abstract painting. And when you find one art site, you'll usually find links to many, many more.

Should the art fit the room or the room fit the art?

As an artist, I'd certainly prefer that everyone buy the art they love and then find a place to put it. If you feel strongly about a particular work of art, this is certainly the way to go. But you may find that when you get the art home and place it on a wall or pedestal, it doesn't work with its surroundings. By not "working," I mean the art looks out of place in the room. Placing art in the wrong surroundings takes away from its beauty and impact.

What should you do if you bring a painting home and it clashes with its environment? First, hang the painting in various places in your home, trying it out on different walls. It may look great in a place you hadn't planned on hanging it. If you can't find a place where the art looks its best, you may need to make some changes in the room, such as moving furniture or taking down patterned wallpaper and repainting in a neutral color or a tint that matches a color in the painting. The changes will be worth making in order to enjoy the art you love.

Sometimes the right lighting is the key to showing art at its best. You may find that directing track lighting on the art is all it needs to exhibit its brilliance. If you place a work of art in direct sunlight, however, it may be affected by the ultraviolet light and fade over time. (Works on paper and other delicate art should be framed under UV protected glass or acrylic.)

How to pick art to fit the room.

If you prefer to do the room first and then find the art, size and color are the two major criteria for selecting art to fit its surroundings. For any particular space, art that is too large will overwhelm and art that is too small will be lost and look out of proportion.

As a rule, paintings should be hung so that the center of the painting is at eye level. Sculpture may sit on the floor, a table, or pedestal, depending on the design. Rules should be considered guidelines only, however, so feel free to experiment. One collector, for example, hung an acrylic painting on their bedroom ceiling so they could better view it while lying down.

When selecting a painting to match color, select one or two of the boldest colors in your room and look for art that has those colors in it. You're not looking for an exact match here. Picking up one or two of the same colors will send a message that the painting belongs in this environment.

Another possibility for dealing with color is to choose art with muted colors, black-and-white art, or art that is framed in a way that mutes its color impact in the room. A wide light-colored mat and neutral frame create a protected environment for the art within.

Style is another consideration when selecting art to fit a room. If your house is filled with antiques, for example, you'll want to use antique-style frames on the paintings you hang there. If you have contemporary furniture in large rooms with high ceilings, you'll want to hang large contemporary paintings.

There's no rule that says you can never mix styles, but be aware of the potential conflict.

How to create an art-friendly room

When you walk into a gallery or museum, what do they all have in common? White walls and lots of light. If a wall is wall-papered or painted a color other than white, it limits the choices for hanging art that will look good on it. If a room is dark, the art will not show to its best advantage.

If you want to make art the center of attraction, play down the other elements of the room like window coverings, carpeting, wall coverings, and even furniture. A room crowded with other colors, textures and objects will take the spotlight away from the art.

You may want to select one room in your house to focus on art. Paint the walls white or off-white. Lay hardwood floors or a neutral carpet. Install window coverings with clean simple lines and neutral colors (or no window coverings at all). Put up ceiling track lights that can be adjusted to focus on the art, or use individual lighting for each piece. For the furniture, follow the principle that less is more. Keep it spare. Let the art star. Then relax and enjoy it.

Selecting and displaying art is an art in itself. Experiment to learn what pleases you and what doesn't. You'll be well-rewarded for the time you invest by finding more satisfaction both in the art and in your home.