06 August 2007

material failure

elizabeth (abandoned)
Strathmore bristol, 200gsm, 22" x 15". 20+ hours.

after my sister and her boys left town, i decided to try to finish this portrait, started almost two years ago and languishing half finished ever since.

once i got back into it i rediscovered the reason why i had stopped: the paper was failing. bristol is a wonderful charcoal and graphite surface, and for very limited watercolor use there are many interesting things you can do with it. but i put too much weight on this one, too many washes, and the paper layers began to cockle and separate. finally, when applying a shadow tone to the base of the left elbow, the pigment mottled irreparably. and so this painting, like so many, went into the recycling bin.

painters have the misfortune of giving life to everything, even their failures. we only learn by doing, and in this case i learned several important lessons:

* never try a new combination of materials in a big work (this was leonardo's frequent mistake, it seems).

* understand the difference between a material failure and an artistic failure. dump a material failure as soon as possible, but give an artistic failure every effort you can. (this is the difference between a faithless wife, and a difficult wife.)

* redeem the failures. start on them again. find the remedy and make it right.

i have all the photo references and sketches, and i can do better next time on drawing the hair. failures are annoying, they can even wound or bitterly disappoint. but they also teach.

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