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Sunday, September 07, 2014

Getting Past the Ugly Stage in a Painting....pastel demo

'Hidden Beauty'            9x12           pastel             ©Karen Margulis
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It is a common affliction. Most paintings go through it. It tests the mettle of the artist. Many paintings get detoured to the trash bin and never see their full potential. It's commonly called The Ugly Stage. It can come on quickly. A painting is started and looks promising. It has some good things happening. All of the sudden it takes a turn for the worse. The composition may have changed. The colors may not look right. It looks downright scary. The Ugly Stage.

It is tempting to just give up and send the ugly thing to the trash. But it is important to realize that this is just a stage in the painting. It isn't resolved. It would be nice if a painting looked wonderful at every stage of it's development and I suppose it happens for some. But for me I have to power through the uglies and THINK!

When a painting reaches the uglies....I have to think about what it needs. Values, drawing, composition, color? What can I do to resolve any of these issues?  I don't like to give up. I learn from working hard at resolving an ugly painting!

Today's poppy painting went through an ugly stage. I was ready to throw it in my pile. The problem was the paper/pastel combination. Read on to see how I solved the problem and uncovered the painting's potential.

my reference photo

I decided to use a piece of Richeson sanded paper that I had in a sample pack. It was white so I thought a watercolor underpainting would be perfect for the red poppies. I liked my underpainting and I was excited to start with my pastels.

I knew I wanted bright bold colors so I took out my set of Diane Townsend Pure Color set. I love this set! I started by blocking in the dark reds in the flowers. Immediately I realize that the Richeson paper is very toothy. It was eating up my pastels. With dismay I watched the piles of dust fall into my tray but I kept going.

Next I added some dark greens for the shadowed area of the grasses and foliage. I was not liking the coverage of the pastels. I couldn't get good coverage because of the roughness of the paper. But I didn't want to press any harder. Hmmmm My painting was officially UGLY. I didn't like it at all and I was frustrated with the rough paper.  Trash it or power through? What could I do? My problem was the paper so what could I do to solve it?   I remembered that I had purchased a set of Richeson soft pastels at one of the IAPS conventions. Maybe they would work better on the Richeson paper? I pulled them out.

 The Richeson soft pastels are on the left and the Diane Townsend pastels are on the right

moving past ugly and ready for details
That was the answer!  The Richeson soft pastels are large and feel creamy. They went into the crevices of the paper with ease. Now I was getting the coverage I needed. I was enjoying the painting and the paper!  I always remind my students that they should not ever hate a paper or pastel....it is just a matter of finding the right combination. I found the right combination for this painting and it helped me move past the dreaded Ugly Stage!


Kelli Paternoster said...

Thanks Karen! I was so happy to read this post, I was struggling with an ugly painting this morning. It was just the ecouraging insight I needed to keep going and take a better informed approach.

Eileen Sullivan said...

Thanks for this post. I often just put an ugly away for a while--I hate to waste paper so throwing it out just doesn't happen! Usually when I go back to it, I can see what I need to do. If I don't, away it goes again. Eventually I'll figure it out!

robertsloan2art said...

Mwahahaha! (Evil Laugh)

I never, ever, ever bin a painting or sketch. No matter how lousy it is. All of my artist friends do. I've got friends who are great professionals that boast of keeping only 1 in 20 of their paintings because they only want to release top quality ones.

That sometimes leaves me feeling like there's something weird about me. The something weird is my attitude.

I know I can't always tell if a painting is good or not or if it's done or not. I would have tossed out many of my best because I didn't realize it worked - until those same friends were commenting on the post that it was one of my best and urging me to paint more that way! When I started loosening up I went through a lot of that in a transition from tight realism to loose impressionism.

So if I'm selling, I list it whatever I think.. and half the time the "Ugly" painting sold while my favorites got minimum bid or nothing? That happened from the first time I sold art. My taste is not the same as other people's. My technical appreciation of the one that came out Best I've Ever Done does not match the gut reaction of love that one or several buyers have for what they just saw that gave them a thrill.

Given that, I never throw out anything. I sell my garbage. I trust that I'm competent and my trash is at least up to my current level of skill.

After a class by a Colourist, I discovered Stage 3 of the method (Susan Sarback, Henry Hensche, Charlotte Herczfeld my teacher) looks hideous. Almost always. I finally experienced an Ugly Stage. Five years of it and I am finally training myself to recognize that's just Unfinished.

Sometimes the loveliest effects have to be set up through stages that would not work if you stop there. That's all it is. Not even fixing a mistake - setup for a great finish. So I just never bin anything no matter how much I hate it but may put it up for critique if I don't know what to do next.

Karen said...

Thanks everyone for your comments! I really appreciate your thoughts!
Robert, as always you have such a wonderful way of expanding my post topic. I love reading your insights! They add so much to the topic. Thank you!