Friday, February 12, 2010

Painting to Please Oneself

Watermelon with Grapes

© J.Licsko 2010

0il on canvas


I like to accept commissions occasionally because it offers the opportunity to step out of my self created comfort zone. There is a subtle tension, knowing that a painting could be rejected.

In the middle of October, collectors I had not yet met, had recently purchased a still life of mine from a favorite gallery, and now wanted another. All I was told was that they wanted a still life painting of a watermelon, and that it was intended to be hung in the same room as the first painting. I wanted to please them, and please my gallery too, but the only way I could proceed with confidence was to paint to please myself.

I tried two different watermelons from the farmer's market, both too late in the season for a rich red color inside, neither had seeds. Both were "Heirloom" and therefore small. Organic was not the way to go. I found large watermelons at the big chain supermarket, still not very good color, but the size looked right for a traditional still life. I finally accepted the fact that it would have no seeds, yet the large slice presented the gift of one seed.

The upcoming holiday commitments were adding to the delay in starting. Finding the right composition took much longer than I expected. My preference in a still life is for all the subject parts to be related, a continuity in the theme of the connecting parts. As an example, adding a flower may add the right color, and balance the composition perfectly, but it would seem to me a disconnected addition. I like a scene that appears to be close to a natural occurrence in real life. A watermelon is little more than a big ball until you cut a slice into it, but the slice and the larger part together are still awkward as a composition. It needed more, hence the grapes and the lime, small knife and cloth.

Aligning myself with all the energy of the new year, paint first touched the canvas on January 1, and on the third day, and every day after, I photographed the work hoping to get a more objective view of how I work. I finished the painting January 31, having recorded each day's work with a photo, and a record of the number of the day's hours of painting.

Estimated time working on the composition unknown. I totaled 177 hours of actual painting time in 31 days. All but two of those days were pure pleasure working with colors that make my heart happy. Day 28 and 29 were hard when I reached the inevitable doubts that I was never going to get the painting done in a reasonable time, and maybe the collector had a strong idea in mind, and this wasn't it. Days 30 and 31 were a relief because by then I could see that it was becoming what I had envisioned. The last two days were joyful, all about the highlights and deep shadows. In a recent conversation, artist William B. Eckert and I were in full agreement of how the best part of paintings happen in the last few days. I recommend always taking the last two days to slow down and enjoy the process. It is so nourishing to the creative spirit to take time to play .

The collectors were happy. I learned a lot. I am very pleased with both the experience and most importantly, the finished painting.