evolution of a painting…

another piece that might have seemed finished but really wasn’t.  Moving out of former studio into the one at home, there were bound to be paintings that I hadn’t totally wrapped up, but had to get out of there anyway.  This was one. Rewrites are no problem for me!

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I have been working quite a lot with taking things away, trying to find a balance between the tangled elements and an atmospheric, poetic space that envelopes them.

This also marks the end point of these paintings in some way that I probably don’t yet understand. I can imagine that my palette will become darker. I much prefer richer deeper colors,colors that you can’t quite name- and it’s winter, so airy bright atmospheres feel a bit odd.

But there will now ensue lots of drawing, hopefully some monotypes, and some serious ruminating on all sorts of ideas that will lead to the next batch of work. Whether that’s going to be painting or not- I am open to find out.

About that painting I thought was finished…..

Blue Winter Vine 30x32 oil ©2012 Nanci Erskine - finished? yes! (color is also more accurate in this shot)


…it’s happened again, another piece that I felt was wrapped up has been up on the painting wall again.

earlier version - with annoying leaf at top and other things I eliminated.... can you find them?

I know how this happens now. Aside from the fact that revision and editing is one of the pleasures of the working process for me.

It seems that I can’t get enough distance on things when working on them- either because I don’t allow myself enough time for simple garden variety rumination, or physical space (until recently,  my studio was about 12 feet long on a good day).

But there is also the space and distance of time- being able to look with fresh eyes at something that hasn’t quite revealed itself.

When I used to teach beginning drawing, and wanted people to really see what they had done, while we talked about the work, I would usually take them out into the hallway.   We’d lean the thing up against a wall, and then walk back about 20 feet to look at an 18 x 24″ drawing.  Now, that is some distance, but it almost takes on another identity. Something glimpsed… all the parts of the whole more visible…. formal qualities and elements standing at attention.

Hard for me to do that now- but, it seems to happen once I photograph a piece and then see it in a much smaller scale on the laptop screen.  Then the faults that are working against what I intended are more blatant.  This doesn’t happen every time, but it’s my version of looking at the painting backwards in a mirror. Flipping it on it’s side or upside down, whatever you employ to hit the refresh button.

So, now I am happy with the painting, and also with the other two – one finished, one almost revised- that are still living on the painting wall.

Authors often talk about the revision process- how many drafts they need to burn through before the prose is clear and the flow of the narrative works.  To me this is the same thing- not being complacently satisfied with what I’ve made, just because it’s a picture.  But not letting it be anything less than a successful painting.

here’s someone you should know about….

“Thistle” © Penelope Sartori, 2011

My friend, Penelope Sartori makes beautiful dream-like photographs but that’s the short version of the story.

I was happy to have several of her images in the benefit show I just hung, and even happier that they all sold.  I think more people need to see the quality of what some people in my small city are up to in their studios.  Sure, there are the local over-exposed “art stars”- but,  then there are what I would call the quieter, more modest, hidden practitioners.

Trying to carve out  time to make what feels like work with true integrity, depth and poetry to it.  Pen is such a person.  Does she have a website? no.  Does she blog? no.

She has worked hard for many years. She will jump at the opportunity to help almost anyone.  She has a heart as big as a Colorado Blue Spruce.  Give this woman a break I say!

She uses film, and then paints on the images after they are printed. She sees the incredible beauty in her garden and patches of growing things.   Did I tell you she uses film?   No computers, no giclee on freaking canvas wraps… the real deal.

Thank you Pen.

ideas (and other things) fermenting…

Now that I am painting a bit more, I find myself being pulled towards a change in the subject matter and destination in the paintings.   I was realizing that when I made a rather abrupt shift a few years ago, it was in part driven by what I wanted to investigate, but also the sense that my earlier paintings were not….. here it comes….. “marketable” – at least not in these parts or wherever there were galleries that had taken on the work for brief periods of time.  Hence, I have a lot of compelling, award-winning, critically acknowledged paintings that are still in my basement.

I think I got off-track –  trying to anticipate what would be agreeable in certain venues- ie: health care/hospitality/ etc.  Rather than just doing my true work.  Sometimes they blended with one another- but I have often found myself in this odd territory between traditional landscape/representational painting and contemporary/non-objective/conceptual work.   Perhaps this comes from my strong inclination to manufacture spatially convincing, believable worlds that are beautiful, fictional and technically challenging, and hopefully a bit unsettling or mysterious. Whatever it is, there is bound to be a shift in the work when you move, even if it’s just a couple miles to a studio at home.  Once I am finished with the busyness of summer, and other commitments, I am looking forward to more consistent time, buried in the basement, seeing where all this will lead.

Oh yeah, and there’s a gallon or so of sauerkraut for Reuben sandwiches later!

ruh roh….

Does this ever happen to you… you bring some piece of work home and it gets stored, and then you bring it out, and it gets the thrashing it deserves?

I think I’ve been mulling over the work that I did this past year or so, and feeling like it lacked some kind of courage or freedom… like everything was too controlled and contrived.  Starting a new painting in a new environment (see previous post) ie: my basement…. I am probably now being influenced by the fact that I have more physical space to move around in.  Maybe before, I was thinking about being “tasteful” or something equally insidious…

Can’t quite put my finger on it, but I either need to start over, and get a new direction, or give this one a bit more ooomph!    So I went and started painting into it again…. not a new phenomenon- I am historically someone who reworks things … alot.

I think I miss the sinister, moody and seductive qualities of my earlier industrial paintings.

And maybe there’s a way to find that but with vines/botanical instruments, we’ll see.

I want to try and get back to just painting what interests me, not what I think will appeal to anyone else.  Now that I have a stretch of the summer with no commitments, it could happen.


happy thanksgiving accidents

during the last week or so, I have been more in my painting life, which has felt just perfect, thank you. Today, I was working away  on one painting, thinking it would be nice to have some more dense areas on either side to compress the space more into the center…. if you’re a visual person, you’ll understand what I mean….and at the end of the day, put up a diptych that I had been conceiving as having a congested tangle of vines in the background of the center linking the two halves and making what felt like a counter movement to the rest of the work.

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Well, come to find out, I had switched the two pieces, and they really linked up better with the busier, denser places on the far left and right side now.  Then the center is the open space.   Still in a somewhat early stage, but …

WAY BETTER!  Who knew?  But it was a nice serendipitous moment.  The kind that comes when you are just acting on impulse…  the good kind.

Which version do you like?  It’s early in the working life of this piece, so I expect lots of changes!