Does it mean you should hold off on selling your work until you’re sure you’ll never cringe about it in the future? Absolutely not!! (If that was the case, I wouldn’t be able to sell my paintings at all!)
I took my first plein air landscape painting workshop in 2003, and didn’t really get into painting landscapes until I took a second workshop in mid-2004. Needless to say, the growth curve has been a little bit steep for me over the past few years. I look back at the paintings I sold when I got into my first gallery, and I can see why they sold, but I also see how much I’ve improved since then. I have paintings I did for my solo show last November that will probably go in the trash pile when I pick them up from the gallery next week (closing – a whole other story…) – and I only painted them seven months ago!!
Anyhow, one of my favorite ways to see how I’m improving is to tackle a difficult subject more than once, and this painting is one of those subjects. There’s something about this location that I just love, but I’ve painted it three times now trying to get it right. I think it’s fun to look at the images of these three paintings and see where I’ve come from. It gives me some hope about where I’m going!
So, here’s version #1:
I painted this in the spring of 2005, roughly three years ago. I exhibited it in my FIRST juried art show ever. Even though it was just a tiny arts council type show, I was so excited to have three paintings accepted that Nate and I went to the opening in Steamboat Springs and had a fancy dinner afterwards to celebrate. I was still doing the corporate engineering job thing, so this was fun! The painting didn’t sell, and to tell you the truth, I don’t know where it is now. Probably trashed it during our last move? Anyhow, as you can see, it lacks subtlety. The colors are garish and repetitive – not so good. I remember spending hours trying to get that line of blue just right on the water – hehe…
Here’s version #2:
I painted this a year later, in the spring of 2006. Same composition, slightly larger canvas. The colors are a bit more pleasant, the water is more realistic, and the brushwork is better. The trees are still a bit repetitive, and I can tell I still have green on my palette because all of the greens are the same. It’s a better painting than the last, and it sold quickly. Looking back, I can see what I’d improve, but I also have to try to understand that the collector who bought it saw what they wanted to see in this piece. Hopefully they’re still enjoying it.
This is version #3:
I painted it vertically this time to eliminate some of the pines since I wanted to the cliffs to be the center of interest. I’d like to say I’ve improved a lot in two years. It’s subjective, but I do think there’s more subtlety and variety in the color and brushwork. I’ve gotten over my need to always pile on the paint thickly, and started to use thinner paint in certain passages that require some more sensitivity in the edges (this painting probably isn’t the best example of that, actually). The trees are better, and I allowed myself to paint the water more loosely so that it wouldn’t compete with the center of attention. Overall, I think I did a better job conveying the mood and lighting of this location.
So, the moral of the story is that I may cringe at my older work, but that’s a good thing – it means all the hard work is paying off! And I really hope I don’t ever get to a point where I’m looking at a painting I did five years ago and thinking it was the best I ever did. As an aside, I had this conversation with a gallery owner once and he was telling me that a well-known painter he represents recently looked at a painting he did the year I was born and said, “That was a damn good painting!” All I have to say is that I can’t fathom ever reaching that point, but if I do, it’ll be because I’m really old or something. Call me critical, I guess.