The bell tolled for me….
In my studio classes we have a tradition that when someone finishes a painting we ring a big school bell. (If it’s a tiny painting we ring a tiny bell.) This tradition began when one of the students finished a painting she’d been working on for over a year. We needed some way of signaling COMPLETION other than just standing around and saying “FINALLY!”
Today one of my students rang the big school bell for me.
The painting of the two boys is finished. Finally. This is a painting with a long history, which I will briefly recount here, but first let me discuss a subject that comes up often in my classes.
How do you know when a painting is finished?
My students will often ask me to tell them whether or not their painting is finished. I always refuse. It’s really not up to me to determine if they’re finished or not, just as it’s not up to me to tell them what to paint. Art has to be personal to be good, I think, else it’s graphic design of a sort (in the old days we called it ‘commercial art’ and it was often looked down upon by the ‘fine’ art students and faculty. Having done both in my long career I have an equal amount of respect for both).
Is a commission personal? You bet it is! The artist brings a part of themself to every painting, or they should if they’re worth their salt.
So declaring a painting finished is as much a personal choice as how to paint a painting and its up to the artist. I can’t decide for anyone, and I won’t decide for anyone.
I can tell you how I decide one of my paintings is finished.
When I get to the point that I can look at the painting carefully and not see anything that will bug me if I don’t fix it, the painting is finished. If the painting represents my best effort, and is as good as I can make it, with no regrets, it is finished.
Good enough isn’t good enough – a statement made famous back in the 80′s by Jay Chiat of Chiat Day advertising (Apple’s ad agency). Good enough isn’t good enough for me. There are lots of good enough artists out there – artists that work on commission and will do the bare minimum that the client will take and call it a day.
I just can’t do that. Painting is such a huge part of who I am that it would be akin to lying to the client and myself. I would be embarrassed to have the painting live out in the world.
Paintings that don’t pass my test either get more work or they’re put away until I can bear to throw them out, paint over them, or tear the canvas off the frame and stretch new canvas over the it.
Today I declared that the painting of the boys pleases my eye, is worthy of my name, and can go out into the world and declare itself to be a ‘Gini Lawson’ painting.
Now back to the boys. This painting is a commission that is part of a trade – a trade made over five years ago. I asked the parents for a photo they wanted me to work from, and they sent a snapshot of the boys. I started the painting, and worked at it, and worked at it, and worked at it. But I knew that I would never be able to get to the point where I would want to send that painting out into the world.
There simply wasn’t enough information in the photo to do the boys – or myself – justice. I would never be happy; I would never be able to look the parents in the eyes and say “this is my best work,” and the painting would not have lived up to the value of the trade.
So I asked for another photo. And it took the parents quite a while to determine which photo they wanted me to use. They knew they wanted a painting of the boys as children (they are all grown up now – young men) else I could just have taken a photo.
A couple of years later, and a few since we had made the trade, I received the photo that is the basis for this painting in the mail.
It was perfect – professionally taken photo – Olen Mills – and most people would have been satisfied with the very lovely photo it was, but I knew that I could make the painting different enough from the photo that it would tell a slightly different story.
So, I put the photo aside so that I could finish a few other commissions that were in the queue, and then January 2012 happened, I learned about my cancer, and all hell broke loose. I did begin the painting last year, but its progress was interrupted so often that it seemed to take forever to finish. and it sortof did.
Now its done, and I can’t wait until they can pick it up. It has to dry for about a week, and then I will glaze it with Galkyd (a Gamblin-brand painting medium) and install picture hangers and wire. I hope we’ll be able to have a celebration when they get it. I hope they’ll like it as much as I do.
Here tis: (sorry for the crappy photos)
Ahmad and Cara’s boys
Nice to be finished. Love these boys.