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25 June, 2005

Don't just paint what you see

Every Tuesday evening in the late 1970s and again since the 1990s, my mother has attended a painting 'class', not literally for tuition but as more of a social group.  Frankly, I think she took the painting itself more seriously in the early years, and my favourites of her paintings are from that period, but she still produces good ones.  She favours oils, for the textures achieveable (though I'd love to see more of the richly-detailed watercolours of which I know she's capable), even when a rich texture isn't really required*.

My one significant criticism is composition. Naturally, she's very good – certainly a better photographer than me, in that sense – but the subject matter of her paintings tends to be copied from photographs, which doesn't always work.

Barring trickery, a camera records whatever is present. Knowing that, the viewer accepts what he/she sees in a photograph. However, precisely the same view in a painting attracts greater critical evaluation. If one really considers it, some genuine sunsets and cloud patterns, or the arrangements of twisted branches in trees, can look downright unnatural; rendered in a painting, one would blame the artist.

I believe this is one of the many aspects which begins to elevate the craft of painting to an art: the ability to represent what one sees in a credible manner, not merely reproduce it. Even if that palm tree really did lean at an alarming angle, change it – its 'wrongness' draws the eye too much. The same with that broken branch. That anomalously dark cloud gives the impression the church on the horizon is on fire – modify or move it. Trust me; it'd produce a more compelling image.

*: It's just a matter of taste, but whilst stipling of thick oil paint can add a luxuriant 3D effect to the centre of a flower or the fur of a fox painted on canvas or textured board, I feel the smooth surfaces of a fish or a golden buddha would be better represented in watercolours on paper i.e. without added texture.


Interesting points. Are we going to get to see some examples of your mother's paintings?

Posted by Gone Away at June 25, 2005 08:17 PM
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