This is my most recent painting "Shells with Vase" completed yesterday. If you look through the still life category of my website you'll see I've done shells once before. I remember it being a more difficult subject matter for me, hence the reason it took another year and a half for me to try this again. Not unlike waiting a few years between having children! And these are the exact same shells that I painted in the last still life, same type of brushes used, same type of canvas used, even the same exact tubes of paint. My three daughters, ages 21, 19 and 9 all share the same two parents, same sets of genes, live in the same house and yet they are all three totally different in looks and personality. Why is that?
I think that in painting, as in parenting, slight changes (might I say improvements?) happen to you and your canvas and you can't always see it as it's happening. You need to step back from the easel to take a good look at what's going on in front of you. Standing too close you can miss so much. Sometimes you have to step really far back from your canvas, or count really high (to 100) to cool off when dealing with a teenager. But when you do step back instead of just trying to fix, fix, fix and overwork the part of the painting that won't do what you want it to, you sometimes see that from further back those colors look okay together. They might even look splendid together. Sometimes the thing you're trying so hard to improve or change is something that works in the painting the way it is, and adds tremendous character. This has taken me years to figure out.
So back to the shells. I worked, and worked, and worked and reworked the pinkish shell in the middle. I tried over and over again to make it more defined, not so muted and soft. I wanted more contrast, more color variation. I would walk away and come back to the painting and work again at making it the way I envisioned it, fixing some things and messing up others. Two steps forward, one step back. Finally, yesterday after three long sessions of battling with this shell and feeling pretty much like I should never paint again and find another line of work and like an utter failure, I stepped back from the canvas and saw that this shell looked pretty darn good. It was shaping up, slowly but surely. It was evolving into a work that I was proud to say it was mine. And then it was done. Just like that.
Another thing I've learned over the years of painting (and parenting) is knowing when to stop tinkering. There's a point where the painting is done, you've done all you can do, and it's important to realize when that is. The painting, when you're done with it, should speak for itself. It will mean different things to different people, but the beauty and your love in creating it will always be there in the brushstrokes of the painting for all to admire.