Looseness: Sets and Pets

Posted by on Nov 22, 2016 in Blog | No Comments

In my previous post I spoke of my desire to be looser and less refined in my brushwork. Over the past few years I have actually had the opportunity to practice being looser while painting and I imagine this has to have had some influence in the way I am approaching my new work.

This weekend was the seventh production of my daughter’s school play that I have been involved with. As soon as she was able to audition in 4th grade she has participated in the drama department’s twice yearly productions. The shows are really quite amazing, the kids are fabulous, and there is a huge parent participation to help make it all happen. I, of course, volunteer to be part of the set painting team. The amazing scenic designer/set painting hero, Alastair, (who I believe just finished his 15th production) and the talented make-it-happen-construction guy, David, have been joking for years that they have to hide the small brushes from me.

In set painting, things need to look good from a distance, often there is a lot of surface area to paint, and usually there are multiple components. We also don’t have unlimited hours to devote to volunteering. We work nights and weekends at a cold airport hangar in the weeks leading up to the production. We need to make the sets look good in a short amount of time, this is where looseness is crucial. I have also learned that I don’t need to belabor everything that I work on. If I feel like I am spending too long on something I may ask someone to add some final touches, or just decide that it is “good enough” — a term that I have come to embrace with open arms.

Set painting is very much a team effort. We have a great core team but other parents also volunteer each production and depending on their ability they may primarily work on the priming (underpainting), or sometimes there may be multiple people working on the same elements and we just need to make sure that in the end everything comes together consistently.

Below are the two middle panels of a moonlit river from the recent production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream that I worked on. And a glimpse of the final scene sans actors. Click on the images for a larger view.



The other project that has helped in my looseness is the work I do for Chewy.com. I paint mini pet portraits that they send to their clients. From a financial standpoint, I have to work fast. Additionally, I often receive poor quality images — either tiny jpegs that are hard to see, or snapshots that are just awful to work with, and often both! I have to try and make a nice painted portrait from what I have in a short amount of time…looseness and “good enough” come into practice again. In less than 2 years I have painted almost 500 portraits for Chewy.com. You can see them here and I add to the gallery every few weeks. The great thing is people love their pets and love original art and so are thrilled when they get their pet portraits!

As I move forward with my new paintings, looseness is definitely front and center. My experience of “good enough” is a little different when it comes to my paintings. I continue to work over and over and keep searching for the painting to come together for me, but am now much more open to finding areas or “accidents” that I like that previously I would never have kept because they didn’t feel refined enough. Now they feel more than good enough. In fact, sometimes they are the areas of the painting that I am most excited about.