When I was working towards a degree in illustration at what was then the Academy of Art Collegs in the late 1980s, the question came up in one class about how far to go trying to make a piece work and, if it’s not, should one start over. The advice the teacher gave us and that I have followed until last year was that past a certain point, well, there was no point. Time to move on to the next piece and not repeat oneself. Made sense to me. Don’t beat the proverbial dead horse.
Fast forward to March of 2016 when I spent two wonderful days visiting and painting with superb landscape painter and friend James Coe at his home near the Hudson River Valley south of Albany, New York. We spent a few hours in his studio talking shop. He pulled out one piece after another, both plein air and studio paintings. And started to talk about how this one or that one had sat for months or years until he figured out what was needed and fixed it. Or how he’d done a small piece of a scene and was planning on doing it again larger. Some he’d painted four or five times from his plein air study. I’d never heard of such a thing! Gobsmacked I was.
Like anyone who has been at the painting game for awhile I have a lot of paintings that I either got stuck on and never finished or didn’t feel were good enough to show anyone except the cat. But now….now! Somehow Jim had given me “permission” to go back to those old pieces and see what I could do with them and it would not be wasting my time or mistreating the horse, which was now alive and well.
So there’s that. The other thing that has happened is that after toying with the idea for close to three years now, I decided to see how I could integrate my love of pure design, lettering and historic decoration back into my work with my Mongolia subjects. After painting a dozen new pieces for “Wildlife Art: Field to Studio” last year I felt that for the time being I’d had said all I had to say about depicting an animal or animals in a traditionally realistic landscape and it was time to move in what I call to myself my “new direction”. I did a couple of small pieces last fall as tryouts and have a number of larger ones under way, all new. But I’ve also gone back to paintings that just never seemed to work for one reason or another and gave them another look.
I’d also created albums in Photos for images I’ve shot that suggest possibilities for interesting designs and also some for a variety of elements, both natural ones like landscapes with warm, cool or warm and cool colors and human-made like ger or monastery decorative painting. And I found a Mongolian calligrapher who was willing to write words for me and email them as large jpgs, so I can integrate the vertical script, bichig, into my work.
What I’m finding is that adding the decorative elements is not just fun, but makes these old ones visually more interesting so they now work. I’ll be showing more of my “salvage” efforts in the future. In the meantime here’s the painting above as I originally did it in 2012, without the decorative border. I also repainted the horses, tweaking the drawing of them, and generally punching up the color.