Sometimes You Just Need A Waterfall

The original “Cascades” was created a few years ago and featured vines cascading down a rock wall.  It was inspired by a walk along a rugged cliff, draped in vines of ivy.  The ivy draped like curtains and helped cool the warm summer air.

There were elements that I liked within the subsequent painting, but it was missing something.  I initially added subtle flowers to the vines, thinking that would add a bit of color.  But it was still lacking.  I went ahead and framed it, thinking that might help give it a “finished” look. But the painting sat for 2 years on a storage shelf.  I was not yet willing to destroy the piece to reclaim the paper.  But I did not think it was strong enough to present it to the public.

About a month ago I pulled it off the shelf and out of the frame and set it up in my studio where I could see it in passing.  A few times a year I revisit older paintings to decide their fate:  worthy of promoting, keep them as a lesson learned, rework to see if I can make them stronger, or reclaim the paper. 

After about a week of casually glancing at the painting whenever I was working in the studio, it dawned on me, it needs a waterfall!  I cut the painting in half, editing out some parts that I liked (the stair-stepped rocks on the right), but which did not contribute to the whole.  I added the waterfall and a pool, established rocks to the left of the waterfall and softened the vines.

One of the challenges with revisiting a painting after that long of a period is trying to figure out what colors and pastels I had used in the original.  For the painting to look cohesive and maintain its color harmony, rediscovering the colors is critical.  Since I was adding new elements, the waterfall and pool, I needed to make sure that colors from the original scene would be incorporated into these new elements.  And I went further and introduced some of the colors used in the water into other parts of the painting.  This creates the illusion that the waterfall was there all the time and belongs.

As artists, we are continually learning and developing our skills.  There are days that a painting will be a struggle.  It need not go into the trash.  Step away from it.  Let it rest.  Every painting does not have to be “frame-worthy.”  It may be an exercise or a lesson learned.  Or one day you will glance at it in passing and the answer will be there waiting for you.

Sometimes, you just need a waterfall.

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16 Responses

  1. Great, a very interesting article. I am interested in the statement”reclaim the paper” should all else fail. How do you reclaim, presumably well enough to do another painting and does it only work on a specific type of paper? Many thanks, Cliff

    1. Cliff – It really depends on the paper. I tend to work on Uart paper because it is very versatile and can easily be “reclaimed.” If I decide that a painting is beyond hope, I use a stiff brush to brush off the pastel. I then liquefy the remaining pastel that is left on the paper. This “sets” the pastel into the paper, creating an underpainting for a new painting while retaining the gritty tooth of the paper. I may liquefy the pastel with isopropyl alcohol, turpenoid or water. Alcohol dries the fastest and is least likely to cause any buckling of the paper. This technique can be used with some papers and not others. It is best to experiment with a small sample of paper to see how it reacts.

  2. Hello Tracy,
    I found your article fascinating .
    Both versions of the painting are valid.However I think the most interesting part of the painting is top left hand third. That is definitely the focal point .Although the vines interested you maybe they were not a strong enough subject !
    Or maybe just a closeup of vines alone would have had more impact!
    I agree with your comments about needing to work with the same colour pallet to link the different elements of the painting together .This is where Unison Pastels excel in their colour consistency from batch to batch across their wonderful range.

    1. Valerie – I agree with you completely! I too find the most interesting part to be the light in the trees in that top left hand third. It is exciting to see where paintings take us. I haven’t decided that this painting’s journey is done yet. I find that while the vines may have been the original inspiration, I am being drawn to other elements. And you are absolutely correct about the color consistency of Unison Pastels. Having that predictability of knowing what the color will be when it is reordered is critical. Thank you for you insights.

  3. Hi Tracy,l have learnt not to take things to heart.No two people see things in the same way,so if l think it works,that’s fine.

  4. I enjoyed reading this. The waterfall looks brilliant. Just right. I too put paintings I’m not sure of to the side for a while and revisit them at a later date.

    1. Thank you Liz. It’s always surprising to see what jumps out as needing to be adjusted when we step away from a painting for awhile. Looking at it with fresh eyes can make all of the difference.

  5. You are so right. I often leave a painting propped up in my kitchen and after walking past it several times will eventually see what is ‘needed’ to make it finished. Thank you.

  6. Fascinating. I recently repurposed some paper by using the soft brush attachment on my vacuum cleaner. It’s didn’t remove everything but meant I could restart. I think the unused half of the original painting could be ‘fixed’ in the same way with a shallower flow of water. I need to try a waterfall *adds to big list!

    1. A good option, Janet. I had not thought about using a vacuum cleaner to remove pastel from the paper. I tend to save my discarded pastel dust so I can make it into new sticks of pastel or other creative uses for the pigment. I’m definitely considering ideas for the other half of the original painting. With the stair-stepped rocks, a gentle waterfall is a strong contender. I’ll keep you posted on where the painting goes from here.

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