A Change in Plans



Recently, I’ve become obsessed with what artists do when they have a change in plans. When paintings don’t happen quite the way they ought to, how does the artist respond? The mind’s eye is a tricky thing- somehow it just tends to gloss over details that in practical application turn out to be much more complex. It turns out that this discrepancy between the imagined and the real is something we all share in common.
My latest piece in progress, “ALCHEMIST,” is a perfect example. My initial plan, evident in my underpainting above was that an open door would be behind the wizard character, streaming light behind his head in a halo effect. When I got into the gritty part of the painting and laid down color, I realized this plan was inherently flawed. The only way the door could emit enough light was if the sun was coming straight through horizontally, and this would only happen at sunset. I would have had to squeeze in some sort of landscape with a setting sun behind the man. This threw way too much detail into what needs to be a much simpler read for a clear silhouette of the character.
I discarded the entire idea, closed the door and hung a lamp from the ceiling as a light source instead. This made a lot more sense. Logically, no self respecting wizard would brew magic potions from super secret recipes with the damn door open anyway.
Artists throughout history have done this. There is actually a specific term, “pentimento” that in Italian roughly translates as “repentance.” It refers to areas of a painting that have been painted over and changed, visibly noticeable due to a change in surface texture in the paint. If they’re not visible x-rays are often used to discover them. Everyone from Vermeer to Waterhouse had pentimenti (plural for pentimento) in their work. This record of fallibility is actually one of the reasons why I work with real materials. Someday, I hope an art historian will x-ray one of my paintings the same way they do with master painters like Carvaggio and say, “Aha! He was human, after all.” Wouldn’t that be cool?

2 replies
  1. Mom
    Mom says:

    Very, very cool. I see that you moved his thumb too, to a more natural position. Now he doesn’t look like he is taking a pulse. Interesting composition.

  2. Colin
    Colin says:

    Yes- that was one of the more minor adjustments as I corrected his anatomy and such according to my reference. I’m glad you like the composition I planned this one pretty thoroughly, though of course I made changes anyway!


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