Finally finished a painting! “Finished” being, “I’ve done a few dozen edits to this canvas, painted and scraped, painted and scraped, and have come to a point where I’m not unhappy with it.” 

I’ve dreamed for a few years of doing some oil painting of the places I’ve backpacked. This scene is from the Grand Canyon, hiking west on the Tonto platform. 

I’ve got a few canvases going right now. I work on one, rotate it out, and work on another. They get to a point where they are OK looking, but boring – they looked like the things they looked like, and referencing a photo is a kind of rote task that is not terribly complicated. It lacked interest as a painting – which, when enjoying a really good painting in a gallery, elicits movement and stillness, materiality, and mystery.

So I’ve been editing. I’ll paint awhile, and if it doesn’t feel good, I’ll scrape and paint over it. Lay the canvas on the floor, splash some thinner on it, blot and leave it overnight. Day after day, waiting for a result I cannot envision, but trust I will intuitively feel. After several weeks at it, this result arrived last night.

Last evening I repainted the foreground with a flat wash, adding thinner to blend and melt. While doing it I felt like, “here we go again with a useless edit”, until suddenly I didn’t feel that. Somehow, accidentally, the flatness had the elusive depth, stillness, and movement I’ve been trying to get at.

Previous foreground with shrubs. It’s OK, but… not satisfying.

I sent a picture to two hiking brethren. Silas named the peak (Gelkie Peak, we think). Matt said, “I’m in the photo! Why aren’t I in the painting?” The truth was that the painting had a figure earlier, which was clunky and oversized and looked bad, so I removed it. Listening to this prompt from the universe conveyed via text, I tried again.

Transformed! This right-sized character created an instant sense of scale and foreboding. There’s just enough detail to elicit a sense of being there (I love the legs being obscured at the knees – that hint is all that is needed to elicit the density of the foreground shrubs – who knew??). 

This morning, I added a few finishing touches, and I’m calling this canvas done. It feels so good. Painting is so weird.