Tuesday, November 26, 2013


In a previous post, I talked about my elephant with a damaged foot. As an artist, you don’t have to paint exactly what you see. This is a hard concept for some students to implement. I tell them that no one will ever see the setup. The objects will be put back on the shelf – but their painting will be there for all to see.

We begin by setting up a good still life composition, but often you need to make some adjustments. The shape of an object isn't quite right – modify it. Color not quite right – alter it. The elephant has a broken foot – fix it. I have a small brass horse with a missing tail – not a problem.

The late artist and teacher, Helen Van Wyk, had a name for painting a blemish just because it was there. She called it a “Gertrude”. Out of respect for Helen, I also refer to these distractions as “one of Helen’s Gertrudes”.

I find that after I lay in a painting, I don’t refer to my setup as often but continually judge the painting itself. The painting begins to take on a life of its own and I am now using the setup for reference only.

Your personal interpretation adds poetry to your painting, giving it life.  Replicating exactly what you see often results in a feeling of stiffness. All the objects, their relationship to each other, the shadows and the lighting need to join into a pleasing arrangement that sometimes can only be done on the canvas.You are working with pigments and their limitations. And you are trying to paint a three dimensional scene on a two dimensional surface.

This is also true for landscapes. Change an object's shape to better suit your composition, eliminate that distracting element, modify colors.  Make the changes that improve your painting.

The next time you add something that is not quite right “just because it was there”  (Oh, I have heard that statement in class so many times!) - just remember Gertrude.

Thank you for visiting.


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