Friday, April 06, 2007

If at first you don't succeed............

Giverny Trees 1996 (Private Collection)
12.75" x 9.95", pastels on Rembrandt pastel board
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Have you ever tried to produce another version of a piece you've already sold? The pastel work above - of the trees in the field next to the lily pond part of the garden at Giverny - was sold about 10 years ago. I've always really liked the image and the combination of a very natural subject and a somewhat abstract banding which works both vertically and horizontally. It's also curious because the dominant blue shades are in the foreground (shot against the light) rather than the background which is dominated by the bleached summer grass and the bright light yellow leaves of the trees.

I've written before about working in series and the nature of serial process before (think Monet and his haystacks - or Maggie and Moose!) and if you're interested in the latter you might want to take a look at Robert Genn's clickback responses to his article on this topic.

However, the topic today is slightly different. It's about exploring the same view - working from a photograph - and trying to duplicate but make it different and keep it fresh!

Interestingly Robert Genn, in his comments in the above clickback, recommends imagining you're actually outside and can feel the air and the breeze really helps if you're working in the studio from reference material. For me, the particular reference shot for this view always transports me back to the day it was taken. If you look at this map of Monet's garden at Giverny, I was standing in the water garden - on the bottom edge of the lily pond in the middle - inbetween the seat where Monet used to sit and the boundary fence. These are the trees in the field which adjoins the property (situated off the bottom of the map). It was late afternoon on a sunny Saturday in September and the crowds in the water garden were beginning to thin out. I was on my way back to the coast and the ferry having just travelled up to Paris overnight from Provence on the motorail. I'd spent the morning at the Musee de L'Orangerie in Paris - seeing Les Nympheas. As you can imagine the whole of that day is burned into my brain and I have very vivid memories of it!

Back to the artwork! A while ago, I reproduced Giverny Trees in coloured pencil for myself.

It certainly looks different but I don't like it quite as much as the original version in pastel. I decided to have another go - partly for the exhibition I've got coming up (and this decision in part accounts for the lack of work you've seen from me recently).

In my efforts to make the work different I have been trying different sorts of supports.

So far I've got three new versions produced - on three different supports - and I'm not happy with a single one of them. They all look different but none of them look good! So what's going wrong? Possible reasons:
  • first version. I couldn't find my original reference photo and started work on a different type of surface using Giverny #2 in coloured pencil as the reference. Giverny #2 is on blue Canson paper. This version is on aubergine colourfix and totally lacks subtlety. I've flattened it.
  • second version. I changed to a pale blue colourfix and tried again. Same sort of problem - but this time lacks the range of values too. I attacked it with solvent and went for a more abstract look - but it still looks like rubbish to me
  • third version. Searched and found the original reference photo and the photo of the Giverny #1 and switched back to paper - a yellowy cream Lana Tints pastel paper. Progress to date suggests it's exceptionally boring and the colours simply aren't working on the paper.
I'm learning quite a lot about what makes the first one work - but have not yet succeeded in my mission! I'm now minded to get out the original surface and my pastels and to try again in pastel - you may see another piece from me. Shortly. Or maybe not - this is turning into a battle between perseverance versus patience.

If you've got any tips for what you do when trying to reproduce a piece do please leave them as a comment - you never know, one may strike a chord with me or others!

Some more notes:
  • The house and gardens at Giverny are open daily (except Mondays) between 1st April and 31st October, from 9.30am until 6.00pm.
  • Thanks to Louise for suggesting the subject of this blog post after listening to much whinging from me.
  • Apologies for the quality of the image at the top. It's from a photo taken after it had been framed. Spot the pre-website habit!
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I need orange said...

The thing that strikes me when I look at these two images is that the first one has so much more value contrast. The second is much more in the middle ranges (less light and less dark). I love contrast, so for me, the second one is more bland, less exciting.

Those two strong diagonals at the bottom of the first image are missing in the second -- I think this, too, is part of my preference for the first.

I've been interested, reading your posts, and some of the writing at places you've sent us, how cerebral a lot of painting/drawing is. How much planning, how much thinking ahead.

One reason I play with any art medium is to give my right brain some time to come forward (I program computers as my day job). With my own work, I deliberately avoid thinking about *why* I like this vs. that, and let my right brain choose. Mostly. :-)

Anonymous said...

I admire both your perseverance and your patience. I've never tried to reproduce something, because by the end of working on the original, I'm tired of it. No patience left.

Maybe 10 years later it'd come back. Maybe. You're an inspriation. ;)


Anonymous said...

First off, kudos for you for trying this. I have learned the most from those subjects I have tried to "do over". No two are ever identical. Ask any forger.
Each one will have its lesson to teach and the finished product is not the only thing realised from this kind of exercise.
Go for the pastel. But before you do.....have a nice glass of heady French wine...I am sure he would have too! Great blog message, Katherine.

Casey Klahn said...

I suffer from the same malady. Rarely will a re-do appear as fresh and well composed as my first efforts.
Sometimes I resort to projecting, gridding or scanning (my own original work or jpeg or slide) as ways of getting the composition exactly correct, just to eliminate that variable.
Also, I may need to revisit my value study. Perhaps make a new one, because I get too hung up on choosing the colors, and skip what normally is second-nature when starting a fresh work: value composition.

Ed Terpening said...

If I attempt a re-do (which is rare) I change both the scale and palette of colors. I find this allows the new work to have its own character.

Robyn Sinclair said...

The first painting is an exceptionally lovely piece of work, Katherine - if you could just dash off another it probably wouldn't have been the case. IMHO you probably would have been happy with No2 if you hadn't had No1 to compare it with. I'd love to see another pastel version and may I second the vote for a glass of good French red to get you back in the mood.

Sarah said...

Interesting post Katherine, I like the use of blue and yellow, given the subject and place (his dining room!) and the lines, abstract qualities in a figurative painting are facinating. When I am out "collecting" for paintings I sketch, make lots of notes, concentrait very hard on all my senses and photograph. Have done it for years, it is quite tiring but works and with training it is possible to recall a sence of place even after many years. I also think that revisiting a piece will condense your initial reactions, which can make for interesting results.

Making A Mark said...

Thanks for all the comments - lots of good ideas - I'm going to review them all before trying this one again.

Sarah - it's funny you should spot the blue and yellow. I was very impressed with the colour scheme of the dining room - it seemed so daring even now never mind then! I'm sure it had influenced me as I know every time I think about that visit I rerun the whole visit in my head. I so vividly remember my total astonishment at the way he mixed his colour palette of flowers in the garden through my interest in the contents of the house and its decoration, all the way through to the water garden and back and finishing in that massive studio.

Maybe we should have a "Bloggers go wild with paint at Giverny" sometime soon?

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