The Sum of the Parts Has Very Little to Do With Money

How will our paintings be judged in the future? In my opinion the greatest paintings, those that have stood the test of time are sincere efforts where each part holds its own while staying subservient to the whole.

I see far too many poorly painted hands, ill-considered drapery and sloppy backgrounds slap dashed together and no consideration with regards to unity. I love the way that William McGregor Paxton typically achieved this in The Breakfast (see above). Paxton said, “Paint all things in relation to the focus.” He never said, “Don’t give a hoot about anything but the face.” The legendary acting coach, Constantin Stanislavski, famously remarked,”There are no small parts, only small actors.” The same holds true for painting, no small part is unimportant.

For me, the reason behind such a haphazard approach is pretty obvious. It’s a function of quantity over quality. It’s the mindset that the more portraits I paint, the more money I make. As an illustrator, and now as a portrait artist, my philosophy has always been to do my finest work, regardless of what I was being paid. Those who paint with one eye on the clock and one on the canvas will never achieve true mastery. When the meter is running how is it possible to create great paintings?

Back when I was an illustrator, I lived by, what I called the $10,000 rule. I would put $10,000 worth of effort into every painting I created, regardless of what I was being paid. I reasoned that when a potential client had an important commission, they would go to the highest quality artist, and ultimately my efforts paid off.

I’m afraid I can’t buy that the best strategy for a long, satisfying and lucrative career is churning out substandard work. Experience has taught me that the only way to realize my true artistic and earning potential is to put my focus on quality, not quantity. Until next time…

Comments

  1. Debby W says:

    Wonderful! So happy this blog is underway. It is rare to see a painting with as many elements as “The Breakfast” – it is intimidating. Hopefully it can become a challenge but for now … it’s intimidating! Thank you for sharing.

  2. Alan Carroll says:

    First of all, thank you for sharing your considerable talent and expertise.

    I totally agree with you on every point. If I may add, I’d agree and say that “fully considered” doesn’t of course mean that every element of a painting should be ‘fully realized.’ I mean, it’s true that hands (in particular) seem to be the weak link in many portraits, but that doesn’t mean that they need to be fully rendered in order to to work. The greats like Rubens, Velazquez etc. knew perfectly well when to leave whole areas of canvas loose and sketchy and when to focus our attention with finely observed detail.

    They of course were masters of anatomy, and so a loosely painted hand never looked like an afterthought but a deliberate choice considerate of the overall effect.

    • Thanks for your comments. Yes there is a huge difference between fully realized and over rendered. I’ll be addressing many these issues quite extensively in future posts.

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