The Flowery Cake Shoppe of Compromise

A compromise is the art of dividing a cake in such a way that everyone believes he has the biggest piece.

 — Ludwig Erhard

for Mick's mum
I talked myself into an ambiguous state in my last post. See, although it is just a painting in exchange for some canvas that Mick probably would have thrown away if I didn’t take it, I have to admit that I wanted Mick & Mother to really love the painting. I wanted him to feel that the debt had not only been repaid, but had been handsomely recompensed. I wanted to give him something that was a little better than what he was expecting.

When I sat down with a resigned sigh to start the painting, I knew that I would do my best to produce something that ticked all the conventional “Still Life With Flowers” boxes.

Untitled

As it turned out, I managed to strike a compromise between those conventions, my technical limitations, and my abhorrence of a certain kind of impasto oil painting with soft-edged, ruffle-daubed, faintly muddy-colored and impressionistic flowers. I was so out of my depth, tackling this subject matter, that I really thought long and hard about what I wanted, and how it should look.

When I am unsure of myself, I tend to splat a lot of gunky paint on, every color I have, aiming for “texture” and “interesting” messes, hoping that I will manage to “save” it all at the end by some well-placed motifs and a bit of stitching; these are leftover bad habits from the scrapbooking/mixed-media school of art that was such a rage for a few years. My approach is usually very heavy-handed and, yes, why not say it?…lazy. I’m too lazy to think things through, to pay attention to composition, values, line, and order; and the rare times when I do, I drop them all by the time I have the brush in my hand—and then spend as many hours trying to cover my mistakes up with yet more paint, ending with a really hopeless sludge of splatters and childish shapes, the color of mud.

Untitled

I was so determined to steer clear of this approach, here, and so I very atypically kept to a strict palette of about 5 colors. I took three separate photographs—two of flowers growing around the yacht club, one of an empty olive oil bottle in my kitchen—and used them to sketch an arrangement. I decided on liquid acrylics with some gloss medium for glazing, and aimed for a painting that evoked watercolours rather than oil paints, leaving areas of white canvas exposed to serve as the highlights, rather than painting them in later (which never quite works)…I wanted the whole painting to be simple, almost graphic, in its shapes and colors. I wanted clean hues, with lots of transparency and the illusion of light through glass and water. At the last minute I rejected the idea of patterned tablecloth or lace-curtain backgrounds, and I am so glad that I put a very pale, neutral background in, instead, as it doesn’t compete with the rest and the feeling of the painting remains one of clean spaces and light.

*breathes out in relief* Surprisingly (to me) the time I devoted to really thinking very hard about what I wanted, until I could see it in my head, and what I woud have to do to get that look, paid off in the end…because the washes were kept thin, translucent and minimal, the actual working time of this painting was about 6 hours, not counting drying time…and no time spent covering up, scraping back, or trying to right any wrongs with cheap tricks.

This experience has been another valuable lesson to me! I am pretty sure that Mick will be happy with it, and I am happy with the way it turned out, myself. Many big wobbling slices of pink and white cake for everyone!