Knowing when to stop

mechanical in charcoal

As we stood in front of a large Kandinsky at the beginning of MoMA’s “Inventing Abstraction, 1910 – 1925 show, a pal of mine said that he could not figure out how Kandinsky knew when a picture was finished. It can sometimes be hard to know. Sometimes it’s obvious; sometimes it is time for dinner and sometimes friends advise, “Stop before you screw it up.” The charcoal on toned gesso above is a case in point. When doing an oil, I typically prepare the surface with a toned gesso (rather than plain white gesso). It gives a picture a certain unifying tonality. And, I lay the whole thing out in charcoal, using a big, fat stick of the stuff. As I lay out the design in charcoal, I use my fingers or a stump to do some shading. The idea is that, if I paint very thinly, the charcoal drawing underneath will show through in a sort of ghostly way. I learned to do this by reading about how Titian worked. Anyway, when I was done with the charcoal under-drawing and getting ready to paint in the case at hand, several friends said that the picture was done, to step away from it, keep my hands where they are visible and drop that brush. So, I gave the work a good spraying with fix and here it is, done and done. Sometimes you need to be told when enough is enough.

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