Wednesday, January 08, 2020

Trying to Title a Painting

I completed a new painting a bit over a week ago and have not been able to come up with a good title for it.  Sometimes titles are easy.  For my charcoal and pastel portraits and figures, I've just used the subject's name plus the number in the sequence.  "James #4", for example.  These artworks are studies of the specific individual, so titling is easy.

This painting, however, is different.  Here's an image (click on it for a larger version):

The subject here is more ambiguous.  Everybody I've talked with has seen something different in it.  I know what I was thinking about when composing and painting it, but nobody else has interpreted it that way yet.  And that's not a bad thing at all. 

Many years ago, I was taking a painting class, and our homework assignment was to paint a still life.  So I went home, threw a bunch of things together, then winnowed them down to just two things: my Navy officer's hat and the old teddy bear from when I was a kid.  I liked them because of the contrast in colors and textures.  The hard black, white, and gold of the hat contrasted with the soft texture and warm browns of the teddy bear.  Here's how that painting turned out:

I thought it was an interesting study, certainly more so than the usual apples or flowers, but that was about it.  Then, in class, we critiqued each other's work.  When they got to this one, one of the other students said that he saw a military father who was going off to war and wasn't coming back, and the kid was going to have to grow up without a father, and it was one of the saddest paintings he'd ever seen.  Holy cow.  I thought "damn, it was just a still life ... ".  But I also learned that I can't control what others see in an artwork.  Everybody else comes to the viewing with a very different background, mood, likes/dislikes, and outlook, so everybody is going to see each artwork through their own lens. 

And so it is with my newest painting.  I expected that people would have different interpretations and I wasn't disappointed.  But I also realized that an artwork's title has a lot to do with how people interpret it.  Had I told these other people what the title was beforehand, I would not have heard some really interesting ideas.  Some of the interpretations:
   - The young woman has been through some very bad experiences, but she has come out on the other side and is moving forward with her life.
   - Civilization has collapsed and those left are learning to live with the results.
   - The girl represents innocence, and she's coming to realize the world as it really is.
   - The girl represents strength and confidence, able to handle anything the world can throw at her.
   - Hard times are coming.
And there are more.

So how do you come up with one title that can accommodate all those interpretations?  I haven't been able to.  I tried crowd-sourcing the title in a Facebook artist group and got a wide range of suggestions.  Most were simple and descriptive.  None covered all the interpretations I've heard so far.  I'd done this once before (written about in this post from 2018) and got a great title.  Not this time. 

At the moment, just for my records, I have a title.  But I'm not sharing it here.  I'd rather hear more new interpretations from others. 

Friday, January 03, 2020

Year In Review

About this time of the year, people often take a look back over the past year.  Well, okay, normal people do it sometime in December.  I'm lazy and held off until early January.  But hey, better late than never, right?

A few statistics.  Over the past 12 months, I've done 23 oil paintings that survived to get a title.  There were probably half as many again that got wiped out or otherwise destroyed.  Of the survivors, 8 were commissioned wedding paintings.  That's a good number for me, I think.  Any more and making the wedding paintings would be too much like a real job.  As it is, they're still a lot of fun and a great creative challenge.  Of the other paintings, ten were oil on panel figure and portrait studies, done during our weekly life sessions, most with some touchup work over the next day or two.  Another painting was a revision to a portrait from a few years ago - it was enough of a revision that I considered it a new work.  The remaining four paintings were total creations: "Reflection" is a psych study of a young woman, "The Conversation" is two people not having one, "Siren on the Styx" was a total invention from my subconscious (I think, but damned if I know for sure), and "Moving On" was my last painting of the year.

Oil painting wasn't my only medium.  I did 31 charcoal and pastel works on paper that survived to get titled, and maybe half again that number that went into the garbage.  All were figurative works.  I started the year doing two portraits for a couple who really deserved them.  I also did several portrait and figure works based on photo sessions with the lovely Natalie and Jazmin, both of whom are great models with a real talent for projecting their personality.  When I'm working from photos, I don't just copy the image, I try to find something that goes beyond what the camera saw.  In one case, finding that "something" required using Natalie's head from one image, arms from a second, and body from a third! 

Two more of my charcoal and pastel pieces were commissioned portraits.  Almost all the rest were studies that I began in our regular life sessions and then completed later.  At one point during the year, I did a big cleanup in the studio and found a bunch of old charcoal drawings from my life sessions between 2004 and 2010.  Some of those were fairly decent (maybe that says that I haven't learned anything since then?) and I thought I'd touch them up with pastels.  Most of those turned out well while some went in the trash. 

I also got to work with the WLOS TV news crews this year for another courtroom session.  Those are always interesting and fun.  Cameras are not allowed in federal courthouses, so news outlets will use artists to capture something of the proceedings.  This year, it was the sentencing of several county employees convicted of corruption.  I've written about the experience before.  Courtroom proceedings can be enjoyable as long as you're not one of the participants in the proceedings!

So that was a pretty good year.  For this year, I'm hoping to do about the same number of wedding paintings.  I want to see if I can do something more with the charcoal and pastel works (not sure what "more" means yet), and I want to develop a series of oil paintings along the lines of the last one completed.  It's ambitious, but if you're not striving for something, then what are you doing?