May 21, 2012

Revising Finished Paintings

Before now I don't think I've ever gone back and significantly revised any of my wildlife paintings that I had previously considered finished. Usually, if I am later not satisfied with a painting I try to just learn from its mistakes and move on, applying what I learned to the next painting. This time, however, I decided to go ahead and change a painting and see if changing what I thought was wrong with it really made it a stronger piece or not. In this case, it is my painting of African antelope, a male and female impala.

First, let's look at the original version:

Now, let me explain why I felt this painting needed some significant changes. First, it was never clear to viewers what the upper murky lavender background was. My idea was that it was the side of a big mountain, like Kilimanjaro, too big to see the whole mountain within the image. But I didn't pull that off well and no one ever got that. Most viewers seemed to think I had just painted some weird purplish storm clouds. It doesn't do any good if I'm the only one who understands my painting. I shouldn't have to explain to someone, "No, that's a mountain, not clouds." Yikes! So that needed to be changed.

The next thing that made this painting a little weak was the lack of balance. All the weight of the image was on the left. I put a little gnarly branch on the ground to try to help balance it, but the branch was just too small and light to balance the larger dark area of the male impala. The whole thing felt lopsided. I needed more "weight" on the right side.

So, what do I do to fix these two issues? I needed to either make the background mountain look more like a mountain, as originally intended, or make it look more like sky, as viewers thought it was. I decided to go for sky because I could more easily use the sky elements to help balance the painting at the same time. Since the animals were obviously in bright sunshine it made more sense to have a sunny sky than a stormy one. I changed the sky to mostly clear blue with some wispy white clouds. I kept the white clouds to the left to help lighten the weight on the side. The darker blue on the right helps add weight there for balance.

To fix the balance issue even more, I added some trees to the right. Having more objects on that side, along with some darker green colors, added some weight and helped balance the painting. The curving branches and angles also help lead the viewer's eye back into the painting whereas before, with nothing to stop it, the eye could easily follow the horizon line right off and out of the image.

While I was at it, I added bluish tones to the hills to better tie them with the sky color and push them farther back.

Here is the revised painting:

I think in this case the revision was worth the effort and made it a stronger painting overall. Actually making the changes helped me see why things did or didn't work more clearly than if I had just imagined the changes and tried to learn from that. So, not only do I feel I have a stronger piece now, I learned more from it as well.

What do you think? Which version do you like better and why?

Did you ever revise your "finished" painting later? When you did, did you feel it was worth it? Share your thoughts and experiences in the Comments section below.

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