In my last post I mentioned my recurring fascination with spirals, curves, and swirls. At the time I was just beginning a new collage that I hoped to have finished in two weeks or less. That was a little over a month ago, so you can guess that things didn’t go exactly as planned. In fact, that piece turned out to be quite a struggle.
I began with an abstract idea involving curves. I sketched a fluid arrangement of interlocking swirls directly onto a recycled 9″ x 12″ canvas panel. The panel had originally been used to playfully clean my brush while taking a studio class with John Sevcik. I intentionally left it that way as an underpainting. From the sketch I jumped right in to the collage even though I hadn’t worked out all my color choices. That was where I ran into trouble. I planned to see what would happen if I let the totally unrelated underpainting have a subconscious influence on my color choices. This turned out to be a mistake, though not a fatal one. It just made my progress slower.
The extraneous color influence might have been less distracting if I’d had a very firm idea of where I wanted to go, but the nebulous color scheme I had in mind this time had a hard time competing. I laid out some color choices over my design at various stages to help visualize the next step. Once I cleared them away to make room to work, however, the somber colors underneath strove against the more vivid colors I was trying to visualize.
To make smooth curves with irregular straight-edged pieces of paper, I work the inside of each curve first then smooth out all the jagged edges when I work the outside. This piece was entirely composed of curves changing direction every few inches, so I had to jump continually between color sections. This made it hard to develop a rhythm work rhythm and even harder keep track of where I put the piece I wanted next (the one that was the exact shade of blue-green that I was certain I’d been holding a minute ago). I kept some of the smallest pieces close to hand on a blank sketchbook page while others congregated in small piles all over my workspace.
I did start getting some pleasing color transitions in a few of the sections I was working on, but that also was a trap. With most of the collage going badly, or at least only proceeding with a struggle, the parts I liked initially became almost too precious to tamper with. I didn’t let that keep me from making changes, however. Hardly a single area of the collage wasn’t tweaked at least once. Still, it was another mental barrier to progress.
After I had most of the main areas roughed in, I spent several more sessions making minor revisions. Unfortunately, it very hard to capture this stage. What happens is this: I’ll look at my nearly-finished collage and pronounce it a total waste of time and effort. I just want to finish it and get it out of my sight. It will sit there piteously for a while and eventually I’ll see one thing I can fix — an edge that can be softened, a color shifted, or a noisy section toned down. I might add just a half-dozen new pieces, then go back to despising it for a few hours, or even a few days, until I figure out what to fix next. Each step is so small it doesn’t seem worth documenting, until before I know it I’ve actually done another six hours work, 20-30 minutes at a time.
Thats where I am now. It’s arguably a finished piece — I’ll probably put it in the upcoming show at Grundy Library just to have something new to enter — but I’m still hating it, so there’s still work to be done.