Anne Lamott


Anne Lamott is a lovely writer, funny and astute.  Her book about writing espouses the virtues of getting off your duff and just putting words onto a piece of paper.  According to her, it does not really matter how dreadful it is, the important thing is to get that s****y first draft pushed out.  Then you work on cleaning it up.  I don’t know if she intended those self-same instructions to be applied to painting, but that is very close to how I begin a painting.  I panic.  There is no reason for it, it is just there.  There is so much promise in a blank canvas - and so very many ways to screw it up.  

I can find a perfectly nice photo and then I sort of begin to make the decisions about how big, how to fit it on the page, whether or not I can really draw that whatever-it-is.  Rule #1 – a good photo almost never equals a good painting.  Photos are photos and paintings are paintings.  

I begin by staring at the photo – trying to analyze and or/visualize the values, composition, color, the usual stuff.   In other words, I usually begin a painting with dithering and equivocating.  Eventually, I bite and just dive in.  

Other artists plan things.  They work out a whole palette before they begin anything.  They sketch, they do value studies; they have all kinds of tricks to avoid screw up.  I’ve seen sketches that I thought were much nicer than the finished product.  I’m safe there; I can’t plan a dang thing.  The finished product is the only product.

I try to begin with a sketch or sorts, directly on the canvas.  I am usually way off, because I am not a particularly good delineator.  Then I put in blocks of a swath a color here and there.  At that point, I begin to rub out here and there in equally large swaths.  Then it is back and forth; already I am leaving the photo.  Eventually the rag has most of the colors on it and I will just use the dirty rag to lay in large areas that way.  It is surprisingly efficient, very like finger painting.  And sometimes I never get it beyond this stage.