In Perpetual Pursuit of Perfection

I love this Narragansett Bay project. Through it, I have been honing my skills as a landscape painter. Each time I started a new bay painting I hoped it would be better than the last. Ultimately I hoped I would get to a place where I could call the painting PERFECT!



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Perfect! That word feels so good to me. Doesn’t it feel good to you? You look Perfect! Your work is Perfect! You are Perfect! It’s what I’ve been after in my art. It’s what most of us are after. A perfect family, a perfect car, a perfect body, a perfect blog post!

Apparently though, that’s not how things really work.   Peter Fleck writes in his book The Blessings of Imperfection that we are built to make mistakes. We learn by trial and error. In fact, the very basis of evolution is errors. A mutation becomes a miracle…until it isn’t anymore and then another mutation comes along.

imagesSo is anything actually ever perfect? Is anything ever completely beyond improving?


Leonardo da Vinci once said, “ Art is never finished, only abandoned.” What did he mean? Is he saying that an artist, even a great artist, cannot reach perfection with his work? To most people Leonardo’s work is a 10 out of 10. Can it be perfect even if he doesn’t think so?

Perhaps perfection is simply an invention of the imagination, and maybe we are a bit obsessed with it. Are we overlooking the sublimity of the commonplace in order to pursue the impossibility of perfection?


Well I guess I do have fun and make messes sometimes : )

This inquiry has had me thinking recently about the personal cost of striving so hard with each new painting, for that nebulous supremacy. I realized that for all the years of striving for, and believing in some kind of perfection, I lost-out on some of the joy of creation, as well as on the freedom to make mistakes and messes. I also think that at times I have overlooked my own voice, my unique contribution. Perhaps in my stressful striving, I missed noticing little mutations in my work that could open up new vistas in my artistic evolution.

I think I will follow Sara Glenn of the Painter’s Keys advice and “Fire with impunity the constipating sin of perfection” and replace it with the liberating blessing of imperfection.

Mona-Lisa-painting-862049 2


Sixty Paintings in One Day



If you have ever gone to a figure drawing class, chances are you have done a gesture drawing. As a warmup for longer poses, gesture drawings are like warming up before a run. You get your eyes, mind and hand on the same page literally and figuratively.


This one to five minute sketch  introduces you to your subject and loosens you up. The best thing about a gesture drawing is that it forces you to look at the whole model at once, to capture the feel in a few strokes. When drawing or painting our attention often focuses on the details and, to our detriment, we don’t see the overall image. Our brains are actually wired to see detail, so to override our biological impulse to render the eyelashes first, we can impose a  brief time limit. Shorter times translate into drawings with more gesture, vitality, and authenticity.


Recently I transferred the idea of gesture drawing to plein air painting. I set out to paint sixty, five-minute paintings in one day using gouache. As you might know if you read my posts, I just turned sixty, so it seemed like a good idea… at the time.


It was


and it wasn’t.

It was good  because the exercise helped me see the whole image right away. The influential French painter Ingres once told his students, “When studying nature, firstly have eyes for nothing but the whole”. With such a rigorous time constraint to fill the page, I had no time to see anything but the “whole”.


However, doing sixty paintings is an endurance event. In my planning I had neglected to figure in enough time to get from one painting site to the next. Often it was only a few steps, but I needed to move my easel, water and paints each time. The wind was whipping and constantly threatened to knock my whole set-up over, and did 4 times. Also, partly due to the wind, the gouache was drying on my palette pretty fast and after a few paintings I needed to clean up and replace colors. The whole process took longer and was more arduous than I had planed. Fatigue and the sunset were upon me before I could finish.


I completed the last of my 60 paintings in the studio using whatever was there as models and shortened the time limit for each to 3 minutes. I had to get home! 


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Though some of the landscape paintings are pretty abstract, they do have the feel of the path, the beach and the marsh.  I am tempted to take them back out and do a more “finished” rendering of the areas, but won’t. They are my gesture paintings and I will include some of them in my show, “21 Months, 147 Miles, Painting the Bay” at Dryden Gallery this coming fall. And the price you ask? Why sixty dollars of course! ; )