Saturday, June 8, 2013

Revisiting, reworking, adjusting, but not looking back!

Over the last few months there's been a little flurry of 'adjusting' previously finished works. Usually this is for small color adjustments, or the edition of an element to improve and strengthen the composition. This really came to an apex this week, when I grabbed the 'bull by the horns' and stripped the varnish off a couple of older paintings to adjust them.

One was from 2012 and the other from 2011. A fair degree to time and care is required when removing varnish, and it's something I hate to do. I always say 'when a painting's finished it's finished',  and I like to continually move forward, and not look back and 'fiddle'. I'd never get anything 'done', if I spend my life tweeking and refining works. For me the art of growing and developing as an artist is with the process of moving forward. However, having said all that sometimes I'm weak; and these couple of paintings continued to niggle my compositional disposition, until eventually the mineral spirits came out and the varnish came off.

Removing varnish - I mix my own semi-gloss oil based varnish, it can be removed with 100% mineral spirits. Since I do this so infrequently, I forget this aspect, so I began with 'odorless' mineral spirits. After a while I realized this wasn't doing much, so I switched to the real stuff and results were dramatic. (Lesson learned, until I forget again). The method I use is to cover the painting in a clean rag soaked in spirits, I let it sit there for a while and then gentle wipe my way across the work. The trick is to be consistent in your rubbing and application of the spirits, and make sure you don't start to pick up any paint (which can happen if you're not careful). Once I feel the varnish is removed, (use your own judgement here), I then wash the work with water. I'm sure that last step is paranoia, but I like to know all spirits have been removed. Once it's good and dry, it's ready to go! *Also at this final point, it will be pretty clear if any varnish is remaining, if so, just repeat the process.


This post features a few before and after images of paintings that sat in my studio for a while before I  revisited them for compositional reasons - making them better, stronger paintings.

Blue Iris on blue
36X24            Acrylic on board

Removed varnish for this one - Always liked this one, but knew from the moment I finished it, that I'd placed too many objects in the center. I had wanted to create an illusion of height and thinness, but had over killed it with the object placement. I brought a few more recurring fruit into the table arrangement to fix this. I also adjusted a few iris petals on the right hand side to remove the bare diagonal stems.

Delphinium with apricots during Indian summer
24X18                         Acrylic on board

Removed varnish for this one - This painting felt too empty in the lower part of the table cloth. It had been completed as a gallery demo, so time was precious. It had been left blank intentionally to give the eye somewhere 'to rest', where not much was happening. But too much space is a bad thing; now a year and half later, I took the chance to arrange a few elements to fill in that space.

 Tulips, Oranges and limes over blue
24X36                     Acrylic on board

This painting I felt needed a better compositional bridge across the items on the table. My eye got stuck in the middle, and it felt like two parts of a single painting. Adding the lemons helped the composition flow more smoothly and provided an additional color for the eye to react too. Previously the compliment Orange tone had stood out on it's own too much, the yellow saved this issue.

Irises hanging over green
34 X46                    Acrylic on wood

Finally, this painting is an illustration of a minor adjustment. Sometimes the smallest thing, like a single cherry is all that is needed to strengthen the arrangement! 


  1. When in doubt, reach for the lemons!
    That could be your motto, Angus : )

  2. So coincidental for me. I had the same viewpoint...Done is done, maybe not perfect since there are endless options, but the words of my now deceased mentor played in my head as if
    he were speaking over my shoulder: "Don't niggle." It seems I've found the perfect solution...The canvas of a Thousand Faces...Well, it is really a southwest landscape of red rock and a RR trestle. Yesterday I finished it's ninth revision...
    not adjustment. Every inch of the canvas had new paint.
    I posted them all....which is as close as I'll ever come to a blogging experience! Could be this canvas has even more than nine lives....It is such fun actually to have your cake and eat it too.