Hemingway and Courage under Fire

Still Life Composition Before the Big Decision

Still Life Composition Before the Big Decision

One can have a really super work nine-tenths completed, and then one does one little element and the whole thing suddenly is off again.

Robert Motherwell interview, Robert Motherwell & the New York School: Storming the Citadel, film by Catherine Tatge

How unusual to awaken at dawn on a Saturday, already in the mood to enter the studio.  I didn’t!  The warm bed was too nice and the 40-degree weather didn’t make the garage sound all-that-inviting.  So I slept a couple more hours, then rose.  Entering the Cave at 8:00 was still early enough for me on a Saturday.  The Hemingway biography was waiting, and so was the watercolor.

I propped up the watercolor so I could look up at it occasionally while reading the Hemingway biography, and hopefully make some written notes about how to proceed with it.  But after I recorded my fifth suggestion, W H A M !!! a composition problem that had bothered me from the outset of this painting blasted to the surface.  I was always grousing over the issue of darkness, and why it never happens in my watercolors.  I continually looked at Andrew Wyeth watercolors of dim interiors, particularly Alvaro and Christina.  And then, suddenly the thought struck me–darken the light-colored door, all the way to the skillet.  In doing that, perhaps the dramatic lighting will be concentrated more on the actual still life, instead of dispersed throughout the door in the upper-third of the composition.  Perhaps then the viewer’s eye would go more quickly to the congeries of objects clustered at the heart of this composition.  Right now, I only see the upper-third of the composition competing with the heart of it.

Well . . . after days of investment in this still life, I suddenly felt “tight”–suddenly gripped by the fear of losing this painting after all those days, blowing it, destroying something that had promise.  As Motherwell mentioned, a work of art 9/10 finished, and one little thing makes it collapse.  However, I have found nothing but dissatisfaction with this still life being so light, no matter how dark I made the upper left corner, or the skillet, or the inside of the Canada Dry crate, or the shadows to the bottom right of the suitcase.  The overall painting, to me, was still light, and that is because of that gigantic light-colored door behind it all.

I wrote in my journal–THINK ABOUT IT.  Don’t rush.  Think about it.  This is going to be a profound step; it’s going to change everything–the lantern, the crate, the backpack inside the crate, the rods sticking up through the composition.   This could be like pulling a thread from a garment, and you keep pulling till the sleeve finally falls off at the shoulder.  Ruined.  THINK ABOUT IT.

Oh hell, read more of the Hemingway biography!  So, I did, for another hour.  As I continued to read about his notion of courage required to be a successful writer, I finally sighed, put down the book, and went to work, soaking the upper third of the painting and laying down wash after wash of stained colors, slowly deepening the value of the door behind the still life.  Now the light outside is fading for good–it has been dark and overcast, threatening rain all day in Texas (teasing actually–it hasn’t rained at all here).  At 3:30 I am convinced that the light will not return, so I took the painting outside to photograph under natural light, and now post it below.  This is how it is now.  I am going to leave the background alone for the time being and return to wok on the suitcase at the bottom, then the shadows below it.  I cannot change what I have done, and I am glad I like it better than before–this was not an easy step for me, this late into the painting.  But I’m glad I sucked it up and did it.

Thanks for reading.

The Still LIfe, as it Stands Now

The Still LIfe, as it Stands Now


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3 Responses to “Hemingway and Courage under Fire”

  1. Playamart - Zeebra Designs Says:

    nice! i like the wash/washes, and they add warmth to the painting. did you lift some color from behind the lantern, or perhaps it’s from different lighting?

    i like your choices of reading material! z


    • davidtripp Says:

      Thank you very much! I did not lift out any colors behind the lantern, but I have darkened the lantern itself. As to lighting, my photography is not great by anyone’s standard, and neither is my photoshopping, so you don’t see much consistency in my visual posts.


  2. artsifrtsy Says:

    I really like how this is coming along – my eye is drawn to details I never noticed before like the doorknob and the items in the tackle box. Very nice!


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