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Making the Most of a “Slump”

July 29, 2011

Many, if not most, gouache painters tend to work small.  You’ll find a lot of 2×3 up to 5×7 pieces by gouache painters.  For me, a standard size painting is 8×10 or 9×12.  Large means anything up to 16×20.  That still falls into the “small” category for oil and acrylic painters, but gouache doesn’t spread as fluidly over large areas.  It just simply dries too fast.    There are some exceptions to this size thing, of course.  Western artist Gordon Snidow does very large gouache paintings.  “Chilton’s Barn” is 36×45.

When I started painting, my standard size was 5×7.  The first time I did an 8×10, it seemed huge.  I recently did a 20×30.  I’m still trying to decide if I like painting quite that large.  Quite often when I do a group of small sketches and studies, it’s because I’m in between “larger” paintings.  I use that “down” time to experiment with subjects, techniques and colors.This time is a little different.  This time feels like a slump.  An artistic speed bump.  A creative sinkhole that I’m trying to climb out of.

We artists are quick to advise each other that the best way to deal with a slump is to paint or draw your way out of it.  Get back on the bicycle.  Climb back on that horse.  Pick yourself up, dust yourself off… okay, you get the point.  I’m doing that.  The pieces you see here are all little 5×7 studies and sketches.  Some of them are a combination of pencil and transparent watercolor, something new for me.  Having come off of a string of “larger” paintings, it feels a little awkward to work at this small size.

But there’s a method to what I’m doing.  As alluded to in my previous post “Agony & Ecstasy”, I’m starting to come to grips with the reality of our future adventure.  If you followed along in “Back Roads & Brushes”, you saw the agony we went through cleaning out the house and divesting ourselves of most of our worldly possessions.  Trust me, for me personally, what I’m agonizing over now is just as much of a struggle.

I’m trying to find some kind of balance between my higher end work and smaller, lower priced work that can be sold at town square festivals and even give me something to sell online in my Etsy shop.

William Wray just referred to my work as “sweet little paintings”.  Bill doesn’t pull punches, so, taken in the context of his reference, I’ll consider it a compliment.  Besides, he’s right.  That’s pretty much what I paint.

To make things work in our “travel-the-country-in-an-RV” future, I’ll need to focus even more on doing small work.   And I’ll need to do things that will have a wide appeal.  And, in considering prices, I need to take into account my buyers who have purchased my small work in the past.   So I’m taking advantage of the “slump”, revisiting some old skills, learning some new ones, and trying to give some creative thought to how we’ll approach the future.

I’m learning one thing for sure:  I still need to slow down.  I think it’s fine to do small work that can be sold at a very low price.

But it still needs to be the best I’m capable of.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. July 29, 2011 6:12 pm

    Ralph, I’m fairly new to gouache. I’ve been a pastel and an acrylic painter for many years and to me any painting smaller that 11 by 14 inches is downright tiny to me. So far most of my gouache paintings have been 11 by 14 a couple of 8 by 10s and my latest attempt of a gouache at 16 by 20 was an absolute disaster and will never ever be seen by anyone ever again.

    I find it interesting that you paint in such a small format. Perhaps that is what I should be doing, working in smaller formats.

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