Creating art without Undo

black and white photo
Years ago, I inherited a darkroom from my uncle. Well, not the room itself but everything that goes in it. I learned how to process my own film and make film-noirish black-and-white prints. 

I loved waiting for the ghostly image to appear on the paper. I hated all the time and money I spent trying to perfect each print. Every mistake meant another sheet of costly photo paper and another 10 minutes cycling through the chemical baths. 

I missed the Undo button on my computer. Perhaps that's why I packed up my darkroom and surrendered to digital photography. I'm having the same experience learning to paint. Where's that Undo button on my palette? 

I can show you what I mean in this series of paintings from a class I'm taking at Kirkland Art Center. In the first one below, I've just started adding color to the underpainting. 
My acrylic still life, first session
So far so good. Nothing to undo yet. I can fix the most obvious problem -- bringing those floating objects down to earth -- by expanding the shadows and darkening them at the base.

In the next class session, I experimented with hues for the background. But what happened to my lemon? (Yes, that's what it's supposed to be.) It's rolled toward the edge of the table and gone all two-dimensional. Undo button, please. 
My acrylic still life, session 2
Class session 3 and the background is finished. It's neutral, with just enough variation to keep the eye moving. It's exactly right. Except it's boring. Something's missing. That's when my instructor says the terrible word. "Drapery."
My acrylic still life, session 3
I spent the next 2 classes wrestling with the drapery. Unfortunately I didn't take photos of the intermediate stages. You can bet I longed for my Undo button then, wanting to go back to that boring but painterly background. At one point, my drapery folds looked like death rays from space. My instructor helped me turn them back into harmless fabric.
My acrylic still life, finished
I'm happy with the final painting. But when I look at that red ball, I wish I could hit the Undo button one more time and return to a previous version. Oh well.


  1. Haha, very cool to see the progression of that painting. I have a canvas too, that I keep covering up with new layers because what's on it turns to mud. Maybe the undo button is something we have to invent?


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