about all the little details.

As Ferris Beuller wisely reminded us, life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.

I spend a lot of time rushing. And this shortcoming often applies to my painting, as well.

Of course, one of the so-called rules of watercolour painting that I picked up on early on in my artistic efforts was that in watercolour timing is gosh darn nearly everything. Almost every technique and method somehow relates to the timing of the application of the paint mixture onto the surface during a window of time while there is a certain moisture level on the paper or a particular dryness of the last application or at a very specific moment of diffusion of pigments. Timing can change the final look of a piece dramatically. Vibrancy comes from precision.

Another of course, because of course, I mistook timing for speed.

That is to say, I have had this knot in my brain as I reach for my brush to put paint onto the page that precision timing was all about being fast and efficient. I got tangled up in the notion that one wet the page and then zip-zap-zooey one flung the paint around in a glorious way, without hesitation, to create the perfect piece of art. I foolishly thought it was about racing the evaporation of the water.

And sometimes it is.

But usually it is not.

I have learned, slowly, that in fact is goes a lot more like this: some artists are not so much good because they are fast, some artists are fast because they are good.

short backwards strokes

Last fall I realized that there was a certain beauty to be found in boundless intracacy. In the details. I dug into the art of sketching backwards from where I usually started. Usually, I would draw the shape of the whole then work inwards to elaborate on the details. A building would materialize as a box on the horizon and then the doors, windows, eaves, ledges, bricks and more would fill in the inside as if I was colouring inside the lines. A tree would begin as a silhouette and then I would scribble in the leaves and the branches and the shadows and all the internal shapes to make it more tree-like. But taking that backwards, a building might start as a valance light fixture on a brick wall that extended outward to fill outwards. A tree might start as a collection of inner branch-like shapes with some details leaves and shadows and then maybe only imply that the tree went beyond that. I think our natural inclination is to show the whole, but the edges of objects are only artificial boundaries we impose on them and in telling their stories through art sometimes its the details that are the most interesting.

I finished the last week of the latest watercolour course just the other night and the instructor mentioned offhand that sometimes he will work on a painting for months, for a couple hours each session a few times per week. He didn’t outright say it, but it pretty much told us that his best work is slow and methodical.

My goal for this summer is, I think, to narrow in on the details and slow down.

When I gifted away a bunch of my painting last chrishmus I got asked repeatedly: how long did it take you to paint this?

I dunno. I’d reply. Like, an hour.

The paintings were nice. Simply, but nice. A work of efficiency and speed and, yes, even a bit of proficiency in a small handful of watercolour technique that allowed me to work fast—maybe even forced me to work fast.

But those paintings were only detailed in as much as the randomness of the techniques I used implied detail. There was beauty in randomness. But the detail did not come from precision or intention, rather it fell out of accident and organic chaos, and was good because I had lightly harnessed that randomness.

Just like when I had to re-teach myself to draw outwards from detail, I think I need to rethink my painting hangups too. What does it mean to paint the details slowly: to start with the heart of what you want to paint and then wrk outwards, rather that trying to affect the whole of the subject to the page and then fill in the bits and pieces with speed and precision?

I dunno. But it seems like it’s gonna take a lot longer than an hour.