Where were we?
Oh, right: on Version 4 of the Street in St.-Malo (above).
And of course there’s a Version 5 (pre-crop, below):
I have every faith that there will be Versions 6, 7, and 8 in my near future, because I’ve done this before. ..drive myself crazy trying to illustrate something that is way out of my league, that is.
The record for At First Not Succeeding And Trying, Trying Again (and Again) goes to a picture I tried to paint of an evening in Paris when Top Cat and I found ourselves in the middle of an impromptu dance party on the Pont des Arts. Oh! It was such a wonderful memory! Of these Parisians whirling around the boards of the bridge where everyone gathers for picnics and rendez-vous in the dusk, the warmth of that early September evening like velvet at 9 o’clock when the Seine and the sky reflect the sunset and the lights of the city like shimmering bits of satin and silk…
I painted that sucker about a dozen times and could never get it right:
Sometimes it was the sky, sometimes it was the dancers, sometimes it was the sky line of Paris that didn’t look right…
…sometimes it was the sky line and the dancers and the sky that didn’t look right.
This is how many times I started over, and over, and over, and over, trying to make those figures and that bridge and that view work before I had to throw it all away and start with a whole new idea:
I drew completely new figures and put them on a totally different plane and I slapped a moody wash of violets and blues over them and it worked just fine (Sorry, I don’t have a finished version to show you because I haven’t yet committed myself to keeping it in the book).
Paul Cezanne famously painted crap the first 25 years of his career, finally arriving at a level of expertise and his own style at age 47. But I got a later start than Paul and I don’t have the luxury of fiddling around with failure: I have to test my limits as much as the next person but I also have to admit defeat when those limits resemble brick walls. And I think this street scene in St.-Malo might be my Bridge Too Far, painting-wise. I’ll give it one or two more tries and then I’m going to paint a still life or something.
Not that accepting one’s limits limits one’s art. Oh No: Somerset Maughm wrote his autobiography at the end of his career and I carry around an excerpt from it to re-read every now and then. He wrote this about how he arrived at his understanding of his style:
I discovered my limitations and I aimed at what excellence I could within them. I knew that I had no lyrical quality [Me too! Me too!]. I had a small vocabulary. I had little gift for metaphor; the original and striking simile seldom occurred to me.
On the other hand, I had an acute power of observation, and it seemed to me that I could see a great many things that other people missed. I could put in clear terms what I saw. I had a logical sense and if no great feeling for the richness and strangeness of words, at all events I had a lively appreciation of their sound.
I knew I could never write as well as I could wish, but with pains I could arrive at writing as well as my natural deficits allowed.
In the end, Somerset Maughm summed up his style in these three words:
Lucidity. Simplicity. Euphony.
And then he went on to write The Moon and Sixpence, Of Human Bondage, and one other famous book I can’t remember. (The Razor’s Edge?)
So it just goes to show that even with limitations, one can still strive for excellence; as long as one understands one’s abilities.
If I had to sum up my style in three words they would be:
Line. Composition. Whimsy.
In other words, that’s my brand (now I’m talking like a Gen Xer). But it’s very useful to know this about yourself: what do you stand for as a creative person? What is it you are trying to achieve in your work? What are your three words? (And can I borrow them?)