Repetition is Good

By Rick Rotante

I am distressed at times when I hear artists tell me they painted a particular subject and are now done with the idea or concept after only one or two attempts. Most artists — including artists from past generations — made multiple paintings on a single subject. Many have based their careers on painting one subject or idea. In my view, abstract painting is based on this theme. It is naive to assume that you can encompass in one painting the whole of an idea or concept. Life is much too complicated to assume this to be the case. A single painting of a concept is also too narrow a view of the world and art in general. If artists were to believe this idea, there would be one portrait, one landscape, one seascape and one still life from each artist who ever painted. One motivating aspect of creating anything is working it again and again until you have exhausted all the possibilities. And even then, one can take what was done, alter it or use that same idea in new and different ways.

Your brain is a muscle and it needs repetitive exercise. I repaint some works until they feel right, until I get what I am looking for. Then there is the possibility of altering that idea: adding and subtracting until a new idea emerges, or until the old idea is completely explored. There is no reason to abandon even a successful idea. When I look at a painting long enough, new ways of seeing appear and then I am off in a new direction. Keeping an open mind is essential to being an artist.

One particular work I presented sold. It was painted onsite. A short time later another client came back and wanted it. So I mentioned to them that I had photo references of the scene and would be happy to attempt to recapture the mood and feeling from the photos. They were willing to take a chance. I repainted a different version of the same scene and when shown to them, they ended up loving the result. The painting and the scene were in me and the photos helped bring me back to do a new painting. Yet I relied on my present feelings and emotions and allowed that to influence the painting. It was relatively the same scene but reproduced differently.

Many artists go back to the same places at different times of the year and paint the same scene.

In my case, I use the same models over and over especially when I find one in tune with me.

When painting the same model countless times I get better and better results each time. For me no subject is ever off limits after one painting. Lastly, subsequent attempts are frequently better because I’m more familiar with the subject and inject some new thought or feeling about it.

Try it. Paint a simple still life five times, different days and see for yourself the results. Do them small — for example, 8” x 10” — to allow for the repetition that will grant you practice.

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