Yesterday I spent part of my day painting large shapes in a painting I thought I was improving. I chose a color that I thought was appropriate and worked. I went to lunch and when I came back and looked at the painting I couldn’t believe that the color I had chosen was so hideous. It was the color of dog poop.

How is it possible that with so much experience I can still make complete and utter mistakes? It amazes me.

I spent the good part of half an hour sitting in a chair looking at the painting wondering why and how I could go so hopelessly wrong…and then I understood. I had painted the biggest shapes, the most noticeable shapes in the painting, a dark color. The background is a light color so the dark shapes show up very strongly.

All the subtlety in the light background area of the painting could not be noticed because the contrast of the large dark shapes were so different that they were unrelated and overpowered all the delicate subtleties that were in the background.

I am trying to make the relationships feel sensitive and sophisticated in my work. These very dark shapes on this light background were unrefined and very clumsy.

I don’t want to visually sledgehammer somebody over the head with what I’ve made.

So the answer was that the largest shapes don’t have to be the most contrasty shapes because they all are already very large. The contrast could be much, much less. We will still see them and by making them less noticeable even though they are lighter in value we will still see them they won’t be such a visual sledgehammer. Once I appointed the shapes the right value (the lighter yellow green color) then suddenly the background subtleties became more apparent and the painting begins to work. Now it is not done but this was an interesting development.

I don’t know how many times I will have to relearn and relearn what I seem to already know but I guess that is just the way this process goes. In a way, this is why it is so worthwhile.