How do you know when your art piece is finished? How can you tell that you’ve gone further than you needed to, and, as a result, you’ve made a mess of it? I wish I knew.
I tend to go too far, get too detailed, too involved. I don’t know when to quit, especially if I’m trying to correct perceived “flaws” in my composition and/or presentation. Working from an original photo, I want to faithfully reproduce everything in it, as though that photo were the real work of art (not). I get too close to the images, too sick to look at them anymore. By the end, it’s time to put time and space between me and my collage and pronounce it finished.
“Sweetwater” is a case in point. I think the original photo is striking because the Civil War era mill ruins are backlit by a setting sun in an unusual position. The deep shade in the foreground makes the old brick building appear blue instead of orange-red. The sun reflecting brightly off the woods in the background and an intact inner wall create stark contrast.
I built my collage in layers: first the sky and distant trees, then the flowing water of Sweetwater Creek, then the negative space behind the windows, then the walls of the old mill, and finally the tree trunks and limbs. But I went overboard in those layers. First, I added more color than appeared in the photo—dark brick red and purples for the bricks, yellows in the distant trees. Secondly, laying the bricks row by row, I caused the perspective lines to become oddly twisted. Then when it came time for the trees in the foreground, well, I think I went temporarily insane, trying to detract from the garbled perspective of the building itself. Fortunately for all of us, I lost my patience when it came time to add the tree leaves, so I decided to leave the foreground trees stark and bare. Instead, I just hinted at shrubs at the very bottom of the canvas.
I really wanted this collage to have an air of mystery, of something ghostly, and I wanted a mesh of dark twining tree limbs and silhouetted leaves interfering with the viewer’s vision. Instead I feel like I ended up with an overwrought mess, like an overactive mind filled with incomplete thoughts.
Should I do it again, only this time trying different materials? I could use tissue paper and/or expensive imported/handmade papers torn instead of cut. I could do it as a negative—make the darks light, lights dark; use opposite colors. I could do the whole thing in black and white.
Maybe I should just let it chill for a while. Maybe if I grow apart from it, I’ll learn to see it as it is, not as what I thought it should be (kind of like raising children). In the meantime, I think I need a vacation.