Breaking the rules: I wanted to bring the parts of the floor together and make it all less colourful. So I scumbled a warm black pastel (Unison Grey 13) over much of the floor area. And it's done. Gail Sibley, "Night Slippers on Black," Unison pastels on UART 320 grade, 12 x 12 in.

How Breaking The Rules Can Overcome Blank Canvas Syndrome

I’m back in my studio after a wee getaway to Seattle and then Salt Spring Island. The DK Project is pretty much wrapped up so I can do what I like in my studio. But being able to do anything often means I do nothing! And so the blank canvas sits starring back at me. I’ve spoken previously about the usefulness of boundaries and restrictions in pushing creativity so I decided to set up a challenge. This time, it would be about breaking the rules.

Breaking the rules. Okay but not every rule. So which ones? There are many rules in art: rules about composition; about placement of hard edges; about arrangement and use of values; about the workings of linear and aerial perspective; about proportion; and on and on.

Let’s see if you can tell which rules I’m breaking in the piece below. I wanted the outcome to have a more black/white/neutral look than I might normally go for, inspired as I was by the work of Anselm Kiefer at the Seattle Art Museum. (I’ve attached a couple of images at the end of the blog.)

So check out the progression. I set up my night slippers on the floor of our bedroom which is painted gloss black.

 

Breaking the rules: the thumbnail

First my thumbnail with values of light, middle, and dark. The middle values are closer to the dark than light values as the slippers sit on a glossy black floor.

 

Breaking the Rules: Design drawn up with vine charcoal on UART 320 grade.

Design drawn up with vine charcoal on UART 320 grade.

 

Breaking the rules: Even though I wanted to end with something fairly neutral in colour, I started the first layer with prettysaturated colours

Even though I wanted to end with something fairly neutral in colour, I started the first layer with saturated colours.

 

Breaking the rules: I added more pastel to try to eradicate all the light specks of paper coming through. Then I began adding a second layer.

I added more pastel to try to eradicate all the light specks of paper coming through. Then I began adding a second layer.

 

Breaking the rules: Starting to define the slippers and also toning down the floor.

Starting to define the slippers and also toning down the floor.

 

Breaking the rules: More work on the slippers and darkening parts of the floor. I'm at the stage when I'm wondering why did I think I could make this work?!

More work on the slippers and darkening parts of the floor. I’m at the stage when I’m wondering how did I think I could make this work?!

 

Breaking the rules: Layering more colour on. And finally, adding some lines to indicate the plank flooring.

Layering more colour on. And finally, adding some lines to indicate the plank flooring.

 

Breaking the rules: I wanted to bring the parts of the floor together and make it all less colourful. So I scumbled a warm black pastel (Unison Grey 13) over much of the floor area. And it's done. Gail Sibley, "Night Slippers on Black," Unison pastels on UART 320 grade, 12 x 12 in.

I wanted to bring the parts of the floor together and make it all less colourful. So I scumbled a warm black pastel (Unison Grey 13) over much of the floor area. And it’s done.
Gail Sibley, “Night Slippers on Black,” Unison pastels on UART 320 grade, 12 x 12 in.

 

Breaking the rules: 11 Unison pastels used.

11 Unison pastels used.

 

What was interesting was there was no colour from the slippers reflected in the floor. I was tempted to add some yellow below the slippers but resisted, going instead with what I observed.

By the way, this painting was done in two one-hour sittings with a short break in between so I haven’t had time to reflect or ponder it. Still, I wanted to leave it alone and not pick at it. I know you know what I mean!

 

Oh, as promised, here are the two pieces by Anselm Kiefer that blew me away!!

Breaking the rules: Anselm Kiefer, "The Wave" or "Lilith at the Red Sea," 1990, lead, clothes, steel wire, and ash on canvas, Seattle Art Museum

Anselm Kiefer, “The Wave” or “Lilith at the Red Sea,” 1990, lead, clothes, steel wire, and ash on canvas, 110 1/4 x 196 in, Seattle Art Museum

Breaking the rules: Anselm Kiefer, "The Orders of the Night," 1996, acrylic, emulsion, and shellac on canvas, Seattle Art Museum

Anselm Kiefer, “The Orders of the Night,” 1996, acrylic, emulsion, and shellac on canvas, 140 x 182 1/4 in, Seattle Art Museum

 

So breaking the rules – did it work?  Can you tell which rules I broke? Have you tried breaking the rules? Why not try this idea if you’re stuck and then let me know what happens.  I’d love to hear from you!

Until next time!

~ Gail

 

 

14 thoughts on “How Breaking The Rules Can Overcome Blank Canvas Syndrome

  1. Ann Stofflet

    Beautiful! Thank you for sharing your process. I love the richness and gloss your floor has and how the dimension of the slippers just jumps out. I think your choice to not add in the reflection worked!

    Reply
    1. Gail Sibley Post author

      Thanks so much Ann!! It was tricky balancing the colour and values of the high gloss floor so I’m glad you thought it was successful!

      Reply
  2. Gailen Lovett

    Rules? I don’t care! I am so caught up in the luminous floor, the subject just slips away then I focus on the slippers that are screaming “look at me” and enjoy the mark making and notice that one is larger but it doesn’t hold me – I’m lost in the floor again…! I’m wild about this painting.

    Reply
    1. Gail Sibley Post author

      Hah hah Gailen!! Rules are there as guides and then once we understand them we can challenge ourselves to get creative 🙂 Thank you so much for your exuberant words!!

      Reply
  3. Genie Geer

    Wow! I’m still a pastel novice, and man are they ever trickier than I imagined. They seemed easier to apply to faces of my cloth dolls, than laying them down on paper now. I enjoyed seeing your process, which encouraged me to jump in and just start in my sketchbook, knowing there’s gonna be a gawdawful stage, which is where it is now, and with all rules broken!

    Reply
    1. Gail Sibley Post author

      Hi Genie,
      Happy to know you are persevering with pastels and that my blogs are encouraging you along.
      And boy do I know about the gawdawful stage! (Did you see my blog about that ugly stage? )
      Keep paintings!!

      Reply
  4. Noemi

    I think this is genius. I keep wanting to click and drag the image to see what else is in the room. I’d lie if I said this doesn’t bother me but at the same time this is what makes the painting exciting and unique. Also one thing I learned from you is that even ordinary objects deserve to be painted, even plugs and bras and slippers, and this painting is another reminder of that. Love it. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Gail Sibley Post author

      Noemi – love your comment!! Thanks 🙂 And sorry to frustrate you but glad I have for the very reasons you state – I’ll take your frustration as a compliment!
      And yes, every single thing in this amazing world of ours deserves to be painted – we look at things with artist’s eyes and share our vision of all with the rest of the world so they can see what we see in a new light.

      Reply
  5. Steve Morales

    Gail,
    Very nice piece. Simple, loose, engaging. Inspiring. My favorite complementary colors! I don’t know what rules you broke. Clue me in?
    Steve Morales

    Reply
    1. Gail Sibley Post author

      Hey Steve,
      Glad you liked the piece!
      One of the main rules I was thinking about was – Don’t put anything of high value contrast, the hardest edge, or details of interest near the edge(s) of a painting as this will take the viewers eye there and theoretically away from the centre of interest. So I wanted to see if I could do just that and still keep the viewer coming back to the shoes. And do so without an agitated back and forth but rather an easy going circular movement. Even the directional lines of the wood floor take you out to the activity at the top edge.
      I also was thinking about the rule of thirds and other compositional rules and see what I could get away with. For instance, the door and its reflection basically cut the painting in half but the slippers help to break that division. Those were the main things I was having fun with!

      Reply
  6. Nancy

    Rules? What rules? The best rules are those you invent for yourself, because they work for you. A plus is, that if you break them, you don’t have to account to anyone! More seriously, having no rules leads to greater experimentation and freedom. The French Impressionists broke all the rules and after haveing been laughed to scorn, look where they are now! Their critics have disappeared into the foot notes of art history.

    Reply
    1. Gail Sibley Post author

      Hah hah Nancy! Yes, my blog was a bit tongue in cheek, making fun of rules. But rules, or shall we say, guidelines, are there to help create a foundation of painting from where you can break or disregard them. When you know what the rules are, you can experiment with them. It’s the idea that limitations can produce amazing creativity. As you say, the Impressionists were one set of painters who pushed boundaries, playing with the formal elements of painting and creating new compositional possibilities. These were taken further by each decade of painters through the twentieth century. It also happened earlier – for example, Piero della Francesca’s take on space and perspective. Thanks for your insightful comment!!

      Reply
  7. Nancy

    Gail I thoroughly agree . Actually after 25 years of watercolor, then acrylic, then oil, I started pastels and never took pastel lessons per se. I just made it up and discovered rules as I went along, like you can’t put a hard pastel over a soft one, it just doesn’t work. That must be respected. But people have told me that in their pastel classes they are taught exactly the opposite of stuff I do…and I still have LOTS to learn. And am thankful for your blog and the time you put into it.

    Reply
    1. Gail Sibley Post author

      I love when people just dive straight into a medium and learn as they go. As you learn you begin to understand where you may need help and where you’re quite happy going it alone. So good for you! Happy you are learning and being inspired by my blog – I LOVE hearing that. Makes all the work worth it 🙂

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *