Changing a Tiger's Stripes

There are several paintings in my storage space that over time gravitated to the very back and stayed there.  In the past I showed these paintings at one show, then another, and eventually they were consigned to storage. Viewers made favorable comments about each, such as, “I really like this painting!” But no one said, “I just LOVE this painting - it speaks to me, and I must have it!”  There was just no emotional response that changed a viewer into a buyer.


When I re-evaluated these pieces recently, it was not easy to say just what it was about each that made them a bit too comfortable. But the one thing that was patently clear to me was that the general style of each no longer fit in with the way I paint today. My entire approach to paintings has evolved over time into something more interpretive, filled with bold pattern and color and altered shapes.


Once I had a small painting of a row of mailboxes I was proud of and expected that it would soon be snatched up. It languished in my displays at several shows, until I set it aside. Eventually I removed it from the frame, added a couple dabs of yellow-green and one or two of red-violet, and cut a new mat. I made a wry face, shrugged one shoulder, and put it back in the frame. I had made so few small changes I questioned whether to have it take up space at the next show, but did choose to display it. Often shoppers browse empty handed first, then choose to buy later. On that day I could have sold that painting with two more dabs each of green and violet no fewer than 6 times!


With that in mind, I brought out the fine, but staid paintings from the back of my storage. I decided to grab these tigers by the tail and try to change their stripes. Would it even be possible to change a safe, tight painting with hard edges and smooth washes into something bolder with texture, freedom, and surprises? It is more difficult than I expected! Somewhere I’ve read that the first stroke of a new painting should define the nature of all that follow. This self-assignment reminded me of that, and I begin to see the wisdom in its message. Whatever I tried seemed very lonely and out of place. I had to change a majority of the tiger's stripes before it became a zebra. 


I’m including the image of the earlier version of the painting that I am currently trying to transform. It requires more than a dab or two of additional color! But if it comes to a successful end, I will share the new version after I’ve made my wry face, shrugged one shoulder, and put the painting back in the frame. For now I’m keeping a firm grip on this tiger’s tail.