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To Cull or not to Cull - That is the Question?

There are many aspects to creating a painting and one of the things I want to discuss today is that of culling. What to put in and what to leave out, this is of paramount importance. To illustrate this, I'm going to share with you the journey of a painting called Dancing With the Wind. This work was the culmination of series of dress paintings, the subject of which was the Dark Night of the Soul and emerging from that darkness into the light.

Therefore it was important that this painting came from an image that to me, expressed freedom. The original landscape this painting was situated in was, and still is a place which symbolizes freedom for me. It is one of my favourite places, a small cove near Waititi Bay, in New Zealand. In this Bay resides a giant, ancient Pohutukawa tree. I went there one summer with a friend and we took photos of one of my dresses floating in the breeze. We also had an idea to create a video of the dress being thrown into the air and then fluttering to the ground. This footage was to then subsequently become part of a video installation that would have been included in an exhibition of these dress works. Well the video didn't happen and neither did the exhibition. After take twenty, we gave up trying to catch the fabric floating in a particular way and abandoned the video idea. My original concept for the painting didn't work either and I had to make several alterations along the way.

While taking a break I threw the dress over a branch of this magnificent tree, wondering what to do next. As I sat there watching, a playful breeze caught the dress, I realized that here was the kernel of my painting. - Here is a quick sketch of the original idea.

The other thing I wanted to do with this work was have it contain symbols of my homeland. To this end I painted Maori symbols, Kowhai leaves, and Koru shapes into the background. I wanted them to be partly visible as if through a shimmering misty veil, however unfortunately that work didn't work out either.

Funnily enough, the biggest struggle with this painting was not the dress itself, but rather, what was in the background. As you can see from the different images here it went through many incarnations and concepts before I finally managed to nail it. Below is the first attempt at having the underneath symbols appear as if through a misty veil........ Not working!

The trouble was that I wanted them to appear as if they were at different three dimensional levels. At this point that wasn't working, so I went ahead and began painting the fabric.

So the fabric was mostly painted at this stage, however I still wasn't happy with the background. I had tried putting a horizon line in but painted it out again.

The next step was to photograph it, take it into Photoshop and try out some different ideas......

Well none of those seemed to work either, so I tried this.

I kind of liked the slightly darker panel at the right hand end and decided to pursue that idea a little further. You can also see in this one, the horizon line idea I mentioned earlier.

In the end I decided to repaint the entire background as I wasn't happy with the colour anyway. I wanted it to have a lighter, airy feel which would suit the fabric. In the finished work below you can see that I also significantly change the colour of the fabric as well.

And this was the end result..... I still love the way the background seems to move and the fabric floats fragilely , suspended for a moment as it gently passes over the tree branch.

I must have painted the entire background surface at least half a dozen times before it began to look OK and as you can see from the photo it was not a small work. However, in the end it was worth all of that struggle. At many points I was ready to throw in the towel, however I had invested so much time and energy into the painting I was determined to make it work...... and it did..... in the end!

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