How to Destroy (and Recover) a Painting in 10 (or so) Not-So-Easy Steps

"Mollycoddling the Collywobbles" Oil on canvas 18" x 18" © 2012 Marilyn Fenn
“Mollycoddling the Collywobbles” Oil on canvas 18″ x 18″ © 2012 Marilyn Fenn

This painting started out very differently than it ended up.  In a month full of daily interruptions (far more than the usual tolerable level of daily interruptions), I had a hard time keeping the same frame of mind while I worked sporadically on this canvas.


I actually began with a painting I had started a while back, based on a microscopic image of spider eggs, but I now wanted to get away from even this little bit of representation and move to pure abstraction.  I painted out the eggs by turning them into ovals, but as I worked on making compositional sense out of what remained, I ended up painting out most of the ovals, and then eventually, removed all of them.

I will say that in the animated gif below, I was initially quite happy with the painting as it was happening in frames 3-5 (with the peachy-colored tree-like shape on the left, and the rosy gourd-shape on the right).  But in the process of trying to resolve the composition with that gourd-like shape, I eventually decided the shape was too disruptive to the wholeness of the painting and painted it out.  The swirl that attached itself to the gourd-like shape remained, however.

I wish I had documented all the stages this painting went through as it evolved, but sadly, I did not, so we are left with only seven of the stages from the beginning to the end of the process.  See the abbreviated evolution in the gif below:

 Which Way is Up?

Once I finally decided the painting’s composition was finally working and was done, I realized it could be viewed as satisfactorily from at least two orientations, if not all four!  (I do tend to turn the canvas and paint from several sides as I work on a painting).  When I posted the studio shot of this on my G+ page and asked my followers for their opinions on which orientation they preferred, I got several responses preferring 3 of the 4 possible orientations.

See what you think:

“Mollycoddling the Collywobbles” Oil on canvas 18″ x 18″ © 2012 Marilyn Fenn
original orientation
“Mollycoddling the Collywobbles” Oil on canvas 18″ x 18″ © 2012 Marilyn Fenn
90 degrees right
“Mollycoddling the Collywobbles” Oil on canvas 18″ x 18″ © 2012 Marilyn Fenn
180 degrees
“Mollycoddling the Collywobbles” Oil on canvas 18″ x 18″ © 2012 Marilyn Fenn
90 degrees left


Comments from GooglePlus:

I’m including some of the comments I received from my followers on G+, so you can see just how confusing it can be to ask for this kind of help.   🙂  Here are the responses to the question “which of these 4 orientations do you like best” (and why):

Original Orientation:
"Mollycoddling the Collywobbles" Oil on canvas 18" x 18" © 2012 Marilyn Fenn

  • The first one.  The ones with the horizontal break between the dark and the light invoke a landscape interpretation, with (probably unnecessary) repercussions.  But between these two, the one with dark above looks stronger.  I cannot really explain why I prefer the first one from two vertical orientations, but I do.
  • Clicking through quickly, I thought #1 was best.  I then clicked slower while looking away from the screen during the change.  I now like #1 and #3.
90 Degrees Right (clockwise):

“Mollycoddling the Collywobbles” Oil on canvas 18″ x 18″ © 2012 Marilyn Fenn - 90 degrees R

  • Interesting.  The second orientation feels most ‘right’ to me – after looking at it, all the others felt rotated to me.  I think that’s because I end up seeing it as a landscape with the wobbly shapes acting as figures and the horizontal lines acting as features on the landscape.  But that’s coming from a guy who predominately photographs landscapes, so it might just be the way I’m wired.  Funnily enough, I loved the first orientation a lot when I first looked at it.  Either way, a lovely piece.
  • (I pick) #2; #1 and #3 feel like falling or streaming through veins, but maybe that kind of dynamic is what you are looking for.  #4 feels upside down and floating in clouds.  You probably will never get a majority to agree on this!
  • I like #2, the main reason is the spiral, which in this case is at the bottom, at least for me it looks very nice that way!! Btw this painting is beautiful!!
  • #2 — I like the way my eye travels through it, it has flow.
  • I like #2 the best. To me, it reads like the ocean filled with mysterious wondrous creatures. The textures and lines read like waves, with the lighter area a tiny patch of sky. What’s that swirl at the bottom? He seems a little menacing like maybe I should try to avoid him.
  • I’m gonna pick the spiral in the bottom left right… then I read the light shape as distant terrain and the figures either hovering over or interacting with a landscape.
90 Degrees Left (counterclockwise):

“Mollycoddling the Collywobbles” Oil on canvas 18″ x 18″ © 2012 Marilyn Fenn - 90 degrees L

  • Excellent piece Marilyn. IMO Swirl top right = Anger, Swirl bottom right = Oppression, Swirl bottom left = Drowning, and swirl Top left = Discovery. I prefer the later Swirl Top left. I recently signed all four corners of an abstract piece to give a prospective client options, regardless of the integrity of my final decision on which way to hang the piece. 🙂
  • I prefer the 4th one, with the spiral “eye” in the top left. In that orientation the image kind of reads like a face to me – which you might not want?
  • I feel that #4 is the strongest and #2 is the next preferred version, I feel that the weight of the dark spiral is best balanced when it is in the top left or bottom right by the other elements of the image. I’m basing my opinion on graphic layout and balance not perceived image. I actually copied all four images and set them side by each in Photoshop so I could compare them all at the same time. 4 comes across as the strongest option and therefore the most desirable, in my opinion.
  • Quarter turn to the left for me. And because I said so :p
My Preference

Personally, I like the original orientation and the 90 degrees right ones the best (see them again below), but I still can’t decide which way to hang it.  Here’s why:

  1. In the original orientation, the imagery behind the loops, ovals, and lines seems most satisfying to me: the right dark portion of rose-purple divides the canvas into vertical areas of about 2/3s (left) to 1/3 (right); then the left 2/3s can be further divided into areas of about 1/3 to 2/3s, with the purple vertical area on the left making up the first third and the lighter patch of blue making up the other 2/3s (more or less).  Then there is that triangle full of sub-divided triangles at the top between the dark line and the swirl, which I like quite a bit.  These interesting divisions are sort of fractal in nature and therefore visually pleasing, and they seem less pronounced or noticeable in every other orientation, at least to my eye.  The flow of lines, loops, and ovals seems to flow up or down in what could be interpreted as an underwater space as if some alien scuba diver was tethered from above.
  2. On the other hand, in the second (90 degrees right) orientation, there is a very pleasing landscape quality — it could still be underwater, or not, and the flow of lines, loops and ovals seems more dynamically positioned in the space and almost seems to be in movement from left to right or right to left. In this orientation, the “background” shapes recede more and become a stage on or in which the wobbly things play, rather than being a dominant feature in and of themselves.

Either way, one part — either the wobbly bits or the luscious colored space behind the wobbly bits — seems to be more dominant than the other. I guess I’ll leave it to the viewer to decide.

“Mollycoddling the Collywobbles” Oil on canvas 18″ x 18″ © 2012 Marilyn Fenn
original orientation
“Mollycoddling the Collywobbles” Oil on canvas 18″ x 18″ © 2012 Marilyn Fenn
90 degrees right

So, should you choose to purchase this painting, it will be your choice which direction it should hang.  🙂  It can be purchased from my online shop.


If you’re interested, you can read the initial Google+ post and comments here.

New Work: The Cosmos Made Conscious

"The Cosmos Made Conscious" Oil on canvas 24" x 30" © 2012 Marilyn Fenn
“The Cosmos Made Conscious” Oil on canvas 24″ x 30″ © 2012 Marilyn Fenn

I haven’t posted in a while, but I have been painting.  I have about 12 new paintings to share; here is the first of my new series of abstracts that I have been working on since July.

I began this one inspired by passion flowers (we have a huge vine of small passion flowers in our yard). I started this in acrylic, as my previous painting, “Food Forest,” was done in acrylic and I was so happy (eventually) with both the process and the end result.

With this one, however, I found working in acrylic as frustrating as is usually the case for me. So I repainted the whole thing in oil and then ended up painting out much of what had been part of the original composition. I finally abandoned the idea of a passionflower, and let the painting tell me what it wanted to be. And this is the result.

Kind of goofy, kind of beautiful, and I find myself loving the parts but wondering about the whole. This painting got juicier and juicier as I simplified, simplified, simplified.

This painting is available in my shop now: