"Mood" at Assiniboia Gallery, Regina - June 7-30, 2018: This is my first solo show in a private gallery! Join me for the opening reception on Thursday, June 7th from 5-8 p.m. You can find the Asiniboia Gallery at 2266 Smith Street, Regina.

New Representation:
my art is now available at the Assiniboia Gallery in Regina! They are located at 2266 Smith Street, a vibrant, bustling part of town.

Ongoing: my 8x8" original oil paintings are available exclusively at Darrell Bell Gallery located in the Canada Building in downtown Saskatoon. As well, some of my large oil paintings are now available in this beautiful local gallery.

November 10, 2016: I was interviewed by Daily Paintworks as their Spotlight Artist for a week! Read my interview on the DPW News blog!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Underpainting? Finished Painting?

Fire In The Belly I
acrylic on canvas
under painting vs. finished painting
-a controversy!!!

In my last post I mentioned that I had started a painting in the studio at Emma Lake for which Bark Study was an experiment. I had taken a photo of a fantastic tree on the same day that I wasted a ton of time painting on the wrong (untreated) side of the board. I was very excited about finding this dramatic tree and the idea I had for painting it. At any rate I began my under painting as I usually do, with a wash of strong colour straight out of the tube and then I began laying in the composition with quick, loose strokes. I had just begun my next stage which was the grays you see here. All of this initial work was done in acrylic and my plan was to use oil paint after the ground work was done. At this point, however, some of the new people I met at this workshop wandered by with a bottle or two of wine and I got severely sidetracked! It was probably 9:00 p.m. and I had been in a bit of a funk all day because it was my fifteenth wedding anniversary and I was feeling guilty for not being home. Needless-to-say wine with these new, hilarious friends seemed to be just what the Doctor ordered! My painting ground to a halt for the night leaving my work just as you see it above. 

Fast forward to the next day.

After painting "Feathery Pine", "By The Lake" and "Bark Study" I was on my way back to the studio with "Bark Study" sandwiched between two cafeteria trays (so as not to get wet from the rain) when the instructor and a couple fellow students stopped me in my tracks with their excitement over the painting they saw on my easel. I had no idea what they were talking about until I remembered my "under painting" from the night before. As it turned out, that is the one they were talking about. They loved it! They all thought it was a finished piece and didn't want me to touch it. I was flabbergasted and I still am to this day. That evening at the critique the general consensus was that I should leave it as is. What the %@*!!! (pardon my censored "French") I am still baffled two months later. Maybe I'm troubled by this because I know what I wanted to do with the painting and this is not it. Maybe it's because it looks nothing at all like anything I have ever done before. Maybe because it is simply doesn't look finished. I am still trying to sort it all out. One lady even said that, for this piece, she would pay twice what I would normally charge for a canvas this size. 

I get that I am always being told to loosen up, to be freer, to get rid of my inhibitions and so maybe this is just another way of people saying that. But I have been messed up for two months wondering what the reaction to this painting truly says about what people think- or don't think- about my art. I've stewed about it for many hours. I don't want to always play it safe as an artist, but calling the above a finished piece of work just may be too far out of my comfort zone.

I decided to leave this painting the way it is as I continue to ponder what it all means. I have since created a new painting of the same subject on a larger canvas; one that is "finished" in my mind. I'll show it to you very soon. But for now I ask you wise blogging friends, what do you think? Is this an under painting or a finished painting?????


jdr said...

Guess what? My initial "don't-think-about-it-just-go-with-your-gut-reaction" thought is that I like it too. It seems so hot and smoky and smouldering ... I think I know what you mean about it not being "finished", though. Especially the red section on the right hand side of the painting. However, apart from whether you think it is finished or not, I think you should leave it. It is a clear memory of a good day - the 15th anniversary and the two bottles of wine!!

Is it at the studio or will I see it at your house tomorrow?!?! It could be time for a sisters trip to the studio anyway, as I would love to see your paintings (and the changes to your space). Let's do it soon!


Janie B said...

I like it! That red is so bold. Go for it, girl.

Nicki said...

Hi JJ,

If nothing else, I agree that the right side looks especially unfinished. Maybe I'll toss a few lines in there and leave it at that. It can just be a reminder of a good day and a learning experience.

See you soon,


Thanks for weighing in Janie! Hope you are enjoying the weekend.


-Don said...

Before I give you my take on the painting I will answer your question:

This painting - and any painting you do - is finished when YOU say it's finished.

I understand the excitement that everyone had when seeing this piece. It is HOT. Figuratively and literally. There is an expressive nature to the piece that radiates an intense energy which draws the viewer in. When I saw the preview image I honestly thought you were interpreting a forest fire and felt a sadness at the loss of these trees to the intense flames. I'll reiterate, HOT.

However, I do not think you should feel obliged to listen to anyone about your work, except you, when it comes to the final product. I also don't feel that you should be questioning where you've been as a painter based on people's response to this one piece. Compositionally, I would have known this was a Nicki Ault piece right away. So, I feel that YOU show through, even though you feel it is not a finished representation of where you wanted to go with this.

Here is a big brother hug as I whisper in your ear to say %@*!!! to all those that cause you to doubt yourself. Keep doing what you do, because you're damn good at it. Embrace people's responses to your work, but in the end, do what feels right to you.

Rock on!


Nicki said...


Thanks, Bro! I hear what you are saying and deep down I know it is true, I am just not confident enough to get there are my own and it helps to get such great support from you and other artists. On almost a daily basis I feel like I am floundering and I am still trying to find myself as an artist. Heck, I still have trouble calling myself an artist, so it doesn't take much to shake my foundation! I really appreciate you taking the time to give me such great feedback.

Take care,


Miltrum said...

Sam and I really like this one and think it is finished as it is. Would you sell this to us? I haven't got around to ordering a commission (yet) but still think of it often.

Nicki said...

Hey Dave,

What a great surprise to see this message from you! I'm thrilled, and still a bit surprised with the response this painting has received. Who knew!?? Of course I am pleased you and Sam like it so much that you would want to live with it. I'll have my people contact your people!!!



Barbara M. said...

Hi Nicki,

One friend in my art group always comes along after I've been painting for 10 or 15 minutes, and sometimes before I've started painting and says, "That's it. You're done." It's our joke about how people talk. The answer is simple -- no one else knows when you are finished a work. I love what you've done so far, but if it's troubling you, and you're lying awake nights, ignore everyone else and go back and work on it.

Post workshop angst is something I can relate to. I couldn't paint at all for two months after a wonderful workshop I attended for a week a few years ago. But the thoughts filtered in, the angst went away, and I was left with what mattered -- me and my own vision, which changes almost every day.

Take heart, have a cup of tea, and do what you want to do. Isn't that the whole point of this exercise. It does not matter what anyone else thinks about your work.


Anonymous said...

Nicki there are so many powerful aspects to this piece. i think we all doubt whether a painting is finsihed and the numebr of times i have taken things down and redone them and sometimes even trashed them despite others telling me it was good. the reason i guess you are asking is because your gut feeling is there is something more needed but you have come to the end of the path at the moment. i know so little about oil painting let alone acrylics but if it is possible to glaze this, it could add to the richness while still showing through the painting you have so far done. this i say imho and i am probably wrong anyway;)

Nicki said...

Hi Barbara,

Thank you so much again for leaving me with wise words. I have left this painting as is and have since done another with more of what my original intention was.

It is true- I love workshops, but often fell a bit exasperated at the end. Usually there is at least one thing that comes up that leaves me overwhelmed or uncertain. I guess you are right, as the information settles the hope is that there is some sort of growth that propels you forward.

Thank you for taking the time,

Nicki XO

Hi Rahina,

Thank so much for your input. And you do know a lot... just look at your recent portraits! Yes, my vision for the final piece was so different from this that it is hard to think of it as a finished work. I have since done another painting at the studio expressing more of what I had in my mind and so I feel better now! That idea is out and I am happy with it. As a result I am more able to accept this painting for what it is and for what others see in it.

I appreciate your words,


Celeste said...

Hey Nicki, just came across this part of the blog and had to add my 2 cents worth. I was there. I saw this painting. It is strong, immeasurably so. And, the fact that people claimed this or that, especially the comment: "I would pay twice what you usually charge" is usually really disconcerting. As artists, we spend so much making our visions and need the reassurances that a sale can bring (or not...) Altho most of the people there were championing you to stop the progress on this piece, I was one who voted for you to finish it. I have complete confidence in your abilities, your ideas and your work. Where is the "finished" piece? Let's see a photo of that! and if keeping this piece as is helps you in some way, great. If it just adds to the consternation, then add the paint.
Sincerely, Celeste

Nicki said...

Hey Celeste,

Nice to hear from you and thanks for your two cents on this dilemma. You were there and you did say for me to finish it- to take it all the way. I didn't- I left this one as is- to learn from for now. BUT I did do a new one that is larger and I will get a picture of it ASAP to post. I'll be curious to know what you think (Degen loved it). Thanks for your words!


Harry Kent said...

In my book (ie, my taste) it is definitely finished. i inhabit the expressive end of the spectrum rather the representational, naturalistic, realism end. I enjoy it most when work communicates an emotional truth or has imaginative impact. So i find this to be a bold, dramatic, arresting, expressive work. I find it stimulating and energizing when a work 'troubles' me rather than lulling me. Indeed, i use my goose-bumps meter to know whether i'm in the 'zone' in my own painting. This is a goose-bumps painting. And the image came from somewhere within you, Nicki. The fire is yours!!! Brilliant!

Nicki said...

Harry! Thank you for these words! I love that your artwork is expressive and intense and raw in it's energy. That is why I am drawn to your blog. I have such admiration for you- you do what I am scared to do.

Thank you for taking the time to leave such an encouraging message.