BALLYCARRY ART CLUB East Antrim  Northern Ireland

Edgar Degas was a French Impressionist artist. He’s most famous for his pictures of ballet dancers.

He had one very bad habit: he loved to fiddle with and re-touch paintings that were finished. As a dinner guest in someone’s house, he would pull one of his pictures they owned down from the wall. He’d insist that he had to fix something, and months might go by before the work was returned. This habit became so notorious that friends would try to hide his paintings before he came to visit!

I’m Steve Diamond, and I’ve come to call this impulse to change something in a finished picture “doing a Degas”. I do it myself.

I started this big watercolour in the Ballycarry art class (highly recommended by the way. Come and join us!). I call it Two Little Boys, and its inspiration was the song by Rolf Harris. The first photograph was taken when it was completed.  Next it would framed, then taken away for exhibition.

Wrong. Round one of me “doing a Degas” began. I found the dark foreground too monotonous, and too disconnected from the glowing sky. Back in the studio I added tiny yellow gouache highlights to one of the men’s boots, the rim of his hat, and the horse’s hooves (see the detail view).

It was completed, and ready for framing, again. Wrong.

Looking at the picture I was still dissatisfied. I saw a bright triangle of sky to the left, and a dark triangle of figures to the right. To fix that, I tried a trick from one of my TV heroes, artist Bob Ross. He’ll paint a gorgeous landscape, and shock the audience by whacking on a huge great tree trunk all the way down it, right at the end. My war-ravaged scene needed a tree in silhouette to the left. This helped tie the land and sky together, and balanced the composition better (final picture).

Degas couldn’t resist re-touching his oils, but I’m happy to say that Two Little Boys is now framed behind glass, and safe from further fiddling!

Doing a Degas