Will Barnet’s Shapes

           “One painting can have over one hundred drawings for it.”   Will Barnet

Will Barnet, Mother and Child


Comments from Peggy and Diane on my last post about Will Barnet got me thinking about how deeply ingrained some things are within each of us. I was so envious when Peggy said that her dad showed her books of Russian Icons when she was a little girl and that those paintings continue to influence her current work. As a little girl, I believed that good drawing meant accurate drawing and coloring within the lines. Consequently it has taken me many years to get past that kind of thinking and to understand that a drawing doesn’t have to explain a subject, it can also be a spontaneous and imaginative response to a subject.  

These days my creative process still begins with an accurate drawing. That step satisfies the part of me that still holds the belief that a drawing’s quality depends largely on how accurately a subject is rendered. But then I go one step further and put a sheet of tracing paper over my initial drawing and work hard to stylize and personalize the shapes in that drawing. I keep doing tracing on top of tracing until I find the kind of creative and imaginative shapes that I’m looking for. Many tracings are usually generated before I feel ready to begin my painting.      

Will Barnet, Study for Mother and Child

One of the things that fascinated me about Will Barnet was discovering that in preparation for his painting, Mother and Child (a painting of his wife and daughter,shown above), he generated over a hundred drawings over the course of an entire year before he began his painting. In early drawings, he concentrated on abstracting the shapes of the figures into “angular components within a design.” In a second group of drawings, he eliminated much of the environment surrounding the figures and concentrated on softening shapes and finding more fluidity in the compositions. Later drawings in the series are so abstract that no longer do we recognize any reference to the two figures. And I was most fascinated to discover that these drawings were done on tracing paper! And, like me – he did tracing over tracing until he found the drawing that satisfied him (three of those tracings are shown above). I love discovering personal connections like this to my favorite artists!

Happy Painting!

5 thoughts on “Will Barnet’s Shapes

  1. Peggy Stermer-Cox

    Thank you Donna! I am honored. I am enjoying your examination of Will Barnett’s shape making and creative process. Each one of the studies would have made an exciting painting. I love the shapes.

    PS. I do remember the day that someone told me I was supposed to color within the lines. I was shocked.

  2. Diane Pinney

    Donna, I SOOO wish I would be diligent about doing the sketches and value studies BEFORE I begin. I do not know why I just jump right in without doing the proper prep work. Impatience to get paint on paper always makes it take longer in the end because I get stuck and then have to ‘fix’ it. In a way, it is like doing warm ups before exercising or doing scales in the right key for a new piano piece. Seems logical enough, but…
    Changing habits is so hard.

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