Jump! How that one word changed my career as an artist.
Artists love to create. It’s what drives us to express ourselves in one form or another. It’s rewarding. It’s fun. It’s challenging. So why do so few artists succeed at being …. an “Artist?”
When I started painting again it was for fun. I enjoyed the process of choosing what to paint, and the challenge of trying to turn a 2-dimensional collection of canvas and colored pigment into something that expressed feeling, captured a moment, or was just satisfying to look at. But being an “Artist”? You know, actually pursuing art as a way to support myself? Let’s get real.
Like many, I had grown up to believe art was something you did if you didn’t want to eat regularly. Or if you could live off of your relatives. Being an artist, a musician, a writer, a poet, these are things people living on the fringe did. It just wasn’t a realistic career path. I was afraid of taking it seriously. I kept listening to all those voices that said being an artist wasn’t a real option.
No I am not talking about x-ray vision, although that would be cool. Instead I want to talk about how we see art and how to expand our own awareness and appreciation.
Like most people, my view and opinion of art is filtered through the lens of my experience. I have certain prejudices based on life experience, experience as an artist, and past exposure to art. When I first started painting I was heavily influenced by an early love of Claude Monet. Impressionism was my favorite form of art and many of the contemporary painters I was drawn to painted in a loose, impressionistic style. This bias was likely formed in my late teens and early twenties. I remember one of the first big museum shows I went to was at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and they were holding a Monet exhibit that included many of his Haystacks, Rouen Cathedral and other paintings. I found it fascinating and perplexing at the same time.
Many years later, long before I started painting again, I vacationed in France and was able to visit the Musee d’Orsay, Marmottan-Monet Museum, Le Orangerie, and others. Sitting in the room surrounded by Monet’s Water Lillies is quite an experience. Cézanne, Courbet, Sisley, Pissarro, Manet, Renoir, what could be better? Continue reading “Seeing Through Others”
After a brief visit to a couple of galleries today my wife said to me “It must be hard as an artist to be surrounded by all that art and not compare yourself to other artists.”
I work in a gallery part-time and I am surrounded by some of the best artists around, many of whom I greatly admire; Eric Tobin, Stapleton Kearns, T.M. Nicholas, Andrew Orr, Kevin Fahey, Emile Gruppe and so many others. It is a blessing and a curse. I can admire and dissect the work of other artists to try to learn how they achieve an effect or render a passage. And, I can get frustrated and wonder if I just started to late to ever achieve the same level of proficiency, to ever be “good enough” to share the same space.
She is, of course, right. It is hard not to look at other artists work and mentally wonder if I’ll ever be “that” good. I doubt there are many artists that don’t, or haven’t at some point, suffered from the same affliction. I call it “The Comparison Trap”.
Like most artists, when I first started painting I grabbed a couple brushes and a few tubes of paint and gave it a go. It was great fun just trying to paint something and seeing how it came out. I had a vague idea of what I wanted to do, and through trial and error I was able to create something that made me happy. Other people responded well, so I kept at it.
As I continued to paint I started wanting to learn more, to overcome challenges I was having. So on to the internet, websites, blogs, artist pages, and YouTube.
Well. It didn’t take long before I started learning how to mix colors. Cool.
Then, I started learning that I should be paying attention to values. So, more videos, more blogs, more learning. And then, composition. I needed to plan my paintings better to have better composition. Then edges, and blending. Color temperature, brush handling, techniques, etc. etc. etc.
Soon enough I found myself with a dizzying list of things I needed to know, and practice, in order to be “good”. What was once a fun way to splash color on a canvas became a bit intimidating.
I was reminded of this today talking to another artist. He was saying how sometimes when he sits down to paint he starts worrying about the details and loses sight of the big picture. He, like me, would focus on one part of the painting trying to get it right.
Last Saturday I attended a 4 hour workshop by artist Aline Ordman a really wonderful landscape painter (website here) and we were instructed to bring something to paint (photos mostly, since we were confined indoors due to weather). So I took my most recent painting, Waitsfield Farm, because I was not fully satisfied with how it turned out. My hope was to re-paint the same landscape with what I hoped to learn and see if it came out better/
Aline gave a 1-hour demo in which she painted a quick landscape and provided commentary on what she was doing and why. Here is the painting she completed (in oils) in just 1 hour
Here is what I learned from her, before I get to my own efforts:
Follow the 4 “S”s. Squint, Simplify, Stand Back, Stop.
Squint to see your value shapes and big color areas.
Simplify your subject to only what is necessary.
Stand back, often. Keep stepping back to look at your work in progress. You need that moment to see it in new light and take a breather.
Stop. Know when you are done! Don’t keep tinkering. (I wrote a blog post about this some time ago).
Her approach to putting paint on the canvas is: 1-stroke, reload. 1-stroke, reload. Repeat. This way she keeps her colors clean, wiping her brush not necessarily after every stroke but very often.
Use a BIG brush and put down BIG swaths of color. She teaches that if you want to loosen up and get more freedom in your brush strokes, you need to use your biggest brushes. Start with big swaths of color, no need for a lot of color variation as you start, that can be added later, but get that canvas covered using a big brush so you can’t be tempted to get picky with detail. Continue reading “The Value of Workshops”