Archive for April, 2017

Suitability of Style

Saturday, April 15th, 2017

In the past few weeks, I’ve recently been realizing just how conservative my painting approach has been.  I’m finding that my attempts at “creativity”—or perhaps more accurately, my variations from the literal—are more in the realm of simplification, substitution of colors, and composition layout than in experimentation with application techniques to help express the painting’s concept.

I admire in others’ work the use of strong, vibrant colors.  But I have to struggle to paint with such boldness myself.  I tend to be a quiet, rather unassuming person, not comfortable calling attention to myself.  My work reflects that.  Boldness is not appropriate for my work.  But what is?  The answer to that question is one every serious artist seeks, either consciously or unconsciously, until a personal style gradually emerges.  For some, the answer presents itself more readily than for others.

With each painting I undertake, evaluation almost always calls my attention to some aspect that could be adjusted to improve the effect.  And from these observations and revisions I’m continuously learning, reviewing old lessons, refining my observation skills, and adjusting my planning approach, preparatory to taking on the next subject.  This is an organic form of style development, growing bit by bit out of experience, even if not so daring as such do-or-die methods of experimentation as spattering paint across a canvas or encouraging runs and drips for the sake of unifying the image.

Perhaps some of those alternative methods would enhance my vision of a subject.  But, although I often admire such techniques in others’ work, most don’t coincide with my own aesthetic, personality, or artistic vision.  When I experiment, it should be to enhance my own visualization of the subject, not to emulate someone else’s technique.

So I’m looking now at some of the earliest influences that attracted me to any artwork:  These include the minimalist efficiency of Oriental art, particularly sumi-e and woodblock prints, subtlety of hue, graceful line, translucence, and limitation of detail to key areas.  I ask myself how they have affected my aesthetic, how they have influenced my work, and whether they have already (or could) become signature characteristics of my work.  Through this evaluation, I can see that yes, they do still excite me and are, to varying degrees, already evident in my paintings.

These influences may also explain why I’m more consistently drawn to the subtlety of watercolor than to the vibrant potential of oils or acrylics.  This realization reinforces my decision to focus on watercolor rather than on those other mediums that many artists consider easier to control.

The next step beyond recognizing how those specific influences have affected my work and preference of medium is to consciously incorporate more of those characteristics into future work to see if they eventually integrate themselves to a greater degree into my style, even without such conscious intent.

So another route of exploration is mapped out, and the journey continues….

Reflections on Enlightenment

Saturday, April 1st, 2017

I particularly enjoyed teaching my Continuing Watercolor classes this spring.  The small class size of dedicated students meant that we could closely focus on each student’s needs and development goals.  It was very satisfying to me, as an instructor, to observe my students’ advancement and their grasp and implementation of the concepts I presented.

Unlike the pattern of most of my classes, instead of actually painting during the class, my Continuing Watercolor students all asked to spend the bulk of class time observing as I painted and applied the precepts I’d just presented to them.  They preferred to work on their own, outside of class, and to review and discuss their work at the subsequent class session.  Although it surprised me at first that they didn’t want to work in class where I could respond to their questions as they arose (as I have done with beginning students), this alternate approach has worked well for this group of students.

I expect that the limited class time placed them under an uncomfortable sense of pressure, which was removed when they could work at their leisure.  But I also came to realize that they appreciated and learned from the ongoing commentary as I talked through my thought process and decision-making while painting a demonstration piece.  Their immediate feedback in the form of questions and correlations encouraged further discussion.  Critiquing their work during the following class session integrated opportunities to review and reinforce the previous week’s lesson while transitioning into the new lesson.

The change in approach benefited me, as well, because it forced me to think through and explain my reasoning.  This not only enlightened the students but reinforced the lesson in my own mind.  Because, like it or not, when we become too familiar with certain principles, we often tend to overlook or undervalue them. The old adage that familiarity breeds contempt may be overstating the case, but we do have a tendency to under-appreciate those things we are overly confident that we understand.  So these classroom demos helped my own work, as well, by reminding me of fundamental lessons and clarifying the why’s as well as the how’s throughout the multi-faceted decision-making process.