Archive for the ‘My way of seeing things’ Category


Wednesday, July 1st, 2020

The question often arises, “How can I develop an artistic style?”  Perhaps the most difficult answer for a young artist to hear is that it develops on its own. Over time. With lots and lots of practice.  (Sorry, kids, but it doesn’t pay to fake it.)

"Red Chopsticks," by Charlotte Mertz  (8"x10" watercolor, #140208w)

“Red Chopsticks,” by Charlotte Mertz
(8″x10″ watercolor, #140208w)

The truth is that it has to do with the palette choices an artist typically makes, how we adjust colors, the way we handle our brushwork, the subjects we choose and the concepts that move us, the degree to which we include detail or suggestion, how realistic or abstract our compositions tend to be, how we handle edges and transitions, how we design our compositions, ….

These choices are made based on our understanding and experience at any given point in our artistic development. In the beginning we may rely entirely on the guidance of a teacher or our own creative instincts. The more experience we gain, the more readily we can base our choices on our own discoveries and preferences.

These kinds of choices are all among the many factors that contribute to what others come to recognize as our personal artistic style. We are less likely to recognize it as a “style” ourselves because it feels so natural to us. It seems too easy!

In fact, these style choices are usually not made through conscious decisions but by what feels good, comfortable, or natural to us and the way we handle our medium(s).

And yes, those behaviors and choices (whether conscious or unconscious) can and should change over time, as we learn, as our work matures, and as we gain confidence in the process.

We’re doing well when we begin to recognize similarities in our paintings, because these are clues about our developing personal style.

Yet we should never feel we can’t change things up just because it’s a common thread at the moment. Experimentation with variations of those commonalities is how our work continues to develop and mature.

Saved for a rainy day

Monday, June 15th, 2020

The idea of “saving for a rainy day” has become something of a joke because we often don’t recognize when the “rainy day” arrives, so we hesitate to touch what we’ve saved, even then.

"This Too Shall Pass," by Charlotte Mertz (11"x15" watercolor, #200404w)

“This Too Shall Pass,” by Charlotte Mertz (11″x15″ watercolor, #200404w)

What I’ve “saved for a rainy day” is photographs, reference material to use when I might no longer be able to travel as freely as when I was young.

Well guess what. That rainy day is here! The time has come when most of us have found ourselves looking at the same scenery day after day.  For many, our world shrank down to our immediate environs. Travel has been limited, and the comfort of human interaction has been discouraged.

But I still have those photographs, as well as images sent by others, and the personal memories of a lifetime to broaden my view, to remind me that there are other things, other places, other people in this world beyond our immediate surroundings and concerns. They carry me outside the present insular world of limited space into the universality of human experience.

It’s been euphemistically raining cats and dogs for months now. Buckets; a deluge, a gully-washer. Longer even than the 40 days and 40 nights of Noah’s proverbial (and likewise unprecedented) voyage. It’s a prime time to sift through my savings of photographs and a lifetime of experiences and remember that everyone everywhere has been affected. Although a clearer sky may be on my horizon, others may still be feeling the brunt of the storm.

Can I use my art to provide an emotional stabilizer to lift spirits and remind us all that “this too shall pass”? I have to try.  What can I do to uplift others? Paint, teach, encourage,…?

Is it enough? Maybe not, but it’s a start. It’s something. And it may mean more to someone else than I realize at the time. Even though it doesn’t feel to me like enough, it may mean everything to them.  So I paint.  And teach.  And offer encouragement when I can.


Waging the War

Friday, May 1st, 2020

There are many ways to fight a war.  Focused on our own discomfort of being at home in the “underground” of the War of Covid19, many of us seem often to forget those troops in the febrile and sleepless battle being waged at the front—in the hospitals and research labs. Too often we take for granted the “couriers” who maintain our lines of communication and the “supply lines” that provide for our physical needs.

"A Greater Love," by Charlotte Mertz (11"x15" watercolor, #200410w)

“A Greater Love,” by Charlotte Mertz
(11″x15″ watercolor, #200410w)

Many in the “underground” are making masks, reaching out to help neighbors more vulnerable than they themselves are, teaching others unexplored skills, and serving the community in numerous other ways while observing new and often uncomfortable new social procedures and limitations. I appreciate all the efforts being made to make a difficult time more tolerable.

Thanks to the support staffs in many residential facilities, who have left their own homes to temporarily live on site to ensure that their vulnerable clients are not exposed to health threats from outside the residence.

I appreciate the “couriers” who keep landlines and wireless services operating, transport our mail, and deliver supplies to our doors, and the innovators who develop alternative means of delivering such services as health and education remotely.

And what would we do without those in the “supply line” who are doing their best to reroute food and other necessities to those few physical outlets that remain open, to the stockers, shipping staffs, truckers, and check-out personnel who facilitate necessary purchases and deliveries?

Today I particularly want to say “Thank you!” to those who have and continue to put their own comfort and safety on the line in order to take care of the rest of us. Thank you all!

Mixed feelings about sales

Wednesday, April 15th, 2020

I have to admit that I have rather mixed feelings about selling my work. It’s exciting to know someone is so interested in it. It’s certainly affirming. I’m happy for the recipient. And I’m happy to complete the sale.

"Getting to the Point," by Charlotte Mertz  (10"x8" watercolor, #190906w)

“Getting to the Point,” by Charlotte Mertz
(10″x8″ watercolor, #190906w)

But it’s a bit like marrying off one of my children, who will always be of my conception and development, yet is no longer under my roof, no longer in my presence every day.  Just as I prepared my children for life after childhood, to not only survive but to thrive on their own, to find their own purpose and place in life, I have seen my purpose fulfilled through sharing my art, my work, thoughts, ideas, emotion, and efforts with others.

So I’m happy that my work has found a new home. But sometimes it’s a little painful to let go.

(By the way, I’m an appreciative and hands-off in-law, so have no fear if you, too, are looking to acquire one of my “children.”) But … does anyone have a hankie?

Affordable alternatives to becoming “self-taught”

Wednesday, April 1st, 2020

Many amateur artists seem to pride themselves on being self-taught.  But have you ever noticed how few professional artists claim to be?  There are exceptions, and my hat goes off to them.  No fooling. They are remarkable!

It’s true that self-directed learning may seem to be the only option some artists feel they have if they can’t afford either the time or money for formal training, or if they are geographically or socially isolated, as so many of us are now. But fully self-directed learning can be difficult and slow.  The greatest problem with it is that most untrained artists often don’t recognize what they don’t know.  So they don’t know what they still need to try to figure out.

Without guidance from knowledgeable sources, they may be oblivious to artistic principles or techniques that would markedly improve their work.  So unless they discover answers through conscientious observation or through trial and error, their work will be very slow to improve.

In truth, in today’s world, anyone with internet access has little need be solely selftaught.  Lessons, tips, artist blogs, comprehensive art courses, museum collections, on-line galleries, as well as discussion forums are all available.  Many are free; others can be accessed for a nominal fee, compared to the cost of attending a brick-and-mortar art school.  Online examples of both good and bad art abound. The difficulty for untrained artists is to discern the difference, beyond their personal preferences of subject matter or style.

So, although it’s an easy term to employ, claiming to be “self-taught” is a rather foolish act of hubris:  either unintentionally admitting to having limited one’s learning by choice, or failing to acknowledge all the influences to which one has been exposed.  After all, what part might have been played in one’s education by the galleries and museums browsed, videos viewed, how-to books read, community classes attended, other artists watched and listened to, …?   With rare exceptions, these are the teachers from whom most “self-taught” artists have actually learned.

Although the artist may not have received formal training, he or she is still both student and facilitator who decides what and whom to study.  That’s self-directed learning.  But unless the artist has painstakingly worked out the design principles and mastered the medium and techniques in isolation, it’s foolish to limit oneself to self-teaching.

I received little art guidance (and even less formal art training) in public school, but I later found many sites online that offered classes and how-to tips. I learned from knowledgeable friends who were kind enough to point out what I was doing right and problems I should watch out for. Eventually I was fortunate to find a comprehensive online course (Virtual Art Academy) that filled in the gaping holes in my understanding of art, with knowledgeable and encouraging feedback through its student forum.

So I certainly can’t claim to be self-taught! Nor would I want to. Guidance from other artists has been invaluable in my own artistic development.

Now I like to give back to others whose artistic endeavors may be self-directed, as my own were.  Although I completed the Virtual Art Academy course several years ago, I feel strongly enough about its benefits for artists wanting to increase both their skills and understanding of artistic principles that I remain actively involved in the student forum.  And I continue to learn as I review the continually supplemented and updated curriculum, and as I review the lessons with increasingly experienced insights.

If you would like to read more about me or my work, you can sign up here for my free monthly newsletter, “Around and About” in which I always try to share some of my own learning, struggles, practices, and more, including a monthly critique to provide some insight into what works, what doesn’t, and why.

I wish you increasing satisfaction and success with your own work.  And whether you’re formally trained or self-directed, I encourage you to keep learning!