Archive for the ‘My way of seeing things’ Category

Casting new light on the subject

Sunday, October 15th, 2017

One of my goals for October is to study the effect of unusually colored light sources.  Such study helps train my eye to see the real colors before me—not just the local color we expect to see but how that color is influenced by the color of the light.   The colors within shadows and reflections are also affected by the unusual color of the light, as well.

"What Shell I Paint"  (watercolor, 10"x8", #171001w)

“What Shell I Paint” (watercolor, 10″x8″ #171001w)

One of the studies I made was of a still life in whites with warm, earth-tone influences.  I used a red bulb to illuminate it so that even highlights on the white satin shone as a pale pink.   The shadows were strongly influenced with turquoise—the complement of the red light cast by this specific bulb.  But because most of the elements of the still life were reflective, bouncing the red light back into the turquoise shadows, the colors of the light and shadow combined into variations of lilac.

Not surprisingly, the red light emphasized the warmth of the warm color spots on the subject, enriching its appearance and enhancing its appeal, while the cool shadow areas provided a contrasting foil.  Incorporating some muted yellows and warm browns helped balance the color harmony, which could otherwise have appeared too “sweet.”

Practice and Trying To Do Our Level Best

Sunday, October 1st, 2017

It’s important to understand artistic principles, but when it comes to painting, the rubber meets the road in the application phase.  There’s a lot to keep in mind in planning and preparing to paint a composition. But even when it’s carefully planned, the execution of a painting is another matter entirely:  Can we stick to the plan?  Can we maintain the dynamic balance as the composition develops?  Can we keep the value range where we intend it?  Does the edgework enhance the sense of perspective?  Is the level of detail appropriate in each area of the composition?  Are hue and saturation variations used to their greatest effect?  …

There will almost certainly be changes made during the painting process.  Some will be intentional; others will be inadvertent.  Regular practice will help an artist recognize and identify which variances are improvements and which are detrimental to the work and should be re-addressed.

Practice is immeasurably valuable to a painter.  Purely mental exercises, from observing and making mental note of the physical world around us, to recognizing how those elements may be used to develop an artistic concept for a composition, are a form of practice.  I find that careful observation is an invaluable skill that can be practiced at all hours, with or without pencil or brush in hand.  And envisioning concepts for paintings can be practiced continually as we talk with other people, become aware of world events, or recognize personal passions.

But active, more concrete practice is crucial both to instill artistic principles in our minds and to incorporate them into our planning stages.  This includes rough sketches, selection of media, value studies, palette planning, color studies, and other carefully considered preliminary work before the final composition is undertaken.

Physical practice is equally crucial for training our intellects to either follow or intentionally deviate from the plans we have made and to train our hands to manipulate our tools masterfully to successfully execute our intentions.

Following our plans necessitates practicing ongoing comparisons among the subject, the preliminary plans and studies, and the ultimate composition.  Even if the subject is not literal but imagined, we must have a clear understanding of the “subject in kind”—that is, a solid anatomical or mechanical understanding of the subject’s form and appearance and how it would move if it were literal.

Training our hands includes practice in developing application techniques and the gradual discovery of our natural style, creating specific types of marks with our implements—whether brushes, palette knives, fingers, or other tools—and in understanding, anticipating, and controlling the consistency and working qualities of our media with all the variations we choose to incorporate.

None of it is easy.  It all takes time and ongoing effort to develop a working understanding, and to exceed and surpass our current level’s “best.”  But it’s worth it.

Am I doing my “level best”?  I wish I could say that I always manage to.  But though I welcome the challenge to get there, I rarely fully succeed and often become discouraged in the attempt, because however far I get, “better” is just a step beyond.  And the better I get, the more difficult the struggle becomes to exceed my current level’s best.

Confidence

Tuesday, August 15th, 2017

Even small successes nurture confidence.

A month ago I had the delightful experience of watching my youngest grandchild learn to walk.  He’d already taken his first unsupported steps some time before I arrived for my visit, but on my first day there, he was still toddling only a few steps at a time before landing on his well-padded seat and having to cautiously resume his upright stance before making another attempt.

"Stepping Out," by Charlotte Mertz (7"x5" graphite pencil, #170801p)

“Stepping Out,” by Charlotte Mertz (7″x5″ graphite pencil, #170801p)

The second morning of our visit, he was able to walk for several additional steps at a time.  But if he swiveled his head or tried to turn, he lost his balance and would drop down onto his seat again.

By the third morning he had mastered his turns enough to make a game of pivoting, and by evening was able to not only cross the entire room but chase his brother halfway down the hallway.  His efforts weren’t perfect; he wobbled a lot and frequently lost his balance.  But he had developed enough confidence to prefer his upright mobility to his previous four-point method of locomotion.  And the more he drew on his confidence, the more adept he became.

The same is true when we practice any skill.  Our advancements may not be as apparent as those of a young child, but even our baby steps do improve with practice, and, despite minor setbacks, “wobbles,” and sometimes-less-than-stellar results, the more we succeed, the more confident we become.  That confidence becomes apparent in the results of our efforts, which, in turn, encourages us to stretch our skills even further.

So whether our practice is in walking, drawing, painting, playing a musical instrument, or some other skill, even small successes indicate progress.  And progress generates confidence that our efforts are worthwhile.  So let’s focus on our successes, however small.  We’re getting better all the time.  Let’s keep at it!

Creatives and Commitment

Tuesday, August 1st, 2017

“Creatives” – those of us with an artistic or creative bent, often find that our artistic interests lie in a number of different fields—visual arts, music, writing, crafts, invention, and more.  Our problems often lie not in a lack of interests or abilities but in an overabundance of them.  Our time and energy can become so fragmented as we attempt to follow such a wide range of pursuits that we don’t fully commit ourselves to any.

But, however creative we may be, without commitment and focused effort, how can we excel?

I’ve found that when my own attention is cast in too many different directions, shotgun style, I can’t home in on a single area to try to master.  I am often faced with some hard choices about which to set aside.  I need to determine where my primary field of interest lies at any given time, and therefore where I need to concentrate my most intensive focus.  Once I do that, it becomes easier to cull out the less important or less productive pursuits that drain my time and energy or distract me from seeking mastery in that primary area.  Painful as it often is, I need to conscientiously say “No!” when tempted to head off on yet another artistic or creative tangent.

I’ve had to do precisely that this summer, having come to the painful realization that one pursuit, which I thoroughly enjoyed, was demanding a disproportionate amount of time and energy and had been distracting me from what I consider my primary pursuit.

Certainly it’s possible to pursue and attain a high level of skill in more than one creative field. We have many examples before us of creative people who have excelled in multiple areas of expertise. But we need to know ourselves well enough to recognize our limitations and how many fields we can realistically expect to master within a given time frame.  Also, we can rarely reach mastery in two different fields simultaneously, but are more likely to master them at different periods in our lifetime, allowing ourselves time and focus to develop separate skill sets specific to each field.

Perhaps we may be satisfied with mastering one or two fields and be “just good enough” for personal satisfaction and general enjoyment in other areas.  That’s ok, too, … so long as  “just good enough” in too many areas doesn’t interfere with striving for excellence in even one.  If it does, it may be time to evaluate our self-image and personal goals (“Am I willing to remain mediocre because I feel that I’m nothing special, or because I don’t want to stand out in the crowd or become famous, or because I don’t want to work that hard, or because I can’t afford the time or cost of further training, or because I’m giving [X] higher priority right now?”)  We may have valid reasons for settling for mediocrity in some areas.  Or these “reasons” may just be excuses—conscious or unconscious—to justify neglecting our innate talents.  We often walk a fine line in that regard, so we need to be honest with ourselves.

I think it’s important to acknowledge what our own individual bent is (which is not the same as a talent we may envy in someone else and wish we shared), and to concentrate on that, committing to hone our understanding and related skills in that/those limited area[s].  Then we’re more likely to get somewhere noteworthy.

Investigating Artistic Impetus

Saturday, July 15th, 2017

Last time I wrote about my interest in trying to figure out what compels me to paint and what drives me as an artist.  Is it merely the sensual stimulation and enjoyment I gain from manipulating the brush and color?  Or could it be some egotistical need to compete with and attempt to enhance nature’s glory?  Or am I driven by a desire to share with others my perceptions of those subjects that interest me?  Or is it a combination of things that impels me toward some greater, overriding purpose?

I have practiced art from the time I was quite young.  Whether the drawings were any good, and whether my color choices had any basis in reality, or were simply a response to what I thought they should be, was largely immaterial.  The point was that I was interested in trying to depict subjects that appealed to me.  It was a way of investigating and trying to more fully understand and appreciate the world around me.

As I got a little older, I tended to stay quiet, with “eyes and ears open and mouth shut,” as my Dad used to put it.  I watched people.  I looked at the lines of their bodies as they moved around, the way their facial features were shaped, and how the texture of their skin reflected light in different ways at different ages.  (It may be just as well that my classmates had no clue about what I was thinking; it definitely could have been misinterpreted!)

In a way, I suppose that’s what I’m still doing—studying, trying to understand and appreciate subjects that interest me.  And such intangible qualities as light, color, line, and pattern are at least as important subjects in my work today as the physical subjects that act as vehicles for exploring them.

"Illumination"

“Illumination”

A-ha!  So that‘s it!  (Have you ever experienced a revelatory “a-ha” moment yourself?  Exciting, isn’t it!)

Now that I recognize what my subject matter really is, I look forward to growing in that knowledge.  I trust it will free me to explore it further, becoming less concerned with objects as subjects and more concerned with those revealing qualities that drew my attention to those objects.

Stick around and let’s see where it leads!