Archive for the ‘My way of doing it’ Category

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….

My Teaching Philosophy, part 3: On artistic principles

Wednesday, February 1st, 2017

It is important for serious students of art to understand basic artistic principles.  The more of those principles we understand, the easier it becomes to optimize our own work, no matter what medium we use.  And the greater appreciation we gain for the mastery of great artists we might otherwise overlook.

Although I do try to incorporate and discuss many of the principles in my classes, in conjunction with lessons on watercolor technique and during our subsequent coaching sessions, I can’t cover them all.  The spectrum of artistic principles is far too broad to allow me to cover everything comprehensively in the few short class sessions that I teach in our community every winter.

A brief overview of the principles applying specifically to artistic composition is available in my ebook, Elements of Great Composition: A Quick Reference for Photographers and Other Visual Artists.  Needless to say, there are many additional principles besides these that need to be learned, regarding use of color, creating the illusion of form, perspective, and so on.

Final-EGC-Cover-(small)Any self-taught artist who is serious about improving his or her work and learning to appreciate the finer aspects of art in general, would do well to seek out a comprehensive course that goes beyond the “tips” offered by many popular teachers for using a specific medium.  It should provide both a firm foundation of artistic principles and at least an overview of the development of various artistic styles throughout history.   I used the Virtual Art Academy, an online, self-paced course, to fill this gap in my own belated artistic education.  It is just such a comprehensive program, and I have found the training invaluable for my own artistic development.

My point is that, as artists, we should be continually seeking out opportunities to learn many different aspects of art.  These will gradually coalesce and contribute to a personal style by providing us more tools and information from which to draw as we strive to express our unique artistic vision.

As you settle into 2017 and envision the year unfolding ahead of you, challenge yourself to seek out some form of continuing education to both reinforce and extend your current understanding and level of mastery in whatever area your creative passions may be.

My Teaching Philosophy, part 2: The risk of teaching stylistic methods

Sunday, January 15th, 2017

It’s probably safe to say that an artist who is confident enough in his own skills to teach others has most likely developed certain stylistic methods.  Not only do these methods feel comfortable to her, but (presumably) they have served her purposes well.  Because these methods feel “natural,” it’s easy for an artist/teacher to assume that they will feel natural to others and be as successful for them.  But there is a danger in this assumption because it’s rarely true.

Eye of the Moon (#110805w)

Eye of the Moon (#110805w)

What the teacher may overlook is that these methods suit a specific style, which derive from not only mastery of a medium and understanding of artistic principles but from the artist’s internal vision of what she wants to express and how she wants to affect her audience.  No two artists will share exactly the same vision or purpose.  This means that their approaches to the medium will differ, and their implementation of the principles may be quite divergent, as well.

So it’s unwise to impose stylistic methods on other artists.

Yet we can certainly learn from one another, gleaning ideas for methods that can be adapted to suit our own styles. 

So there’s nothing wrong with offering alternative approaches to solving compositional problems or suggestions for alternative methods of paint application, so long as we don’t expect others to do everything exactly our way or emulate our style.  Instead, these alternatives should be offered primarily for purposes of adaptation to suit each artist’s individual conceptual needs.

My Teaching Philosophy, part 1: Teaching techniques

Sunday, January 1st, 2017

As we enter the new year and I look forward to another opportunity to teach, I am reminded that lessons I teach must be clearly focused.  As a working artist, there is a strong temptation to try to cover too much ground too quickly, and even to influence beginning artists inappropriately to adopt certain stylistic methods before students have had a chance to discover their own style.

Aside from art history, the study of painting includes technique (handling of a specific medium and the implements used to apply and control it), artistic principles (how optimal results can be achieved through design, color, and use of the medium), and development of style (the method of integrating techniques and principles in a way that expresses the artist’s unique vision and concept).

A related and overlapping form of teaching is that of coaching, which is less structured while (optimally) encouraging and guiding the student’s efforts, offering constructive critiques, suggestions, guidance, and alternatives to be explored.

My beginning watercolor classes focus on technique.  This allows beginners to learn what to expect from the paper as well as the paints, how water and pigments interact with one another, how flow can be encouraged or controlled, how edges can be adjusted to create specific effects, how differently shaped brushes can be manipulated to achieve a variety of marks, and so on.  munsell-colors-croppedThrough a series of exercises students begin to develop confidence in their knowledge and understanding of the medium and in their control over its application.  They learn how to avoid or minimize common difficulties that arise, and how to respond when the paint doesn’t behave quite as they originally intended.  This increasing confidence allows them the freedom to play and enjoy their further exploratory efforts as they continue to learn. img_1666-croppedFollowing the instruction portion of each class I also incorporate individualized coaching while students are applying the lesson.  I feel that this is an important component of teaching to help my students develop independence and self-confidence as their artistic understanding and skills increase.

Time for Tough Questions

Tuesday, November 15th, 2016

Last time, I wrote about surprising ourselves by reaching outside our usual parameters.  But sometimes it’s better to stay strictly within established boundaries.

When an artist is continually experimenting with media, ideas, and boundaries, the question can’t help but arise:  What about consistency?

What can an artist do to ensure that her work remains consistent?  What is it about her work that announces that it is hers, her style, whatever the medium or subject?  What contributes to individuality, to “style”?  And what should be avoided that might detract from a sense of consistency in an artist’s body of work?  If her work is varied, how can she narrow down to one aspect upon which she can build a career?  How can she identify where to focus her attention and energy?

These are questions I’ve been struggling with for several years, and the importance of it was brought home to me recently when a gallerist was giving me feedback about my work.

A review of past lessons learned, as well as additional research, have reinforced that realization and provided some insights about how to edit down both investigative inclinations and less successful “variations on a theme.”  The seemingly negative job of pruning out is a critical activity, but it isn’t the only task necessary.  Creating consistency also includes the positive element of conscious choice about specific areas to develop.

My goal for 2017 will be to identify which areas to focus on to develop a consistent, unified body of work from here on out.  Oh yes, I will continue to explore and experiment.  That’s how an artist’s work continues to evolve and mature.  But if I can control my investigative impulses, those pieces will represent only a small percentage of my overall creative output, while the core of my work should become stronger and more stylistically consistent when my focus is narrowed down and kept within specific constraints.

Just as shrubs bloom better when properly pruned because nutrients are rerouted to critical areas of the plant, creativity also blossoms more effectively when constraints are put in place that remove many distracting, and often conflicting, possibilities.  When limiting parameters are established, we must search farther, reach deeper, and become more innovative to find the answers we need within those constraints.  And we can reasonably expect that such increasingly intensive searching will bring greater depth and mastery to our work.  This is my goal for the coming year.