Archive for the ‘My way of doing it’ Category

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.

Extending Boundaries

Tuesday, November 1st, 2016

There are many ways for an artist to stretch her boundaries.  Some are by experimenting with other media or by tackling different subject matter or approaching work more as an abstraction than as representation.  Or it may be more literal by moving from the studio into “plein air” to paint from nature.  This month I’ve been literally stretching my boundaries in a several ways, by working on a larger canvas than the smaller sizes I’ve limited myself to in recent years, and by visualizing natural elements in abstract terms of line, flow, color, value patterns, and balance.

As I reviewed some photographs I’d taken as reference studies, and considered how they might be used, I began to play with some of the abstract ideas they suggested.  The result speaks for itself.

"Sun Catchers" (#161002), oil by Charlotte Mertz, 30" x 30" x 1.5"

“Sun Catchers” (#161002), oil by Charlotte Mertz, 30″ x 30″ x 1.5″

When we allow ideas to flow beyond the usual parameters, sometimes we can surprise ourselves.

Just for the Satisfaction

Saturday, October 15th, 2016

Have you ever donated your time or work? You probably have, and if so, you will understand why I sometimes do, too.

On October 21, the Tampa Museum of Art will be hosting their 5th annual Five-by-Five Art Exhibition, presented by the Arts Council of Hillsborough County.  It will be open only from 8-11PM.  All artwork (limited to 5”x5”) is donated and exhibited anonymously, to be sold for $25 each.  And yes, the show will include two of my floral paintings—one in watercolor, one in oil, though I am not allowed to reveal which ones.  (Sorry to disappoint you:  “Angel’s Trumpet,” below, is not one of those included, though it is indicative of my style.)

Angel's Trumpet (#130405w), 3"x5" watercolor

Angel’s Trumpet (#130405w), 3″x5″ watercolor

A roster of participating artists and a preview of works available for sale during the event will be posted on FivebyFiveTampaBay.com before the event. The evening will also include live performances in a variety of disciplines.

Why might an artist choose to donate paintings anonymously that she could sell under her own signature to increase her name recognition?

For any of several reasons.

One is the satisfaction of sharing her work with buyers who appreciate it for what it is rather than buying on the basis of her name.  (Artists’ names will be revealed only after the artwork is purchased.)

Another is the satisfaction of supporting others’ artistic endeavors through sales—in this case, the Arts Council of Hillsborough County (Florida), to help underwrite workshops and grants.  $10 admission fees will also help support the Tampa Museum of Art.

I have frequently benefited from the generosity of others; I like being able to take the opportunity to give back.  If you’re in the Tampa area on Friday, October 21, I hope you’ll stop by the Tampa Museum of Art to peruse the variety of works available.