Practice and Trying To Do Our Level Best

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.

Following Irma

September 15th, 2017

For those who have been concerned about my well-being during Hurricane Irma’s onslaught in Southwest Florida, I thought I’d post a notice here to let you know that we came through virtually unscathed.  My husband and I were in Wisconsin at the time, so we were well out of harm’s way.  Before leaving Florida, we had closed down our Fort Myers house sufficiently that we incurred only minor damage, most notably the loss of a tree in the front yard and the loss of electrical power for two days.

If you’re interested  in reading about how it has affected my work, you may want to sign up on my email list before my next month’s newsletter, “Around and About,” comes out on October 8.  The newsletter will also include a critique of the painting “Eye on the Horizon” (#170908), shown below.

"Eye on the Horizon" by Charlotte Mertz (#170908, oil on canvas)

“Eye on the Horizon” by Charlotte Mertz (#170908, oil on canvas)

We were extremely fortunate and very grateful to get off so lightly!  We certainly empathize with our neighbors and friends who have incurred much more damage and wish them a rapid recovery as we all begin the process of assessment and cleanup.

Because life has been so up in the air lately, I’m still open to feedback on my previous blog.  Don’t miss your chance to let your voice be heard!

I get the impression that many of you like to know what goes on behind the scenes, including what prompts me to select certain subjects and how I approach the work.  This includes the bumps in the road and lessons I may have learned from those “oops”es along the way.

In the coming months I will try to fulfill your requests, address your suggestions, and focus both the blog and the newsletter more on those topics you have indicated that you’re most interested in.  Please continue to send your feedback, either by email or by commenting directly on the posts.  It really does encourage me to continue writing and helps me to provide the information you’re looking for.  After all, the blog and newsletter are for you, so I want them both to address your interests.

Lucky Seven!

September 1st, 2017

Seven and a half years of blogging?  Wow!  It’s almost enough to bring on the dreaded seven-year itch.  Do I want to continue?  You bet I do!  But maybe with a difference.  That part is up to you ….

I have been publishing at least two blog entries on my website every month since February 2010.  I always welcome feedback from my readers but would like to hear from more of you to get a better idea of what appeals to you and what doesn’t.  This whole blog is for you, after all, not just about me.  Please take a few minutes and let me know what you think, what you’d like to see more or less of, and what direction you’d like to see my blog take in the future.

Your help would mean a lot to me.  Please copy and paste the following short survey section into an email to me (charlotte@charlottemertz.com).  Then add your responses before sending it by September 10.  Please use the subject line “2017 BLOG SURVEY” so I can easily separate your valuable responses from the inevitable spam.

Check or X as many blanks as apply to you, and comment as fully as you wish; I look forward to receiving and reading your feedback:

  1. I am an artist ___ , an appreciator/collector of art ___ , a fan of your art ___ , an otherwise interested reader ___ particularly interested in [replace this line with your choice of topics]
  2. I read the blog regularly (1-2 times a month) ___ ; occasionally (every 2-6 months) ___ ; rarely ___
  3. Please send an email reminder to [replace this line with your preferred email address, if you wish to receive a new-post reminder*] when a new post is published. (Or No thank you. ___ )
  4. My favorite categories are:  School of Oops ___ , My way of seeing things ___ , My way of doing it ___ , News ___ , Travel ___ , Other ________ )
  5. Topics or past blogs of particularly interest to me include (answer as fully as you wish): _
  6. I would like to see more: _
  7. I would prefer to see less: _
  8. Additional comments or suggestions: _

 

Thank you for your help.  I look forward to receiving your feedback!  If you would like to hear from me more frequently or in greater depth, consider subscribing to my monthly newsletter, “Around and About.”*

*I will not add your email address to any mailing list unless you request it, nor will I give or sell it to any other party; you may cancel at any time. 

 

Confidence

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

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.