Posts Tagged ‘artistic practice’

Every effort—a learning opportunity

Thursday, November 1st, 2018

Does an artist always need to practice?  Absolutely!  The old adage “Use it or lose it,” applies here just as much as in any other realm.  Conscious and deliberate practice sessions are often undertaken to develop or strengthen a specific skill.  But every painting I undertake … or even consider and reject before ever setting brush to palette … gives me additional practice in skills that continually need honing.

Whether to paint, or not, is a continual question:  Is this subject worthy of the time and effort needed?  Is the concept interesting or evocative?  What makes me want to paint it?  Can the subject or scene be treated in an interesting enough manner to create an appealing composition?  When the answer is no, I keep looking.  When it is yes, it poses further questions:

How varied is the value range, and can it be adjusted or simplified to create a stronger statement?  How should I handle the color harmony?  Does the subject lend itself to a limited palette or beg for a broader spectrum of hues?  What is the chromatic range?  Will it translate well into paint?  If not, how can the scene be modified to improve its effectiveness?

What structural design will best serve the subject to effectively express the concept?

All of these questions and many more need to be dealt with before painting should actually begin.  And the act of simply going through the exercise of seeking the answers (either consciously or subconsciously) sharpens my artistic eye and multiplies the creative possibilities.

Finding alternatives to the obvious answers helps keep my work fresh.  Why allow it to bog down by approaching the same types of subjects in the same-ol’-same-ol’ ways?  It’s good to play with fresh approaches to see what might evolve.

No matter how hard we may try, not every painting is going to succeed.  But that doesn’t mean that the effort is wasted.  Every painting, whether successful or not, serves a purpose.  It is another step along an endless learning curve.  It may reinforce previous successes or call attention to a need for stricter attention to some technical skill; it sharpens my perception and hones my technique.  And it broadens my experience, which in turn nurtures my creativity.

Oh yes, it’s wonderful to find encouragement in achieving a difficult effect.  But it’s also a welcome challenge to recognize the need for developing a different approach to a seemingly insurmountable problem.  That simply serves as a goad to keep me trying.  And that, in itself, is valuable.

We rarely underestimate the satisfaction of a success.  But neither should we underestimate the positive potential of a failure!  We should always ask what we can learn from it.

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.