Posts Tagged ‘subject’

Developing a Cohesive Body of Work

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014

In order to create a cohesive body of work, there should be a certain commonality to all the paintings. A thread of similarity should run through them to tie them together as a group—whether through theme, subject, color palette, or some other unifying factor.

140512w A Break in the Clouds,

I find it easiest to maintain this thread if I plan a series based on the same general subject matter. That unifying factor may be as broad as a geographical region, a repeated shape, natural scenery, either specific or general subject matter, or a recognizable time of day. Or it may be as narrow as the same subject from a variety of angles, under varied lighting conditions, or at various stages of maturity. Or the thread can be less obvious than that, appearing, perhaps, as a repeated theme, such as education, relocation, relationships, or some universally recognizable human condition.

In the past, I have found that after painting only two or three pieces in what I had intended to become a series, I have become diverted from that focus and have begun working in some other realm, often on a different theme entirely. That tendency was not conducive to developing a cohesive collection. So, aside from one-shot paintings, not intended to be part of a series, I’m challenging myself to complete series of at least five paintings before changing gears to pursue a different theme.

I have begun a new gallery page called Recent Series Work. For the next few months, it will display my Irish Series, which I began this summer. The paintings, like “Break in the Clouds” (#140512w), above, are images inspired by a tour my husband and I made recently on the Emerald Isle. I expect to be adding more images to it in the coming weeks. I hope you will take time to browse through the gallery. The series page will be changed from time to time to reflect the changes in series themes. I invite your feedback, both on this series and on forthcoming ones.

“Neither a borrower nor unethical be”

Friday, July 1st, 2011

As I borrow and rephrase Plutonius’s advice to Laertes (from Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 3, line 75), I do hope Mr. Shakespeare will forgive the liberties I have taken. Fortunately, since I wasn’t able to ask his permission, his original line is now in the public domain. But I still can’t claim it as my own.

101205 Holly Berries 2010

An artist for whom I have considerable admiration and who has influenced my own work has been struggling lately with her students’ and others’ “borrowing” her compositional concepts for their own commercial use. What’s wrong with this practice? Aren’t they selling their own paintings? The answer to that is a matter of ethics. Yes, they did lay the paint on the paper. But no, since the concept and the original composition did not spring directly from their own minds, it is not really theirs, any more than the title of this article is mine.

Perhaps it would help to ask what constitutes “original” art? Many artists might see the same view of a subject and have the same general idea of recreating the image in paint. The originality lies in the artist’s perspective, interpretation, and treatment of the subject. This includes the parameters within which the subject is placed (the placement on the paper, as well as how closely cropped it is), the angle at which it is depicted, lighting, tone, and mood, as well as what the artist chooses to emphasize or minimize. These differences become quite apparent in sketches made by different artists. But it is true in photography, as well. No two photographs taken by different photographers are likely to be exactly the same.

What if two artists base their paintings on different sections of the same photograph? Can they claim that their works are “original”? Only the artist who shot the reference photograph can ethically claim the resulting painting as solely his own work. Why? Because the original photograph was part of the concept of the paintings, and the photographic perspective was selected and composed or cropped by the workings of that artist’s mind. In that case, the photographer may be able to claim originality in the painting. If the painted treatment, however, is not original – for instance, if the treatment copies the style of a different artist – the finished painting still might not be considered “original” even though the artist did shoot the original photograph. Though the composition was original, the style was not; therefore the finished painting is still considered derivative.

In that case, is it ever acceptable to base a painting on someone else’s photograph or style? It can be for certain purposes.

I consider it acceptable use if someone else takes a photograph and either requests that a painting be derived from it or grants clear permission for it to be used as the basis for a painting. But in either case, the artist must not claim full credit for an “original” work of art, and appropriate credit should be given to the photographer.

In the same way, for certain purposes, it can also be acceptable to base a work on someone else’s style. For instance, a teacher might ask all her students to work from the same photograph or painting. Isn’t that granting permission to develop work based upon someone else’s? Yes it is. However, producing derivative (non-original) work in a learning environment is very different from deriving financial profit from non-original work. Students have long been encouraged to study, copy, and imitate other artists’ work. The purpose, however, has been to help those students learn skills and techniques, not to gain financial profit from someone else’s creations. Derivative work can be educationally profitable, but it should not be used for financial gain. And it should never be presented as “original.”

Non-original artwork should be neither sold nor entered into art competitions. It is often recommended that an artist retain any reference materials used (such as original photographs and sketches) so, if challenged, he or she can verify the originality of the artistic concept. Although U.S. artists are automatically considered the copyright holder of all original work, the copyright can be registered officially through the U.S. Government Copyright Office. This registration makes it much easier to prosecute violators.

“But what’s the big deal?” some people might ask. “What harm does it do if I sell a copy of someone else’s painting or photograph that I’ve painted myself?” In the first place, the unrecognized photographer is usually not being compensated for his contribution to the work; and your derivative work reduces the value of another artist’s original work because it is no longer unique. In the second place, not only has your work created competition for the original, but (being derivative) it could be mistaken as poor quality output by the original artist, thus compromising that artist’s professional image. In the third place, presentation of derived work as original is extremely damaging to the long-term reputation of the derivative artist. Word gets around the art community, and such short-sighted actions as selling derivative pieces as originals can leave a permanent scar on an artist’s name.

(Please note that I do not have a background in law and am not attempting to offer legal counsel. The comments presented here are the philosophy that I try to follow in my own practice, and I feel that they are a good guideline for most artists in a similar situation to follow. If you face a sticky ethical question, you are encouraged to seek appropriate and knowledgeable legal advice in your own locale.)

Just my style, Part 3

Friday, October 1st, 2010

In Part 2 we considered the role that mastery of mechanics (or skills) and the medium itself play in style.

Cayman Clusters

This time we will look at how style reflects the artist’s personal aesthetic—sense of balance, composition, structure, and use of space and color to visually interpret the subject for a viewer.  This, too, becomes an element of her style.  Yes, it can change over time as she learns and develops as an artist, and as she faces challenging personal situations that alter her outlook, either temporarily or long-term.  Even changing health conditions can cause a style to evolve, as materials may be used differently or techniques adjusted to accommodate an artist’s physical limitations.

So it’s easy to see that “style” depends on a wide variety of factors.  Although I can learn from other artists by observing and attempting to reproduce the effects they have successfully achieved, I can never develop my unique style by imitating someone else’s style.

To successfully find my own style, I need to approach a project with integrity, trusting that my natural inclinations in how to express my feelings and understandings of the subject are as valid and acceptable as any other artist’s could be.  It may not yet be as evolved, as mature as someone else’s, but it is just as valid a “style.”  By fighting my natural inclinations regarding my approach to the subject, or by mimicking a different artist’s “look,” I risk compromising my own style. Unless I remain faithful to my own style, I can produce, at best, only inferior imitations of someone else’s work; and I forfeit the style that would be unique to me.

Next week I’ll post an example of what happened one time when I second-guessed myself, disregarding my original approach, and encountered problems as a result.

Just my style, Part 1

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

Artistic “style” can be hard to pin down.  Artists are often recognized by the unique style of their work.  But what does that mean?  Can we consciously create our own style?  Can we copy someone else’s?  We will look at various components of artistic style in a three-part series.

Rosy Gerbera

Style develops partly through the artist’s unique way of approaching the subject matter.  It lies partly in the artist’s personality, point of view, and approach to problem solving.  The artist’s nature and approach to life itself, whether patient, peaceful, retiring, confident, dynamic, or spontaneous, for instance, is likely to make itself apparent throughout the entire body of work.  Yes, it can change over time as the artist learns and develops in the craft.  A wide variety of personal circumstances may also serve to alter that outlook, either temporarily or long-term.

If Artist A is inspired, by the play of light and reflections across a series of surfaces, to paint a certain subject, her depiction of the subject will reflect her fascination with the light, her observation of its effect on various surfaces, what she sees as enhancing or interfering with the phenomenon.  Artist B, looking at the same subject, might be intrigued instead by the juxtaposition of a subject’s physical solidity and emotional vulnerability and will depict that as an important element in his work.  Artist C might be intrigued by the variety of textures represented and will find satisfaction in featuring those textures within her composition.  Artist D, on the other hand, may use blocks and swaths of saturated color to express his excitement about the subject.

Each artist’s combined intellectual and emotional approach to the subject matter, therefore, becomes an integral element of his or her artistic style at any given time.

In Part 2, we’ll consider how mechanics plays a role in style.

A different look at an old subject

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

Last time I wrote about the value of using an unfamiliar subject to break out of a rut and to experiment with different techniques.  This past week I used some of the same “new” techniques on an old subject to see how the results compared.

Pink Waterlily and Pad

I chose a water lily that I thought I could give a more effective treatment using wet-on-(really)-wet rather than the wet-on-dry and wet-on-damp approach I’d used before.  Using the wetter method, I found that the colors flowed in such as way as to allude to a more rounded shape, with fewer distracting brush marks.

For the more recent version (#100503), I used warmer colors and a larger format than in the earlier version (#060901) shown below.  Which do you like better?

Pink Waterlily

I still find myself trying, out of habit, to return to the faster, more direct method, but I think it’s worth taking the extra time needed for the wetter technique.  The process takes longer to allow for thorough drying between sessions, but I find the results more pleasing and the illusion more convincing.