I recently read an article by a representational painter on another blog, in which the writer said that one should very carefully and thoroughly plan one’s paintings. My first thought was, “No waaaaay!” That would take all the fun out the process of discovery that, for me at least, is a great deal of what painting is about. Feeling a little smug, I thought of the following much-loved quote:
You are lost the instant you know what the result will be. – Juan Gris
I am getting very excited about my upcoming solo show. I’m painting like a madman, and I’m beginning to be very happy with some of the results.
When I made arrangements months ago to do this show, I had no fear about showing my work, as I had just come off of a long period of intense and successful creation, and was (and still am) very happy with the work I had created.
But I was ready to move on to the next thing creatively, though I wasn’t sure what it was.
So I began this year by doing lots of tiny sketches and many small paintings, searching for a satisfying direction. I attempted a few larger paintings, but they went awry. At a workshop, I created some new work in encaustic, though in the end I wasn’t happy with most of them. To date, I have completed about 70 pieces this year — which is a lot for me — though most of them are sketches and small paintings.
Then, finally, the realization that color is the “thing” for me, and as long as I’m true to that, I’m happy, and my work succeeds. The other issues – the other elements that go into an abstract painting (shape, form, surface quality, etc.) I continue to think about and work on as well.
I was in a class several years ago in which another student complained about painting abstractly because she didn’t know where to stop. She said when she worked representationally, at least she knew when she was done — for her, it was when the painting looked like the thing she was representing. Of course, it’s not as simple as that for many representational painters, but often it seems when one is just starting to draw and paint, success is measured by how close one’s piece gets to looking like the object or scene one is depicting.
It’s so different when you give up representation. The answer to the question, “how do you know when you’re done?” becomes more elusive.
Is it when you achieved what you set out to achieve or perhaps when you discovered something you didn’t know you were looking for?
For me, it’s a bit of both — I like to keep my goals pretty loose so that I can explore an area of the process of painting that fascinates me (like color), and still discover something new in that process.
Sometimes — in a glorious moment — a piece just comes together. Everything seems to work — the colors sing, the composition works, the texture and brushstrokes are interesting and well-integrated. One more stroke and you could really lose it.
At other times, there’s something not quite right that keeps nagging until you figure out how to make it work. I had a wonderful moment yesterday when I reworked a small painting from earlier this year that never really sparkled, and suddenly, I got it right! Oh, the thrill!
Sometimes though, I lose interest in a piece before I feel I am done…and then it may languish in my studio until I regain interest and work on it some more, possibly finishing it…or it may just be added to the stack of unfinished pieces.
What about you? How do you know when your piece is finished?
It’s been 3 years since I left art school. I’ve been painting and drawing nightly for a while — it’s amazing how I’m starting to really ‘get’ some of the things I heard in art school, but somehow didn’t make it all the way through from my ears and eyes to my brain to my hands and brushes.
It was such an immersive and exciting experience to be in art school in Chicago, always doing, thinking, breathing, reading, seeing, smelling, tasting art, and always surrounded by others like me. At times it seemed like I was experiencing a sensory overload – I was like a kid in a candy store – there was so much I wanted to do and see – so much I DID do and see – our museum (hundreds of times), other museums, galleries, artist talks (like Ross Blechner and John Cage), school art openings and art openings in galleries, participating in some art shows, art camp at Oxbow, watching the beautiful iron-pour from the roof of the painting studio there, the sunset over Lake Michigan just like the painting we had seen in a slide just days before, parties, cheap dinners at great ethnic restaurants, a few nights out on the town, listening to great Chicago Blues, the occasional movie, the zoo, free music at Grant Park, riding my bike along Lake Michigan, riding the El, sliding on ice, trying to drive through snow. Getting in touch with the language and culture of my ancestors (which is so easy to do in Chicago, and so hard to do in Texas); having gobs of friends of so many ages from all over the world.
Lessons Learned (Belatedly)
With all that going on, plus full-time classes and part-time working, it’s great to discover years later that somehow the lessons I kind of missed then were planted somewhere inside that didn’t manage to get lost.
Simplify! Simplify shapes, strokes, colors.
Use any color you want for anything – experiment, see how far you can go — it’s your little painted world, after all. Why be constrained by the colors of reality? OR, why not aim for the colors of reality, if that puts lead in your pencil, so to speak.
Enjoy what you do…don’t let it get tedious, don’t have shoulds or should-nots (hmmm, is that a ‘should-not?’); explore, discover, expand, have a blast! Allow yourself to be filled with the excitement of enjoying and immersing yourself in the process and the moment…get lost in your creations…
Class notes, from Advanced Drawing Studio with Barbara Rossi, SAIC, 1991
“The creative process lies not in imitating, but in paralleling nature—translating the impulse received from nature into the medium of expression, thus vitalizing this medium. The picture should be alive, the statue should be alive and every work of art should be alive.”
– Hans Hoffman
Think about forms of nature that excite you: creatures, clouds, rocks, wood, trees, bones, water, fog.
Make lots of drawings of abstracted form merging with the landscape.
We saw the movie “P.S.” (2004) last night, with the amazing and beautiful Laura Linney. She may be one of the most underrated actresses working today. She conveys such a huge amount of emotion, yet it’s never in your face; it’s always somewhat tightly contained within the physical space she inhabits, but you so get it! And this movie has one of the hottest little sex scenes I’ve yet seen (without any actual nakedness, even!). But neither Laura Linney’s performance nor the great little sex scenes are what I liked most about this movie.