On The Value Of Experiments

“Bridging the Gap”

oil on canvas panel, 8″ x 10″
Every day is different when it comes to painting. I never know what the day will hold until I approach the easel . . . .unless I am working on a specific project. Then, I am like a wild dog with a bone. Nothing will dissuade my purpose until it is finished.

As you know, Dear Reader, I have been busy this last week with plein air work . . .and I had to interrupt a project of a very complex studio watercolor to do this plein air work. Work? Whoops! This isn’t work !! This is absolute entertainment . . . .at least until I get to the place where I am saying to myself, “What am I going to do with THIS?” Or, “There has to be a better solution to this problem than this meager outcome!”

And so I experiment . . . .or do ‘studies.’ Many artists I know believe the studies or experiments to be a waste of time and materials. In my opinion, failures or lackluster results are our constant companions in the pursuit of good art. It is these kinds of outcomes that frustrate us and awaken the curious artist to new methods or approaches or, the thirst for growth.

I recently visited the website of Scott Christensen, a master painter. On one of his pages, this quote appears . . . . .

“Nature does not capriciously scatter her secrets as golden gifts to lazy poets and luxurious darlings, but imposes task when she presents opportunity.” Edgar Payne

Opportunity is with us artists constantly. How can we ignore the siren of successfully answering that opportunity with good painting? We can’t. What’s more, we must constantly try new ways, new subjects and build our skills with executing values, colors, edges, techniques and designs. Any one of these things is worth years of study!

Simply put, we must constantly step away from the projects to accomplish good practices and set up our growth to the next tier of skill. I repeat: Constantly. It is a part of the pulse of the artist’s life. In this game, ‘good enough’ just isn’t good enough. We must always reach for better.

Yesterday’s piece was one of those quickie experiments . . .to use an orange toned canvas and paint thin to allow that orange to show through in key places. This was a one hour test. Here is the outcome. There are parts I ignored, such as foreground textures and shapes, just to see what would happen IF I completed the test or experiment.

My studio is full of ‘experiments.’ In fact, most everything I do is an experiment. If I have that attitude about every painting, then the fear of failure escapes me and I make new discoveries about my work.

Priceless !!

10 thoughts on “On The Value Of Experiments”

  1. Thanks for the suggestions! I have some material prepared at my easel for experiments, and now I have more motivation to start…
    And: I love this piece! I really like the hard edges…


  2. Good reading here Mike.
    You are right about needing to take the time and use up the supplies on just experimenting. Some of my best stuff has come from experimenting and some of my worst as well.

    The orange tone really works well with the blues and greens.

  3. I really agree with your approach to painting – and life. It seems it all rolls together. Thanks for all the info and thought provoking commentary. I always enjoy your artwork as well as being able to learn more about how an artist thinks.

  4. Thanks for the insightful post.
    Experimentation must be approached with courage and unwavering action.
    I think it keeps the creative fires stoked and generates ideas and inspiration.
    Judging from this exciting and expressive painting, you seemed to have a very fertile and fruitful experiment 🙂

  5. Great insight, Mike.

    Keeping an experimental attitude can be a challenge but, I think that, for me, it holds the secret of why I paint. There is no such thing as a failed painting experiment. Even though I may be disappointed or not like the result, it drives me to try again and there’s nothing more satisfying, to me, than making a discovery through experimentation. It beats the hell out of cranking out another one like the last one.

  6. So well said. So much goes undone from what my friends and I call FOF.
    Fear of finishing, Fear of failure, Fear of framing (we’re always thinking of new ones) that what gets lost is that this is a constant practice. Like those ice skaters who do all those jumps and spins spend hours and hours practicing in gyms with safety equipment around them before they get on the ice and wow us.
    So are artists bound to practice, practice, practice.
    What a great feeling when your vision is achieved and even when it’s not, sometimes someone else loves it.
    Rock on Mike. I like your style.

  7. Hi Mary! Thanks for your great comments and for spending the time here. I have visited your site several times and seen your comments at other artist sites. I feel like I know you!

  8. Ah, JenMac ! Of all who visit here, your paintings and thoughts inspire me onward. Thanks for letting me know you are peeking in from time to time.

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