Okay I am back! Hawaii was fantastic ! Frankly, however, I have been itching to return to the easel here at home.
“Girl in Hat”
watercolor 30 x 22 inches
An older painting suffering from the Painter’s “Voice”
Ah! You might think that the ‘painter’s voice’ would be how he/she puts paint on the canvas and the content of what he paints to be his/her voice. Well, you would be right in most cases. However, I wish to speak about the OTHER voice.
In spite of what some would believe to be true, great painters are not popped from the womb already skilled at the level of master. Nor do some take up the brush and make instant success with whatever they attempt. In fact ALL painters (who happen to be human beings) live with a voice inside their head which is continually kibitzing and making commentary on virtually everything the painter does, has done or even is considering as possibility to do. That is the voice of which I speak.
As a painter who took up the sport later in life, of course, I immediately sought the advice and instruction of those whom I considered to be proficient at it. The reason for this was that the voice within was urging me onward to learn quickly because I wanted to impress my wife and kids with a fabulous artwork I could hang over the couch . . . .and I was willing to work at it for a week or so. (hint: laugh here)
BaHa!! After watching these demonstrations and listening to the experts (on video or live) explain how easy it really was, I heard the voice screaming at me from inside, “You’ll never be able to do this. Better give up now before you embarrass yourself. You are not talented enough. It’s too late for you, Screwball! You should have begun when you were age two! Etc.Etc.”
Apparently, I wanted that painting above the couch more than I wanted to listen to the voice, (By the way, I am still trying to get the perfect one!) because I kept going. A few good painters had whispered to me that they were not happy with their own level of skill, thus empowering me somewhat.
You may wonder why I point out my foibles and failures . . . even show off the latter to other painters and here on line. Why? It is because, over time, I have come to learn that those ‘experts’ or ‘masters’ or ‘those who are sooooo talented’ are all suffering and arguing with their own voice. I have witnessed many who simply gave up painting because they came to believe the voice.
Oh! Have I mentioned that our relatives and family and friends often join with the voice? Have I mentioned that mothers in law and others will urge our spouses, sometimes, to urge us to give it up? Have I mentioned that the battle for personal confidence in the realm of painting NEVER stops? That’s right, it NEVER ends. Have you considered that if you became a great painter, that the art critics would be standing to have their voices heard above the din of faint praises and try to mitigate your skills? Oh, yes. You see, all of those other people speak only for their own taste. Let me repeat that another way.
Those who criticize or offer their advice (particularly those who don’t paint and know little about it) are always trying to express that you “should” paint according to their taste . . . . .not yours! Think about this: The reason you wanted to paint in the first place was to have some fun, make pretty pictures that YOU liked and maybe a bunch of other reasons. The biggest reason is to express your own tastes . . . .not someone else’s.
In the classes and workshops that I instruct, I place much importance on the value of failure in the learning process. I also try hard to explain to those whose voice is nearly overpowering their painting efforts that we ALL have this evil, negative little loudmouth at our internal microphone. Sadly, few believe that everyone has it. Most people believe that they are singular and alone in their battles with their inner voice. Others refer to “confidence” or “courage” because they believe that that is the name of some special quality that those ‘experts’ have . . . .and that they never need to deal with the little bugger who lives not so silently within us. Baloney! ALL artists deal with it. Musicans, teachers, managers, ditch diggers and athletes, too, wrestle with it. In fact, all people do have that little rascal piping up with unwelcome commentary!
Because this inner competition is the absolute reality of finding our artistic path, I believe that learning to shush the voice is as important, if not more important, than mixing color or learning to draw.
I have been called unprofessional because, supposedly, I am supposed to present the image of perfection and to make painting appear easy and nonchalant. What do you think? Do you find that, as a painter, you are bolstered in some way by learning that we all struggle with the voice? Do you find relief knowing that every artist needs to become deaf to what relatives and friends and critics have to say? Do you rise up with your brush in hand with greater courage because you finally learned to say “To hell with you, Voice! Shutup!”? Or, do you believe that more teachers and ‘experts’ should relate their own struggles and explain the realities of the often solitary aloneness we feel as creative people? Or, do you think I am a buffoon for pointing out that we are human? Really! What do you think?
Let me say here that insanity is not the subject. Nor am I saying that one should ignore sound instruction. Learning is about dealing with our demons. Learning is not some special skill handed down from heaven. Learning is about sweat, effort, trials, failures and occasional successes. Learning never, ever stops for us artists. So, we must tune our ears to those who can lead us. The first one we must shut out is the one person who will tell you that you are better off baking cookies. Listen to those who empathize with your struggle and urge you onward. Listen to those who make it plain that every artist, no matter their station or level of achievement, fights their demons with sheer effort and work.
Then there is the other aspect of the voice . . . . .the aspect that drives us forward to become more discerning about our work and to follow our suspicions and feelings about it. We must develop the ‘selective ear’ to our inner voice and know when to listen and when not to listen.
Oh! One last thing. . . . . . Listen to those painter who have a sense of humor about ‘being professional.’ They are the ones who will snicker at their own voice and reply to it with some sarcastic retort while they joyously sound off about how fun this process really is. They are the ones who will giggle about having paint on the toes of their new shoes or paint on their new sweater because they just couldn’t help themselves and just HAD to paint without regard to what they were wearing. After all, if we are crazy enough to not change clothes before we pick up a brush, there Must be SOMETHING wrong with us! Right??? 😉
A few days ago I had a meeting with a young man trying to make his way in business. He has a head start because he knows the power of associating with those who are where he wants to be.
The title today relates to what my life is like at the moment: Lots of different things going on, very little of it to do with painting.
Well, you say, that’s great news! What the heck do you mean?
In a few of the last many posts, I have mentioned the elements and principles of design. (elements: Line, Siz, Shape, Direction, Color, Value and Texture. Principles: Unity, Harmony, Dominance, Conflict, Repetition, Variation, Gradation and Balance.) It is in the paying closer attention to these principles, rather than the subject, in forming the marks (elements) that one arrives at a good painting (or not so good.)
We have all had the experience of painting places we know, or painting from excellently composed photos, or painting from life. In those instances, much of the work of composing the elements . . . .shape, texture, color, value, etc . . . .is done for the painter. More often than not, however, while we believe it to be the case that the photo or the model will lead us to a good painting, the opposite happens. Something along the way is forgotten, left out, or ignored . . . .and that comes from relying on the subject to lead the way. To be a great painter, one must reach inside to find that which makes terrific art. It is in our most creative state that we bring something better in our paintings to the world. But HOW do we DO that??
That is THE question. It is the stuff that isn’t obvious which brings a viewer to an excited state of examination. It is the contrasts, the harmonies and the surprises that we dream up to make that happen . . . . . .and it takes lots of practice, patience and many trials. . . .and the study of good design.
One must separate one’s consciousness from the world to force that reach into our authentic creative selves to produce visual answers to the question of HOW. The best way I know of is to paint non objective abstract paintings. In my opinion, that is the ultimate challenge.
That challenge, which is to create something not before seen, means there are no visual crutches or prompts. There is no script to follow. It is design in its purest form.
To do it well doesn’t come easily . . . .in fact, it is the most difficult thing a painter can attempt. It doesn’t occur by coincidence or by slinging paint and hoping for the best.
It happens through meticulous painting and cautious, examination and consideration of painting alternatives. This piece, entitled “Breakthrough,” is such a piece, which has taken months to complete. A few hours here and there. Rest. Look. Evaluate. Rework. Enhance. Rest. Think. Wait, Look, think . . . .and on and on and on. I began this piece in August. Here it is December . . . 5 months later. And I am still looking, thinking and wondering if it really is finished. Is it the best I can do? Do all the parts fit? Is it balanced? Is it interesting? Should it go public?
In the end, it is pieces, like this one, that teach us painters how and where to fill in the blanks when we are painting from life or photos. The challenge of creating something from absolutely nothing is the ultimate stretch. But it is also the place from which the NEW and DIFFERENT are born. It is the place which delivers the unavoidable authentic stuff that only you can make.
If you are interested in attempting this, you may want to consider a one week workshop in how to produce abstractions in work similar to this. It is well worth the investment, as the time spent will awaken even the most experienced artist to the importance of good design. As it turns out, I give such workshops. Interested? Drop me an email if it isn’t on my website.( I haven’t posted the dates yet)
As an occasional art instructor it is my job to enlighten about the elements and principles of design. Enlightenment is one thing but applying that to which one has been exposed is quite another.
There are 15 words to wrestle with. The elements have 7, the principles 8. The elements: line, size, shape, direction, color, value and texture. The principles: Unity, Harmony, Dominance, Conflict, Repetition, Variation, Gradation and Balance. (Comment: others may argue the selection of words to be included or traded out, but we are all really focusing on the same things.)
Often, the student complains (as do I !) “How do you think of all these things when you are painting?” My truthful answer is really something to the effect of ‘that is what divides the novices and masters.’ And . . .as we all know, there are very few masters out there. . . . . . .but it sure is a wonderful chase to try to touch mastery every once in a while!!
Sometimes, execution fails miserably. The technique completely collapses in favor of some other dominating thoughts while in the act of mushing paint around. Other times, the technique is extraordinary, but the design has a major, uncorrectable flaw . . .and all who see the painting know it. They may not be artists or know anything of painting, but they can sense a design mistake in the pit of their gut.
The challenge to get content, technique and design all working together is mostly overwhelming. When they all come together, the high that an artist experiences is, I suppose, the entire reason for the chase. It is simply temporary nirvana.
On the last day of my trip to Yosemite 6 weeks ago, I stood in awe of the view of Sentinel Rock in a slight haze. I decided to exaggerate that visual effect . . .or at least TRY to . . . .and to experiment once again . . . . .let multi colored washes drain down a vertical page, then define the positive shape (the rock) by painting the negative shape (the sky) in an opaque (using gouache) colorless wash. The contrast of opaque and transparent would be opposite what one might imagine . . . . .that is the transparent atmospheric nature of watercolor would probably best be used in the sky (the illusion of air), while the rock would be thought of as a solid, dense mass (opaque.) I deliberately reversed that idea to see what would happen.
While completely absorbed in all of this stuff, mentally, while painting, I forgot my design principles. Yup! I became sidetracked with the experiment and paid no attention to the ridiculous design error that I had made and was constructing right in front of my eyes. I happily just kept painting. It wasn’t until completion that I realized that I had divided the space evenly (dammit!!!) and created two separate paintings on one piece of paper (double dammit!)
Oh well! It was only a piece of paper to begin with . . . .and now it is still only a piece of paper. However, I am saving this painting because it revealed an extremely successful experimental result which I will employ in another painting later. Lesson learned (again!!)
There is one last comment for the painters out there who read this blog . . . . . . it is the failures and the mistakes that give us painters the best lessons. While we relish and seek the successes, our best friend in the chase is those mistakes that spank us into those, “OOoohh! Now I get it”moments. I have learned to court failure in the chase. In painting, failure really is a friend and not something to fear. No one ever has been hurt or ever died from making a painting mistake. Through failing, we learn and grow!
Returning to class from Yosemite, I had to give a mindless demo of different ways to create textures or to give a sense of surface in a painting. I say mindless because it was simply a blank piece of paper and a bunch of different examples of stamping, lifting, spraying, splattering, smudging, dripping etc . . . .all with no image or intention of making a painting.
Meanwhile, in the back of my mind was a vision I had seen through the eyes of a zoom lens . . . .the face of one of the sheer granite walls towering hundreds of meters above my place on the valley floor. Full grown trees grew out of cracks on the stone! Yet those trees and the abstract patterns in the rock had me buzzing inside.
I took the demo sheet home and began experimenting with more textures and colors and ‘stuff’ just to see what I could come up with that **might** suggest those walls and their abstractions on that same sheet . . .just slobbering layer over layer.
Often, it is the coming together of sheer experimentations and the visions from inspired ideas that create works which arrest a viewer and hold their interest . . . .much more that a tired scene of something everyone knows.
Clearly, to be different, one must do different things at the easel. The painter must allow the paint to act like paint rather than conform to some notion about looking like something else. Experiments can show us painters new ways to consider our beautiful mediums. In fact, I believe most of our work as artists must be connected to experimenting.