26 January 2008

The importance of continuing education

I'm amazed at how much I've learned in the past week. I've been reading about several art styles, including Luminism and Tonalism. In the process, I began to understand how I can create better art while continuing my plein air studies, and working with photographs for studio reference.

Above all, I'm realizing the importance of working with memories to create original art that captures the energy and romanticism of my favorite landscapes, rather than aspiring to a semi-photographic representations.
(Artgeeks see Google Books for "Leonardo's Nephew," page 138, describing the memory & art course by Horace Lecoq de Boisbaudran; a few more references are on a page about Rodin's sculptures.)
While this helped me make sense of what I want to do with my realistic paintings, it also freed me to find an alternate voice in semi-representational work.

See, I've kept reading and re-reading Finding Your Visual Voice: A Painter's Guide to Developing an Artistic Style, but I'd get to a point where my brain seemed to shut down. I couldn't apply that information to my own art. I didn't make progress, and I kept staring at the five stalled paintings on my easel.

Finally, I was inspired by some art in popular art magazines, such as American Artist, and Art and Antiques. I read what some of the artists said about their own work, researched the artists they mentioned as inspiration, and kept landing back at Tonalism. From there, I began reading what early Tonalists said about their artistic processes.

I began to see what they were doing. They were accomplishing what I want to... but approaching it with a system that works. (Until this discovery, I was trying to analyze my own work, hoping to make sense of just what -- by pure serendipity -- had achieved the results that I wanted. That's the slow way to learn.)

Now, after identifying the elements in Tonalism that resonate with my artistic visions, I am able to move forward. I'm not entirely where I want to be with my approach to my paintings, but I'm light years ahead of where I was a week ago.

So, since most people who read this blog aren't painting landscapes, this post may seem like a "who cares?" entry. And, I am setting up my painting blog at another website. (Use my contact form to ask if you're interested in my fine art and don't know the name that I paint under.) Future entries here will focus on the art that people expect to see at Aisling.net.

But, no matter what media you work with and how much experience or training you've had as an artist, this point is important: Your art has to evolve. If your current art looks about the same as what you were doing a year ago, either you're happy working by-the-numbers, or you're stuck and haven't realized it yet.

Copying can be an important step in learning, and -- for some -- that can be enough. If it is, skip the rest of this post. I never want to trivialize others' art, especially if they're happy with it. Most people start out imitating the art of others, especially professional artists. (For centuries, that's how people learned to become artists. They learned from DaVinci, Michelangelo, etc., by watching the artists work, serving as apprentices, and copying their work line-for-line.)

Start with the 'masters' in your field. If you love assemblage and collage, have you ever thought of copying a Joseph Cornell assemblage as closely as you can? Give it a try! You'll learn about materials, techniques, balance and color. Those are important foundations for your art.

After copying a few of his pieces, you're ready to create more derivative works. That is, you'll start with his concepts and modify them to suit your creative ideas.

For personal statement and unique voice in your art -- and to find continued fulfillment in it -- it's necessary to move beyond the derivative. It's vital to try new things and see what works for you.

The catch is, endless trial-and-error experiments can wear anyone down. After awhile, they can be pretty expensive, as well.

Instead, study art history to see what others have already tried with success. You can let those ideas and creative visions rattle around your brain until, one day, you wake up and say, "Ooh, I want to do this with my art."

It's key not to limit yourself to "your" kind of art. If you're a collage artist, you might study photography theatrical set design and sculpture, as well as the works of Joseph Cornell. Painters might learn from fabric art, costume design and gardening experts. (Those are just suggestions. Go wild!) Look at work by the 'old masters' as well as their modern counterparts.

When you stop learning, you stagnate. And, in our busy-busy world, you'll probably need to make this a formal study or you'll sell yourself (and your art) short.

Borrow library books. Go to museums. Watch documentaries and foreign 'art' films. Attend free lectures at local colleges, and artists' demonstrations at local art associations. Take some adult ed courses.

At the start of this past week, I thought that I was just double-checking art styles that I already knew about. Within a few hours of reading (mostly online), I realized the importance of formal (or at least semi-formal) continuing education.

I highly recommend it if you're planning to take your art in new directions in 2008.

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09 May 2007

Getting past the blocks

Yesterday, I talked about my brain shutting down regarding the semi-abstracts that I want to paint. Then, after a day of searching, I found my copy of Creative Artist by Nita Leland; I knew that it had some abstract references in it. Next to that book, I found my copy of the Aug/Sep 06 International Artist; that's a magazine that's really growing on me now.

I read it again last night.

Two articles in that were exactly what I needed.

In one, the artist talks about creating semi-abstracts from images of water. Well, if you know me, you know that I'm practically obsessed with the beach. The ocean-type beach, that is; not a lake or riverfront, and not the Gulf.

I suddenly understood the photos that I put into my files of references for future paintings. Recently, I'd looked at them and wondered what I'd been thinking, because they don't show anything that anyone else might identify; I know that they're pictures of stones and water and sunlight.

The other article talked about just putting color on the canvas and then figuring out what the suggested subject of the (semi-abstract) painting will be. I'll probably try that, too. I mean, for me, painting is first about color, then about texture, some about design and finally, the subject.

That's always been a struggle for me with my landscape paintings, because I could never seem to convey "what this painting is about" in terms of the focal point of the work. I think that I've been attempting to use something realistic to make a statement more eloquently expressed in a semi-abstract or even an abstract.

[Note: A semi-abstract usually has some sort of subject that you can identify, even if the artist has to tell you what it is and clearly point it out before you can tell that anything's even in the picture... besides color, design, and texture. An abstract usually has a theme, but it does not rely on any realistic images as obvious references.]

So, today I'm rearranging my studio. Suddenly, a lot more clicks into place. A lot more makes sense. And, I'm free to move a lot more stuff to "not now, maybe later" storage and get it out of my way. This is a very good thing, as St. Martha Stewart would say.

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08 May 2007

Tonal paintings - color opposites


Today, I tried a couple of acrylic sketches based on a photo of one of my favorite salt marshes. It's directly across the street from the Bush compound in Kennebunkport, Maine.

The first sketch is at right, and it's on an irregular piece of corrugated cardboard. The photo is directly below it, propped on my easel.

I'm working with corrugated cardboard for sketches. I cover the cardboard with gesso and paint over that. Since it's informal to start with, I'm more willing to experiment with color and design. Worst case, I throw it out; best case, I'll sell it on Etsy or something, for cheap.

Anyway, I tried a more stylized version on canvasboard. I'm not sure how well I like it, but this is all about experimenting.

What I really want to create are semi-abstracts and abstracts. I'm really in the mood for them, but something in my brain keeps shutting down when I start thinking in this direction. I'm not sure why.

So, pushing myself with these tonal studies in colors almost opposite what will be in the finished version... this is good. It's a step in the right direction.

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07 May 2007

Four underpaintings - Winter scene


I've been wanting to paint a winter scene from an old issue of Yankee magazine. It's very simple: White snow, grey sky, a single evergreen tree, and a maroon house with snow on the roof.

However, when I started the canvas in oils... ick. You can see it in the photo at left. I stared at that for about three weeks, feeling very uninspired.

Then, I realized the problem: I need a good underpainting to make it interesting. So, I just underpainted one canvas and three pieces of gesso'd corrugated cardboard (for preliminary oil sketches) with Maimeri acrylic paints. The result is at right.

The blue areas will go underneath the white snow. The orange-ish areas are the underpaintings for a flat grey winter sky.

Most people will have no idea that such vivid colors are underneath each landscape, but I'm hoping that these will make a big difference in how interesting the finished paintings are.

Of course, that's why I'll be creating a few oil sketches before I work on the canvas. The canvas is the tall skinny painting in the middle, and it's 6" x 12".

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