What is the most important element of a painting? The debate swings between colour and values. Also referred to as tone, values are the light and dark elements of a painting and to me they carry the day. I love colour of course, but give me strong values and I can use monochrome and still get an interesting painting.
A great way to get to grips with the values in a scene is to make small value sketches called notans (a Japanese word not easily translated into English). Notans are key, but you can also benefit from using your computer to isolate the basic values in a photographic reference.
Your basic photo editing software will be able to reduce the image to a monochrome. If the program does not allow you to set a two or three value scale then try an online editor like picmonkey. Choose the posterize option and set it for two and then three values to assess the shapes and notan of the scene.
Tip: If there is a not significant light and dark masses (large shapes) then it may be best to find another subject.
A basic black felt marker with a broad nib will be suitable. I have found a great Pentel brush pen that allows you to paint the darks in broad strokes. It comes with four refills and retails for about R130.00.
So there you go. By using notan sketches and posterizing software you can find a strong subject to paint that should translate into a powerful painting.
If you would like to learn more about the fundamentals of painting then join me on Breakthrough Art Workshops.
We all know the fable about the tortoise and the hare. The tortoise won the race with steady progress while the cheeky rabbit learned a hard lesson. Despite this message many of us want to be the hare. It seems patient and steady progress is not sexy enough. Quick and brash makes the cash! Not that you and I ever think that way of course. That would be a sorry state to live in. But what if I said we could have the best of both worlds? A bit of tortoise and bit of hare if you know what I mean.
In the artist’s world you can fake it for a while, but quality of work and persistence through tough times will take care of the long term success stories. For the artist who feels like the tortoise with the finish line nowhere in sight the journey can get frustrating indeed. Is there anything sadder than an artist under the financial cosh? Filled with self-doubt? Sure there is. Those that give up are the truly sad ones.
So how can an artist enjoy the best of both worlds? We do not have to sell out to commerce, but we can share a good living. We can use our skills in creativity to make us smart entrepreneurs too. We can study our art and try new methods. The result is almost always a quick growth in skill and results both in quality of work and in business. This I do confirm from personal experience as well as observing it in other artists.
I have spoken about making rapid progress in technical skills. I can assure you that rapid progress in business is possible too if you devote time to it. Once momentum takes over you can take your foot off the accelerator a bit, but you may be enjoying the ride and find it gets easier.
The tortoise becomes the hare and all is good with the world. Until the hare stops for a snooze one day. In art the equivalent would be getting stuck in a rut producing similar paintings, because they sold well. Until demand drops off and the artist does not take steps to keep it fresh. This is when we get left behind and one day disillusion may set in. Avoid this it all costs. Feed the soul with new learning. Learn from other artists. Steal like an artist. Look at what makes you energised and pursue that like it is your last day. Take moments to reflect. Meditate on your life as an artist from time to time. This is a moment of energising and renewal.
One day it’s the tortoise and the next it is the hare. Get the balance right and enjoy the ride. It’s the only one we have.
You can't use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have. (Maya Angelou)
Take a moment to create something today!
What is standing in the way of your art? Money? Materials? Fear or even physical issues? Take a look at this TED talk to see how artist Phil Hansen flipped his physical limitation into a liberating experience.
The typical issues faced by artists is fear of failure and fear of financial disaster if they rely on art for a living. Does this story give you a different view on these fears?
Once upon a time there were artists who were highly regarded in their community, cities and villages. Very often these artist were leading citizens. They were members of the apothecary guild since they had to mix their own paints. They were learned and knowledgeable people. The better known artists were sought after by the lords and gentry of the time. Portraits of the well-to-do commanded a pretty penny. So where did it all go wrong?
Time took care of this however and when the industrial age descended on the world the part played by artists diminished. The rise of democracy tends to cut both ways. Freedom brings competition and life can get tough when capitalism steps in. Ask the Russians after the Berlin wall came down.
Perhaps the idea of the starving artist as a romantic notion developed with the impressionist period from the late 1880’s. These artists rejected the traditional art of the time and they were denounced by the salons that controlled the artist’s exhibitions. So the impressionists started their own exhibitions, but support was slim and money was tight. Many artists suffered for their art. Artists like Van Gogh, Cezanne, Monet, Gauguin and Sisley among others all went through hard times. Many pulled through and had decent incomes late in life. Others like Sisley remained poor to the bitter end.
The idea of the starving artist had taken root. It seems that artists were pegged as unconventional at best and anarchists at worst. Traditional professions and trades ensured a decent living, but if an artist ignored these options then the poor house beckoned. Yes society can shun an outrageous artist, but this applies to any person in any profession too. Conformity is not an easy fit for artists either. It often comes down to choices made by the artist.
A New Deal for Artists
In the new millenium the progress made in technology and freedom of information has given artists abundant opportunity to market and produce more work. Strange thing is that there still seems to be the starving artist idea out there. Are some artists choosing to be poor? Is struggle necessary to look like an authentic artist? Or perhaps some are too preoccupied to learn about the business side of art. Just about any business struggles to succeed for at least five years. Artists have many more options than traditional painting and sculpture, but persistence is critical.
There are many resources and people ready to make artists rich. This often entails buying someones book or e-course on how to sell and save. I am all for self-education so make your choices and learn.
Choices! It comes back to the fundamentals and there are no short cuts. But this does not mean closing ones eyes to new things. Improve your art and learn all you can about marketing and good business practice. Sounds boring, but selling a painting from your business efforts is fulfilling too. Personally I know there is much more to learn, but creating art comes first. Perhaps devoting 60% of your time to creating and the rest to business seems reasonable.
What works for you?
This is not an article about some secret formula for speed painting. There is no prize for the quickest painting completed either. Rather I want to look at the link between painting intuitively, decision making and getting the painting down quickly. The idea is to express your interpretation on the canvas with as little time wastage as possible.
I do believe that there is no inherent value in a painting simply because it took the artist weeks to complete. Also an overly rendered painting that looks like it could be a photograph does not necessarily make a good painting either. I do suggest that a painting that was completed quickly and that works is a beautiful thing to behold. Why? Not only is it great to look at in its own right, but you will get to know something about the artist too.
Painting from life reminds me that I need to solve a problem quickly. This means seeing the problem, whether it is composition, light or colour issues. Then I need to find a solution and carry this out promptly before the scene changes too much. Many painting problems exist in these situations and solving them trains an artist to paint intuitively. This without doubt will make you a better artist. It will also benefit your collectors who can enjoy the experience when they see your painting.
How to develop an intuitive approach to painting is not difficult. All artists have this ability. It is a case of:
The number one approach is still to paint alla prima. This means to complete a small painting in one session. Start with a still life set-up before venturing outdoors to build your confidence.
Planning makes all the difference. Know what your palette will be. Make this less complicated by using a limited number of colours. Ideally you will stick to the primaries plus white and maybe a few extras like alizarin and burnt umber for darks.
There is much to do, but once you try this aproach out a few times you will start to get a system that works for you. Ever notice how a master artist can draw a figure’s gesture with a line or two. The curve running through a figure onto which all aother elements “hang” to give a figure study life. Or a landscape artist who homes in on the creitical light and dark elements to give drama and impact. These are all skills that happened from working quickly and intuitively.
Life is still the best teacher. Use the quick study to add power to your painting and joy to your experience. Brevity is the best approach in giving a speech and it also applies in communicating through your art.
Learn more about painting intuitively and quick outdoor studies on Breakthrough Art Workshops.
What is it the characterizes an artist's style? Is it the colours that he uses? Subject matter? The way the paint is applied and brushwork? No doubt all of these features are part of it, but is it important? Is there not more to this topic that requires more insight?
For many who do not paint there is much emphasis placed on an artist's style. In many cases an artist gets pegged to a certain style and finds himself stuck. Use the same "style" to get sales. Change the style and sales fall away. It is a dangerous situation for an artist to stick to one method, because that disempowers the artist. Is it still art to churn out facsimiles of previous work? It brings short term rewards, but long term? Certain stagnation.
I would suggest that instead of a certain style (whatever that means) a true artist will seek only one thing: an interpretation. The artist's identity comes into play when the artist interprets the subject and paints that interpretation. That is the only truth that an artist has. Anything else is a copy of something else.
Looking at Cezanne's painting above it is clear what the subject is. Yet Cezanne's passion for painting this mountain is based not on his love of scenery. It is based on his interpretation of the shapes, light and colour. That is what is unique.
As Cezanne progressed in his interpretation of shapes into increasingly flat planes light itself became less important. He started to use pure colour to suggest shapes instead of light to depict three dimensions. As a result the picture began to flatten to two dimensions. Cezanne probably never intended this at the time, but his quest for purity of shape was how he interpreted the subject.
If an artist is too caught up in producing the same set of bluegum trees or transparent green waves then interpretation is abandoned. There is no more art and we are left with a craft where repetition is all important.
What will the critics say when your landscape undergoes a radical change in approach? Ideally you should not care. Your idea and interpretation is unique to you - the artist. The only constant is change so embrace change. Beware of time leading to sameness. Resist!
In the end all an artist has to say is found on the canvas. Whether the viewer can access the artist's message is not the artist's burden. If the artist is true to his soul then the message will be heard when the time is right. In Cezanne's case the message was heard by some who followed with their own interpretations. One of those was a young artist called Pablo Picasso. The process of change continued.
We hear about art being a right brain journey. What if we choose to live in the right brain experience? What if we accept the energy of the universe?
Take a moment to hear from brain researcher Dr Jill Bolte Taylor. It may change your life.
What do you think? Do we have a choice in how we live our lives?
Are you aware of your feelings when you view a painting? Perhaps most people who are compelled to look at a painting are experiencing an immediate response. The response to sensory stimulation through feelings triggered by the image. If asked there and then what their feelings are they may be at a loss for words. This is normal. Feelings and logical reasoning do not like to work at the same time. Ever tried painting and giving a learned discourse on art techniques at the same time? Not easy and I can vouch for that.
Following upon my last post about finding meaning in a painting (or art in general) I do believe that every artist must have his or her feelings engaged when creating. It is not a mechanical procedure even if it takes only ten minutes to actually do the painting. Time is not the essence - it is the emotion. That is the point. The viewer has to have her own feelings at work when looking at the painting too.
Why is this important for the artist? Without the artist being engaged emotionally the painting is half done. The half comprising techniques used may be flawless, but the overall work is always incomplete. The collector will know the difference perhaps only when she sees another painting and compares them. But the end result is always the same - disappointment.
If the artist's painting can stimulate the viewers feelings, whatever they may be, then the painting will have made a connection. A sale may follow or perhaps not. But ultimately it is the connection that artists are truly seeking. Sales do not feed the soul. As for collectors they too will appreciate that a connection exists with an artist whose work they admire. There is nothing to stop a collector from expressing this even though no purchase is made.
Sales are important for rent and things, but it is the connection that sustains us over the long haul.
To release yourself from the burdens of expectation is essential. How we as artists measure up is not the point of creating art. Unfortunately too many artists arrive with expectations that are based on myth. Artists are in truth part of the community of people creating and going about their work.
Society without art is poor. This has been the case since before civilisation. Can one doubt this when looking at the cave paintings of early humans? Life was on a thread yet art was essential to lift humanity from the mire. So too were all the other skills held by members of society. Did art stop because someone said:"I don't get it!"
The artist must create freely. In order to do this artists must free themselves too. Only in doing this will artists be able to use their intuition. Instinct is not intuition. Intuition is a deeper voice that comes from truth itself. We are easily distracted from truth. Watch a bit of TV to experience this. Listen to a critic only once you appreciate from where the critic is coming from. Not everyone has to agree before you go ahead with your art. All criticism, good or bad, is simply based on the critic's experiences. They are not yours.
Create freely and intuitively and your art will grow unbounded.