Claude Monet said : " No one is an artist unless he carries his picture in his head before painting it, and is sure of his method and composition"
I found this quote by Monet to be significant. Particularly since I have been concerned with light and colour from a scientific point of view and applying this to art. Why significant? Monet is of course a famous impressionist - THE Impressionist - so light and colour should be paramount. Yes they are very important, but I like that Monet's quote also tells us that we must have the design (composition) and method (technique) in mind before we start painting.
It is astonishing to me how important the early stages of the painting process are. The mind picture and the visualisation of how, what and why before paint meets canvas has a profound effect on how a painting progresses. Monet knew that painting light and air would not be enough to carry the painting if his composition was weak.
We can see this even in an atmospheric painting of sea and misty light. How to carry the eye through and around such a scene where the devices of roads, fence posts and treelines are not present to help us compose the painting. Monet composed his paintings in the absence of obvious compositional devices. We can keep this in mind when next we plan a painting. Take risks, but calculated ones.
Once the basics are established then play with light and enjoy the freedom of painting.
The happy people are those who are producing something; the bored people are those who are consuming much and producing nothing. (William Ralph Inge)
An artist needs to create. When the artist listens to the creative voice and answers he will start the process.
There are no conditions such as special tools. Those will come.
I have resolved to listen and answer every day.
(The Process is an extract from The Artist's Manifesto)
The positive response to my recent article titled The Grateful Artist has been a lesson in the human condition. It has also shown me perhaps for the first time in my life that gratitude is possibly the most powerful force we humans can access. What about love you may ask. What is love if you are not grateful for it to begin with?
My journey through art has been long, but it is perhaps only the past four years that I have become fully aware of this gift. There is a huge rift between the blind stumble that I went through for so long. Undervaluing the gifts that we have or not seeing them at all. It is one of our human frailties that we take too much for granted. We are creatures of habit they say. Familiar steps every day make us feel secure, but like pinballs we bounce off the hard knocks until we are practically sleep walking.
I did hear talk of gratitude opening people's eyes to their own potential. In the past that message did not sink in. Now I get the picture. I have also seen that there is a real need for so many people to wake up and realise their own potential. I firmly believe that it begins with gratitude. Fortunately gratitude does not require a big outlay. No fancy clothes, car or house is required. No degrees or endorsements and no entrance fee. Just you and I acknowledging that there is a purpose to our lives. There is something to be grateful for.
Life as an artist became possible when I took a risk. The risk sounds trivial now, but it meant confronting a fear and walking past it. For me it was simply about putting my paintings before the public. Would I take it personally if someone scoffed or if the paintings were ignored completely? Was I merely a pretender? It is much safer to stay out of sight, but that is damaging on so many levels. Not taking the risk would have been ungratefulness. We are all given something positive to offer the world and keeping it to ourselves is just not on. Fortunately fear is weak when confronted and gratefulness keeps the fear away. My worries were baseless. I did the work and let go of the angst.
Another shock to me has been the spontaneous goodwill that so many people have offered me. I have not asked for things yet they have been given. I have tried to give something of value and it has come back to me multiplied. Is there a catch? Real life still goes on. I still have to pay bills and get up and get to work. The difference is in the choices that open up when you are doing the work that was meant for you. You can say no, but it seems that I get to say yes more often to what I ask for.
Perhaps with more awareness I see more opportunity. Sometimes I still want to blame coincidence rather than anything esoteric like fulfillment of my soul's purpose. Awareness - with this comes the right to choose and be grateful.
When I finish typing this I will continue my new painting based on this past weekend's plein air work. It is a moment to accept and gently acknowledge with gratitude. What tomorrow brings is a mystery, but I have today and it is good.
The stretched canvas is part of painting history and is still as popular as ever. I have posted a new video on My Studio page highlighting three excellent options available to artists in South Africa.
I spent a few happy hours this weekend painting out at our local beach. The spring south-easter wind was getting into full swing so I took refuge on my vehicle's tailgate. I think I have discovered the perfect concept for quick park-n-paint sessions around my favorite spots. Read more about my plein air set-up on my studio page.
The world of physics was in raptures recently. An invisible bit of energy exposed itself to a computer in a very expensive tunnel. No one could see this happening, but they can infer that something that was not there before had come and gone. Someone with a beard and a labcoat could explain this better than me. However this little slip of energy has been called the Higgs-Boson. A sub-atomic particle so small that you wouldn't notice it even if it passed right through you.
It is easy to discount such things, but energy is perhaps the most important quality in the universe. We are so connected to energy in its infinite forms that it is everyting we are and will be forever. That is a long time indeed.
This keyboard I am bashing on, the screen from which you will read this and everything else for that matter is energy. So what has this to do with art? All this energy has one purpose it seems and that is to create.
Energy creates things, conditions of being and even emotions. Disease for example is simply energy gone bonkers. Antibiotics is another form of energy designed to wipe out the crazy diseased energy or at least change it into something non-threatening. All of this energy works in fine balance and when out of kilter things go wrong.
Creativity. Let us consider how we create with energy all day long without even knowing it. Your expression, the words you use, the words you read, the tone of your voice and even your thoughts however well disguised give off energy. This effects you and those within your energy field.
Energy is transferred across the world by merely what is communicated every second. Consider how you feel when you rashly turn on the news and see some form of madness perpetrated in another time zone. Instant what? Anger, fear, compassion, dread? Then consider how you feel when a loved one smiles at you or you receive a compliment. Positive energy flows through you instantly.
That is the part that knocks my socks off. Instant energy. You do not have to think about feeling good. It just happens. What happens then? We transfer this positive energy to others instantly. Energy flows and you cannot stop it until you let negative vibes back in.
So lets accept the idea that the universe consists of energy. Creative energy is the tool used by the universe to make everything and the energy is infinite. We are energy highways. We accept energy instantly and transmit it just as instantly without effort. The universe creates non-stop whether by way of a volcano or a honey bee in the orchard. We need to keep this mind.
As artists our work and inspiration is positive energy. Sublime and beautiful. Fulfilling a purpose beyond perception. Do not let others attack this idea with negativity. So too must we refrain from responding with negativity to other's creative efforts. The transferance of energy through our actions and onto others who appreciate our work is nothing less than a God given purpose. This energy heals and restores. It connects us to our souls.
Let us be aware and accepting. Lets make that energy count.
Claude Monet, that great French impressionist, is famous for his light filled landscapes. His gardens, rivers filled with happy sailing scenes and of course his series paintings such as haystacks and Rouen Cathedral. Monet was fascinated by light and the ephemeral effects it had on the landscape. The air was alive to Monet and he suffered greatly to produce paintings depicting light and air.
For Monet elements like values were sometimes sacrificed for light filled scenes. If you are a values based artist you may suggest that the paintings were weak in structure. That would however miss the point. Certainly in a novice a lack of values could lead to weakness yet Monet was no ordinary artist. He exemplified impressionist theory and put this to practice in his paintings.
Although Monet is not known for abstract painting it is clear that abstraction in landscape was not far off. Consider Monet's series of paintings on the Houses of Parliament in the early 1900's. Bathed in mist and light the buildings are soft edged silhouettes. Yes the buildings are still clearly discernable as such, but the subject was not material structures. The subject was light and the buildings have been reduced to flat shapes.
Let's go forward a few years to Monet's later paintings which were almost all done in his garden and around his extensive pond. The waterlilly series moves from depictions that are evident as water lilies to renditions that could be mistaken for modern abstract paintings. Without intending it Monet had started something that would gain momentum with artists like Cezanne and then to the mastery of the abstract painting, Pablo Picasso.
There is something here that representational landscape painters can consider too. Recently I wrote about getting out of the creative rut. Trying something new to re-energise. Why not look at your landscape scene and isolate the shapes. Reduce them to their basic shape and tweak the colours. What is the essence, for example, of long dry grass blowing in the wind. What about reflections in a pond or light filtering through leaves of a tree. Get up close, squint and note the shapes and also the values of light and dark. Could they be painted? How far into abstraction could you go? Would you feel comfortable doing this?
Contemporary artists like Mitchell Albala paint landscapes with a bias to abstration. Perhaps expressionist would be more accurate. By selecting different colours and focusing in on the emotional content an ordinary landscape depicting a waterfall could be turned into a billowing spray of light and cloudlike wonder. You instictively know that there is an organic process at work which creates an experience for the viewer. More emotional involvement perhaps than merely a spectator.
Give this a go sometime. I am sure that you will learn something new and release some pressure from having to produce a gallery piece in your regular style. You may just end up with a few new tricks to incorporate into your next landscape.
One of my artist friends asked me what do I personally do when I find myself stuck in a creative rut. What great timing Riaan! I was in one of those periods recently. Not the first time and it will not be the last either. Every artist gets into the creative rut at times. The good news is that these ruts are necessary. They are a call to up your game.
The artist's rut has many causes. Perhaps the most common are:
You may recognise the feeling of being in a rut when you approach painting without that old fizz. That state of happiness that starts quietly and builds up to being blissfully in the moment. Time stands still and you are doing the work. When these qualities are missing it can be depressing. Are you losing your touch? Have you reached the bottom of your talent quota? No you are fine. You are ready for the next step up.
The typical issues for me are related to subject and technique. Sounds mundane enough. Just change them and you are okay. Not so quick. Getting to this point of recognising the problem, resolving to change something and acting upon it is not simple. It takes energy and discipline. You have to give yourself the proverbial kick in the pants. Make you bargains with the painting gods and get your energy flowing.
Here are a few techniques that help:
Get outside and take a walk. If this is possible for you then make it good. Walk with purpose and vigour. See your surroundings like an artist. Look for shapes, values. Breathe in deeply. Breathe out the frustrations.
If you cannot take a walk then any form of exercise that raises your breathing and heart rate will have good effect. Energy flows from action.
If you have an idea then go with it. Draw it out in simple form. Then put it aside. Let it develop in your mind for a while.
While the energy is starting to kick in I like to stoke the fire a bit more by going through preparations. Hands on tasks like preparing painting panels. Cutting canvas. Priming. I line up the panels and will prime ten or more. Get out a canvas and underpaint it. I am not going to start a painting at this point even if I am tempted to. I tell myself the best is still to come. The breakthrough moment will be tomorrow, but I will be prepared.
Come the morning and I am painting with purpose. Music on. Big brush. Big shapes. Once that canvas has the blocking in completed I start another and block it in too. This is all about action and bold movement. I do not want to get stuck on middle and end stages. I know I will be ready for those later in the day or the next day.
On the issue of subject and technique. Change something. Just do it and go with it. If you have been painting landscapes then paint a portrait. Use big brushes and paint in broad planes to sculpt the face. Loose and free. Those same broad strokes will be used in your next landscape. Change colours. Paint an entire painting using tones of burnt sienna for example. If I like what I see I may add more colour over the monotone and the painting will go in another direction.
I am out of the rut and it has made me stronger. That is what ruts are good for. The most important point is always to get moving. Hustle yourself along. If you sit in one spot you stay at the bottom of the rut. Do the work.
Do you have tips for getting out of the rut? Share them by leaving a comment.
I confess that I like Mondays. This does go against convention apparently. Mention this in conversation and polite people smile indulgently. If they are less polite I usually get a derisive snort and reasons why Mondays are not favoured.
Mondays give me the opportunity to start putting into action what I thought about on the weekend. This is key. Taking time off on the weekend to think and plan gets me ready for action on Monday.
Weekends are for relaxing I hear you say. True, but relaxing and quite contemplation go hand in hand. They get my creative juices flowing. I am grateful for this.
I am grateful that I do not face Mondays with dread for what lies ahead. I think of those entering cubicle hell, perhaps fearful confrontations with a mad boss, customers, bank managers, teachers, creditors or even real danger such as mining or just general drudgery. I am grateful that many of these jobs are performed for our benefit and the greater good. It would be a happier world however if the folks carrying out these jobs loved their work. Unfortunately many do not. This makes Mondays a dreadful day for many. It is very sad.
I have read and been told how important gratitude is in our lives. I have heard that true creativity can only reach a higher plane if accompanied by a grateful heart. I agree with this. I have first hand experience of it. Good things happen when accompanied by good thoughts and positve action. Some call it serendipity. A long word that usually gets me odd looks if I use it in general conversation.
There are a few things I know for sure about gratitude. The success of my day depends upon it. If I choose to let events bring me down and I lose my sense of gratitude. I am no longer able to create effectively or at all. This drags me down further until my sole aim is simply to get to the next day. Can you relate? How many times have you said to yourself: "I cannot wait for this day to be over. Tomorrow cannot come too soon." The day is a write off!
Of course there are events of significant distress that will ruin a day. But these are few and far between. We are often sabotaging our days with idle events. Little things to moan about. These are our energy killers. Artists have a way of dealing with this. They can get to work. Whether preparing a canvas, cleaning the studio (note to self: may become procrastination) or getting down to the main event - making art. This is where we must express our gratitude.
Our ability to work and thus to live our passion. It is the flow of the universe through our creative actions that makes time disappear and the moment all supreme. It could not happen without gratitude. Gratitude for the air we breathe, our health, our senses, our ability to see the world and appreciate the incredible energy that created this all. Let us be grateful for something and focus on that.
Ignore the purveyors of bad news, whether they come in print, TV or in person. You will allow your inner self to find freedom from the clamor of an ungrateful world. This will give your natural creative self a moment to come forward. The energy will be felt again as channels for its graceful flow are reopened. Have your pencils, brushes or whatever you need close at hand. You will soon be creating again.