Friday, September 30, 2011

Wasting Creative Energy

Last week I talked about using 3 mediums to paint the same scene.  I completed two, which I  already posted.  My plans were to take the scene and expand it in a panoramic (10x20) format in oil.  As I did small sketches in my sketchbook to work out the composition, values and clarify my idea I became frustrated.  I'm not sure what the problem is, but I know from past experience that to push this painting until I have a clear vision, is a waste of my time.  The frustration stems from knowing it's not right, but not being able to identify why or what.  Yet.  I need to step away and get some perspective.
Experiment on Yupo paper
Sitting there on my easel was a photo of a friends dog he graciously let me use for a painting.  I knew right when I saw it, I had to paint it!   I put it there as a reminder and I had been looking at her for over a week now.  I quickly switched gears and decided to play with some ideas for the painting of this dog.  Playing is how I like to start a painting anyway.  So I did a few dot to line drawings to find the right angles which I knew were important for the tilt of her head.  I did a fast sketch on some Yupo which I bought to experiment on and see if I liked it.  Disaster!  (a new learning curve I don't have time for right now, but will explore in the future!  Yupo is a synthetic paper with a smooth nonabsorbent surface.)  While I loved some of what happened with the Yupo I lacked the control I wanted.  This "playing" is not a waste of time. In that freedom I saw what happened on the paper while finding colors and strokes I thought would work on a finished piece.  This time I had an idea, a clear vision of what I wanted to say and how to say it.

Gurdy-inquisitive and playful
My earlier frustration told me that this painting  needed to keep that playful spirit and convey what I experienced in the brush work and color on the Yupo.  Most important, I decided to let go, have fun and not worry about the outcome.  The painting that resulted was spontaneous and had the playful character I was looking for. The energy and playfulness was there.

Sometimes it's better to shelve something that is good in favor of something better.  It's not that I can't or won't revisit the idea or that I wouldn't have worked through it and made something happen.  But for me it's better not to waste too much creative energy on something that is frustrating me.  That photo sitting there for a week was begging me to paint it.  Most of my paintings are painted in my head before I ever do a sketch or bring out a brush.  It's part of my process.

I know that we don't always have the luxury of putting a project aside.  But if I do have to push through I often take a break or set off in a different direction while I look for inspiration to finish.  It usually comes, and if it wont the result is never my best work.

Now I will put those pictures of Glacier back up and ponder what, why and how.  If it never comes into focus maybe I will scrap the whole idea and instead use the 10x20 as a vertical for a waterfall!  Who knows what will present itself?  This I know:  I don't have enough time to paint as it is.  Why waste it trying to make something happen when it is repeatedly falling flat.  The next inspiration is just around the corner-or was there all the time! 

Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Hint Taken from the Season's

Farewell summer.  The day's are cooler and the colors are beginning to turn.  Mother Nature is not rushing into fall but instead is easing into the change. (so far) I appreciate that.   A more gradual approach to change suits me better.  I find I don't like change and yet tire of sameness.

View from Many Glacier - Pastel
Fall is my favorite season.  I'm not sure why, but I think it's the color.  While spring has startling color after the muted tones of winter, Fall makes a much bolder statement. I love the paradox of the colors  so warm and intense, just as we loose the heat of summer.  It's like natures last hurrah before a blanket of snow covers the earth and the cold makes dormant the very trees that screamed life only a month before.
I need the rhythm of seasons.  Just as I get tired of one another starts!  It must be part of who I am because I also find myself loving variety in my art as well.  Right now I am painting the a Glacier park scene in 3 different mediums with different formats.  I like each painting for a different reason.  But how would I have known if I had finished the first one and not tried any other way?  This approach allows me to find what best expresses what I want to say.  It may seem to others like trying to reinvent the wheel or a waste of time.  Maybe if I had thought out what I wanted to say thoroughly I would have know which format or medium best expressed that?  Since creating is largely intuitive for me, decisions make themselves in the process of even the best planned paintings.    Often it is better than what I planned originally and I go with it.  Sometimes it's a huge mistake!

I may not do this multiple painting thing often, but I find it valuable.  I helps keep my skills sharp in all mediums.  It helps clarify the idea or reason for the painting in the first place.  I stop when I feel I've said everything I want to say about that subject. 

Quick journal of a lone last larkspur of summer.
I'm taking my sketchbook journaling in a different direction as well, by recording what nature has for me each day.  The last Larkspur or hummingbird of summer.  Nothing big or dramatic, but the small "poetry" presented in nature.  With this in mind I look for something to paint that day and do an quick sketch in watercolor or pencil.   What a gift!  Like a gratitude journal in paintings! 

Try one of these or both and let me know what you think.  How do you explore a subject or make decisions on execution?  Look up the inspiring work of Kevin Macpherson's Reflections on a Pond.
While he does not change his medium he paints the same scene everyday of the year.  Now that's exploring a subject!

Just a few ideas to keep things fresh. A hint taken from the seasons.  We are nothing if we are not creative! 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sketchbook Journaling

That I was able to paint plein air while on my vacation in Montana was a gift!  Unless I go on a specific painting vacation do my vacations and my painting go together.  These days however I always take a sketchbook and a very small box of paints and I try to do at least something small when I can steal the time. And I look for small snippets of time more often now!

I remember the first time I took a sketchbook and paints.  I was so timid I never took them out!  The next time I did them in my room away from the eyes of onlookers.  Gradually as I gained confidence, I became a brave artist and painted away from any crowds.  The more accustomed I became to it the less I worried about others and the more I wanted to record my adventures with my art.  When focused, I don't notice the occasional onlooker, and they usually don't bother me either.

Notice the picture # for future reference
Yes, I took a lot of pictures!
A sketchbook travel journal is a wonderful way to keep memories even if you don't actually paint much in them.  You can take a photo, note the number of the photo and make notes for the future painting.  I note colors and impressions, details and even feelings to evoke the memories back at the studio.  That way when I go to paint it the scene comes to life again. 
If you get a chance, you can paint a small scenes as time allows.  A sketchbook journal is the perfect size to do quick studies.  Many of my paintings are unfinished because I had to move on.  Some of those unfinished sketches are favorites of mine.  I'm not sure why, but I try to remind myself it's not always about finishing.  Sometimes it's just about starting-isn't it?! 

 I noticed that while I had many photos, I couldn't remember even a week later where exactly I was, why I took the photo or other relevant things from my vacation.  As the idea evolved, I began to make written notes about each day of my travels.Now my journals are full of written records of my journeys with pencil sketches as well as tiny and small watercolor sketches.  Now when I go through them it is much more than a photo album, it is a record of my experience in the "here and now" of "then and there", if that makes sense.  I don't know about you, but when I get home it takes weeks to get back into things and by then the memories have faded.  But having those written notes is nice.

I have sketchbooks that are just for travel, but I also keep sketchbooks for everyday.  Every once in a while it's such fun to go back and read my impressions of something or see a quick sketch.  I don't write a daily journal nor do I sketch daily. I find I'm doing it more and more as a way to observe and then reflect on some of the important and the not so important things that interest me artistically.  I try not to be serious about them either.  They are for my eyes only and I have fun and play in them. 

Recently I was rereading The Pastelist's Year by Elizabeth Mowry.  She writes about a journal that she keeps to record nature and the impression it leaves on her during her walks each day.  I thought I might take my journals in that direction for a while beyond the travel journal and sketchbook where I work out compositions and things.  I love the idea of recording the wonders I see on my walks. 

So there are many ways to keep a sketchbook journal and just as many reasons.  I find the value of keeping one grows with each journal I fill.  Besides which, they are just fun!