Thursday, February 23, 2012

Having a Plan

I don't have a plan!  I know, I know!  Do you??  January starts with such good intentions.  All the books roll out to organize and plan your year.  Exercise equipment is everywhere.  Gym memberships are on special!  All the blogs I read had ideas for the new year.  I even bought a book about the business side of art with all the plans you could ever want!  I admit, I was tempted to put one in place.  But I know myself better than that.  Why set myself up, I asked?  Now, it's almost March. Are you still doing what you set out to do? Have you followed the plan?

I believe the adage "fail to plan, plan to fail", so I guess I do plan, loosely.  I plan my compositions.  But when I paint, I like to be open to the painting to tell me where to go with it. Sometimes it's better than anything I had planned. 

 I think you have to have a set destination to really chart a direct course and follow it.  But I'm more of a stroller.  I like to dally in the green meadow or stop and look up to watch the bird in her nest.  I have an idea where I'm headed, but it's less about getting there and more about the pleasant diversions along the way. For me.

Not everyone is built this way.  You may need a schedule and timeline to get things accomplished or you feel uncomfortable.  I feel uncomfortable and restrained with rigid deadlines.  I have them and I meet them.  But I don't thrive on them.  I think we are bent one way or the other. Which way do you lean?  And while deadlines and destinations keep things moving forward in the world we live in, we need balance. 

I say embrace it!  Don't fight it.  This world needs all kinds.  Those who are strollers keep those uptight deadline makers from taking themselves to seriously and the planners keep us from driving off the road into the ditch while we watch the scenery!  It's a win win thing if you ask me. 

The painting above is the beginning of a self portrait I started this week with my portrait group.  I can see myself beginning to emerge in a cloudy haze.  (yes, it's very flawed and needs work, as do I!)  That's how portrait painting works for me.  And I love it and the thrill of seeing the likeness (hopefully) emerge.  Over the years I've wanted to focus more on my portraiture (among other things!!) so I joined a group that paints once a week.  So here's the balance.  I do it once a week  (plan/structure) but do it in a way that I find relaxing and with fun people (loose/strolling).  I think that's a balanced win-win plan! 

Over the next few weeks my plan is to show you a few ways to use your sketchbook for fun and not just to work out your values or compositions.  And I'm trying to get back to blogging weekly.  Thanks for reading.  Now go create something! 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Finding Your Artistic Voice

Have you ever struggled with what kind of art (music; writing; etc.) you want to do?  We live in a world with so many rich choices it can be mind boggeling. Are you like me and love everything and want to do absolutely everything?  This can be a good thing since I believe diversity makes you very well rounded and a more interesting person.  It can also be a bad thing.  So many choices mean we don't focus on any one thing long enough to be really good at anything! 

There are those of you whose path seemed predetermined at birth.  You picked up a paint brush and some oil paints and ureka!  It was magic and you never wanted another medium.  Some of you do landscapes and find never ending inspritation from the vistas before you.  Some of you played a jazz tune the first time and now every note you play has that familiar edge, as though it was a part of you.  Like you were meant to play that way.  I envy you.  For many of us the path is not so clear. 

A great deal of us finally find something that speaks to us along lifes way.  A passion that has not presented itself before or is reawakened later in life.  Something that we find so compelling that we can't get enough. That, is when the magic happens.  Finding your passion is the beggining of finding your voice. 

Next you must master your craft.  This takes years.  Life get's in the way.  Unless it's your career path as well, you must make time for it and time gets shorter as we get older!  But here's what I tell all my students:  you have to master the skills before you can use them creatively.  Only when the skills become rote do we have the freedom to investigate our creativity through our art.  I'm not saying you are never being creative in the early stages of your art.  But I am saying it is much easier to experess yourself if you have more than a basic vocabulary!  So is it impossible make good art when you are just beginning?  Some of the pieces I am most fond of are those that have the freshness of inexperience!  One lesson is to always keep learning to keep your art fresh.  Skill is not the end all. 

Now you have your passion defined and your skill set in place.  Now what?  What makes you different?  What makes you special?  I believe we are created with unique and individual traits.  In the same way, I believe each of you has a unique and individual way to create using your art.  A "style" or voice that is only yours.  I also think we all have something to say that no one else can say quite the way you, and only you, can.

But hold on.  You are going to change and so will your art.  Therefore, so will your "voice".  It's a comfortable place to find your "grove" but a dangerous place to stay.  Let me suggest that as you grow as an artist your voice gets deeper and what you have to say becomes clearer.  All that takes time.  Life is process and so is your art.  The trap is to find something so comfortable you never grow beyond it.  While there is safely in having the skills and knowing what your message is, an artist must continue to grow.  To find something new and fresh to speak about.  At some point people will tune out if they've heard the same thing a thousand times.  And isn't art a conversation, really?  Aren't we really expressing something through another "language" of sorts? 

So I guess my message today is:  All this buzz about finding ones voice is a nice idea, if that were all there was to it:  Found passion-check.  Learned skills-check.  Have something to say-check!-heck.  How dull life would be if that were all there were?  How dull is art that say's the same thing over and over again? 

Think about it.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

What's Wrong With This Picture? The Value of a Good Critique-Pt.2

Tom - Alla Prima

What's Wrong with this Picture? The Value of a Good Critique-Pt.2

First, let me say thank you to all of you who commented on this blog--and there were a lot of you!!  Most of you receive my blog on an email list serve so your responses come to my inbox and not directly to the comment area on my blog for all to see.   It would be nice for you all to see the comments that land in my inbox and have a dialogue.  There is a setting I need to change for that, but like so much else--someday, maybe...

The number one response I got asked if a bad experience caused me to write this.  The short answer is no. Have I had bad experiences? Sure, I have.  My first college watercolor class was a disaster and I received a D!  I've sat through many a scourging critique and have been rejected for memberships and shows. People have said unflattering things.  (and why is that what we remember?)  That, my friends, is the life of an artist.  It comes with the territory.  You must develop a thick skin or never let your work see the light of day.  So many of you do that very thing. I still feel the sting of negative feedback, as do my most accomplished friends.  You will never avoid it, you must learn to deal with it.

My aim is to encourage you and your talent.  Life is process and so is our art.  Robert Henri wrote in The Art Spirit "A thing that has not been begun cannot be finished".  Yet how many an artist has pulled their toe from the water to avoid getting wet?  They begin, but they let criticism stop them from finishing.  If criticism is what you fear, I say you must just jump in feet first and brave the water- get yourself all wet! Or if that's not your style, wade in slowly, getting used to the water slowly.  Let's face it, repeated exposure will desensitize you. You also can't finish if you quit!  While Mr. Henri was talking about a single painting, I would add that as artists we are never "finished" with our art.  We continue to grow and evolve.  And "constructive" criticism helps us do just that.

A few of you thought I wanted feedback on the painting I posted because of the title of the blog "What's Wrong with this Picture?"  You were very kind in your comments.  I love the painting (I always love the latest one that finished well) and only threw it up there because my readers want to see my artwork.  The title was really a metaphor.  By definition Critique means "the art or practice of criticism"  and Criticism means  "the practice of judging the merits and faults of something or someone".  While a little convoluted, the idea was that most often feedback is negative and some of those doling it out have dubious motives.  So "What's Wrong with this Picture" has two meanings.  Sneaky, huh?

I try now to look at criticism from any source with objectivity.  I ask myself if there is any merit to their view, even if I don't like what I'm hearing.  I try to separate my personal feelings from their reaction to my art.  And I try to remember that for everyone who loves my art, there will be those who don't.  And that's OK.  I don't like everyone's art myself.  You have opinions, don't you? 
Find a safe place to nurture your creativity.  A place where you can grow.  Don't let criticism stop you from doing what you love and expressing yourself through your art and showing the world.  Do learn to use it to make you and your art better, remembering that there is always room to grow and improve.  That's the value of a good critique.