How Color Trends Give Emotional Cues

 

January is the month for "Colors of the Year," symbolically defining the trends for the coming months.  As useful as it is to consider new color palettes, emotional cues behind the choices hold the most value.

When Pantone introduced the 2016 colors of the year, they keyed into two themes: persuasive compassion and serene composure. Thematically, the 2017 color marketers are tapping into more energized emotions, and if interpreted right, artists can find new opportunities for work that appeals to the various niches.

Elle Decor uses words such as sophisticated and creative to describe how the consumer sees self identity as defined by personal living spaces.  In the visual examples used, Elle Decor combines furnishings and fine art to define specific moods or emotional cues, from those seeking drama, to atmosphere, or regional identity. 

IMG_1577Elle Decor is not alone in seeing a new trend emerging, based on the consumer's desire for a more optimistic, cozy, comforting, renewing, or elegant new image for 2017.  Pantone, recognized as a standard setter in the design environment, has selected the color Greenery as definitive of the 2017 environment.  Their descriptions of the emotional connections to Greenery include back to nature, spring, renewal, life affirming changes, starting over with a fresh approach. 

Sherwin-Williams has selected "Poised Taupe" as their Color of 2017, calling it a complex neutral intended to communicate the idea of a refuge from the outside world. Ideas such as elegance, graceful patina, earthiness and the authenticity of "a well-lived life" identify the emotions they want associated with this color. 

Benjamin Moore takes it a step further, posting a video showing how their design team drew inspiration from contemporary art events, selecting their deep purple color, called "Shadow," as their entry into the 2017 trend.  Shadow is intended to communicate the combined emotions of nostalgia, morning light filled with optimism, evenings of mystery, romance, magic and "an Old Master palette."

The value here is in the word choices used to sell the colors, and how those define the marketer's view of the 2017 consumer.  Using this analysis, 2017 will see strong enthusiasm for a culture-based environment, where not just colors, or furnishing, but original fine art may play a strong role.  It will be interesting to see if this theory plays out for both galleries and artists alike. 

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IMG_1978 small copyI appreciate the way you have accepted my words, and my art, into your lives.  So I would like to thank and welcome the new subscribers to this blog, and those who have also subscribed to my newsletter.  In my newsletter I write more about art technique, my motivations behind specific paintings, and occasionally offer paintings for sale at special prices.  Here is a convenient link to subscribe to my newsletter .

I would also like to thank those of you who have purchased my book, Ancient Wisdom: Emerging Artist: the business plan (not just) for the mature artist, over the past month.  I hope this book helps you with the intrinsic motivation, as well as offering practical ideas and a bit of humor at the end of the day. Please leave your recommendations or suggest it to others who might be interested in the content. 

Image: The Sun, The Moon, and The City.  @2017, SFSmith

 

 

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Artist Carmen Herrera, at age 101, Shows at Major Museums

One of the most fascinating artists of 2016 has to be Cuban-born, American Minimalist artist Carmen Herrera.  Born in Havana in 1915, Herrera moved to post war Paris, eventually ending up in New York City in the mid-50's.  Her work was exhibited next to Piet Mondrian, and was considered equal to that of Barnett Newman and Frank Stella, but Herrera remained unnoticed, and undeterred. 

I discovered a wonderful 2010 interview by Hermione Hoby, titled "Carmen Herrera: 'Every Painting has been a fight between the painting and me. I tend to win.' The abstract artist on the man who saved her paintings from the bin, and being discovered at the age of 89."  

One of my favorite quotes is this:

"You don't decide to be an artist, art gets inside of you. Before you know it you're painting, before you know it you're an artist. You're so surprised. It's like falling in love."

But she has an acerbic wit and great insight, so I'm sure you'll find favorites of your own.

More interesting reads on this remarkable story of passion and resiliency include Carmen Herrera, 101-Year-Old Overnight Success, Gets Her Whitney Close-Up (with video), at CultureGrrl, written by Lee Rosenbaum, and this Dazed article, At 101-years-old, artist Carmen Herrera is NY’s one-to-watch, by Ashleigh Kane.

Overlooked for decades, Carmen Herrera remained true to her passion.  Though some of the reasons the art world ignored her work have since been resolved - women are not as invisible as they were 50 years ago - there are other obstacles that have little to do with gender or the quality of the work or the direction of the vision.  The take away here is truth to vision and belief in purpose, and not allowing age to be the excuse for no

 


Your Unconscious Contract With The Art World: Balancing Disappointment with Creativity

How do you balance your creativity while working in an entirely different field? Or stay connected to your own art practice, and yet succeed in an art world that often feels too opaque and impenetrable, operating by secret rules?

Over the holidays I learned about a young artist who was self-destructing, because the door to her creative path had slammed closed.  “I consider myself an artist,” she said, “trained to be an art teacher. But the only door left open to me is toward a corporate job I hate and which drains me of all creativity.”  Another artist, connecting through email to explain his disappointment after pursuing an academic art degree in his 40’s, struggled with a loss of faith in the art world. “It seems almost too challenging to maintain the heart of creative art making while entering the art market.”

IMG_1929 portfolio copyWhen we commit to a lifetime of art making, we rarely consider what is actually required – little institutional security, the need for both independence and collaboration, success, failure, hot and cold, critics and feeling invisible.  Often, when confronted with that reality, we struggle with disappointment.  But disappointment comes to us for a reason: the message is not about impossible dreams, but how to pursue them.

I have always maintained that it’s important to have a philosophical understanding of your art: the why, what, and how of it.  Identifying meaningful connections to art history provides a reason for creating despite the down times, the fears and loss of confidence.   There are more long-standing artists who sustain the idea of Fine Art through a dedication to their work, than those who fly to the top of the visibility scale, so building a strong foundation from a very personal perspective is worth the effort.

Keeping roles separate is equally important.  Real life can be filled with demands, and often a few obligations (such as work and family) will overrule all others (such as the need to make art).  Since we often have unwritten contracts with world, we feel intense disappointment and anger when those contracts don’t work out. Most of the time, we don't even realize the subconscious contracts we construct, we just behave in ways that assume outcomes that fit comfortably with our image of what we should be. This is actually a larger impediment to creativity than we acknowledge - the reality that life might not always allow you to spend the time, under the conditions you need, to do the work that you intended and trained and expected to do.  Or that the work you produce will not even be acknowledged, or allow you to make a living doing what you love. 

Keeping it real is so much bland, generic advice, I'm rolling my eyes even using it.  A better suggestion is to constantly reevaluate what is real and possible, and adjusting accordingly.  I have been painting and selling art for over 18 years, and I work harder at it and find it more challenging in today’s environment than ever before.  So realistic is important to me, as well as risk taking and believing in what I produce, and how I choose to market it.  I admit to going down rabbit holes, searching for solutions to make my "contracts" come true. There are moments when the "why bother to be an artist when there are so many struggles" question is overwhelming, especially when there are so many deserving artists who are under exposed, and always will be. Directions change, new styles emerge that take attention away from your work, you grow cynical from rejection and disinterest.  So the real question - the real contract -  is how to evolve when the current path is not working, how to keep painting when you can't imagine doing anything else. 

Leonard Cohen talks about writing all the time, doing nothing but writing in order to find out what the song is.  Stuart Shills talks about affirming the immediacy of a moment, finding the residue of memory. 

So what feelings are you chasing when you make art?  What needs are you feeding?

What are your contracts?

 

 

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Second Thoughts on Artistic Style

I recently participated in an event that prompted me to reevaluate my thoughts on style.  The show was available online and when viewed this way, I felt my painting style did not easily "fit" with the general feel of the show.  There were many excellent paintings, all versions of the prevailing visual appearance, and it made me question whether my ideas about personal style ought to be reassessed. 

I have always felt that style developed over time as the artist found his visual language.  The way we mix the paint, hold the brush, the direction of the stroke or the ideas behind the composition are all part of style.  I still believe this.  But I want a richer understanding by expanding on that idea.

The standard advice for artists has always been to develop a style that identifies you, so that your work is recognizable.  So the question is how far can the artist stray from the norm before their audience becomes confused as to the style they are expecting?  It should be easy, but it’s not.

The definition of style, which you can read in full here, is straightforward:  Innovation in style rises through the work of a single or small group of artists, and those that follow are said to be working in a similar manner, or the school of, where essentially they are taking the ideas and expanding on the body of work, but not necessarily changing the trajectory.  So an artist must eventually decide where he fits within a particular school (or set of ideas) and work in that direction, or risk being labeled as disorganized and confusing.

But how broad can that direction be? Where is the boundary, where this side you are safe, and that side you are at risk?

In this article at quartz.com, we learn that art collectors at the high end are looking for artistic rigor, work that challenges the status quo, communicates ideas, displays outstanding technique, a distinguishing narrative – all while playing “outside the rules.” There is no real surprise here from the art sector that believes in preserving high culture for our society.  Art that is intellectually challenging, while reflecting the bones of art history beneath innovation and contemporary approach is meaningful at this level. And while attitudes at the top eventually filter down to the lower tiers, the collectors outside the auction houses have different expectations. They are more interested in ideas around the beauty and artistic prestige of a particular work, the emotional connection or narrative depicted, and a sense of recognition between collector and artist on a subtle level.  But one idea that will not change no matter what group you are talking about is that people bring their experiences and expectations to the artwork, and they want to understand what they are looking at - and the strongest, easiest mode of communication is style. 

Style does evolve organically, but the argument can be made for the artist to fit their work between the fine lines of innovation, expression, and expectation.  This is especially true if you are trying to get your work accepted into prestigious shows or important galleries.  While there is leeway, there is also a strong pull toward "fitting into the whole presentation."  While looking at your own portfolio, there may be a strong sense of continuity, of work that is easily identified as yours.  But when that work moves out into the group shows, what is better?  To fit in with the group or to work at the edges?  Does your personal style fit close enough to the expectation of the audience or does it feel discordant? Are you too sensitive to your own voice, too insecure with the acceptability of your style that you over-react (always possible), or does it signal the need to step back and reassess?

It comes down to the artist deciding what their work is about and how they want to develop the ideas, and then how and where they want to present that work to the marketplace. The reception is going to be risky no matter whether you are following the traditional path or the “play outside the rules” path.  Art has always been about problem solving, and risk is part of the artist’s development.  It is said that art at any level can find a buyer, but most serious artists I know are also looking for high artistic achievement, producing the best work possible, improving their technique, and then translating that into recognition and eventually sales.  I hope I am opening a discussion, and look forward to other artist's thoughts on this subject.  Please add your ideas through the comments section. 

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IMG_1772 sm copyI'm very humbled to announce that Moonrise (over Desperation Ridge), 8 x 10, oil,  was awarded Best Nocturne in the August/September Plein Air Salon. 

The story behind the Desperation Ridge paintings: there is no specific geographical place called Desperation Ridge, although seeing parts of the Oregon Outback I am sure more than one gold miner, or short-cut following wagon train called one or more of the volcanic ridges and gullies by that name - or others more colorful.  While not totally born of imagination, Desperation Ridge reflects many emotions artists experience when a painting does or does not come together as intended.  And not just artists.  We all have the obstacles we are determined to overcome at all costs.  There is beauty in that quest. 

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The Essential Business Skill an Artist Should Develop

What are your greatest art related fears?  For most artists, the fear of unanswered questions is the biggest impediment.  And the primary business skill you need is a strategy to manage that fear.

Some fears are just fears.

But most fears can be managed if you first realize they are actually questions, and then work toward finding the best answers.

Common questions revolve around the worth of your work.  If you don’t fully understand the rational behind what you create, it’s no wonder the work feels without merit.  Organize your thoughts by writing about your history, why you decided to be an artist, what inspires your work.

I thought my mountain was coming this morning. It was near to speaking when suddenly it shifted, sulked, and returned to smallness. It has eluded me again and sits there, puny and dull. Why? (Emily Carr)

Another common fear involves the market and demand for your work.  We fear the answer will be a resounding “No!”  And what could be worse that knowing that?

What could be worse is working for years in a way that will not succeed because you were afraid to face the possibility that one, you had the potential to succeed, but two, you needed to take greater action to achieve that goal. 

I was a loser, most concerned with making a living. It took me 30 years to understand... I had to reinvent a system, find a way out, and set some rules that could work for me and a few others. I guess in the end that's what we all are trying to do. (Maurizio Cattelan)

But the biggest fear, the biggest risk, is saying you are an artist but never, ever succeeding.  Oh, wow, that is so heavy. I mean, really, what could you possibly do that could compete with the likes of the Art History Stars? 

 “Have pity on those who are fearful of taking up a pen, or a paintbrush, or an instrument, or a tool because they are afraid that someone has already done so better than they could…”
Paulo Coelho, The Pilgrimage

  Don't even bother with this fear.  Focus on the questions that have answers.  Build your art business from there.

Know as much as you can about your own work, as an ongoing process, because your ideas change and develop and often come back around in more effective styles.

Know as much as you can about the business expectations of others when dealing with an artist. Small questions about how to ship large work, and larger questions about the money, the accounting, and the marketing responsibilities. There are good resources if you want group classes, but you can also start with your own investigations by going to the galleries, the shipping businesses, the juried shows and asking questions.

Know as much as you can about the standards for excellence in your chosen medium, and what strategies you can use to gain acknowledgement from your peers.  This includes the standards for excellence and styles when approaching galleries, establishing pricing, and producing marketing efforts.

Because there are many different ways to think about what an Art Business is, experts will offer you a broad approach with the easiest solutions: write an artist statement, create a blog, build a website, and submit to shows.  The road you are on does not have easy answers, simple solutions, or common experiences. The terrain changes rapidly and constantly. While you do need a road map of sorts, you also need to take the responsibility for where you are going.  It’s an adventure that can be both fun and terrifyingly.

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IMG_1772 sm copyI appreciate the way you have accepted my words, and my art, into your lives.  So I would like to thank and welcome the new subscribers to this blog, and those who have also subscribed to my newsletter.  In my newsletter I write more about art technique, my motivations behind specific paintings, and occasionally offer paintings for sale at special prices.  Here is a convenient link to subscribe to my newsletter .

I would also like to thank those of you who have purchased my book, Ancient Wisdom: Emerging Artist: the business plan (not just) for the mature artist, over the past month.  I hope this book helps you with the intrinsic motivation, as well as offering practical ideas and a bit of humor at the end of the day.

 

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Sources of Creativity

Being human, we relate to the world by placing ideas, and people, into slots that define them, and this is especially true when we discuss ideas about creativity and productivity in later life.  In most of the literature regarding the subject, intelligence and creativity are discussed in terms of cognitive function and how fast or slow the nerves translate information, as if creativity manifesting in ten seconds was better than that manifesting in thirty.  If you are discovering your creative side at an age where you already fear you are irrelevant, then this is a discussion we should all have.

What is an artist?

An artist is someone who has an idea.  The idea relates to how he experiences and processes internally the environment around him.  He then challenges himself to communicate this truthful insight outside of his own inner world, using a form that others can recognize.  This form is the medium used to translate the idea, relying upon the intellect, emotions and the senses - speech, written word, musical sound, mathematical equation, and visual or tactile stimuli – any form that can communicate meaning.  The idea can be universal or very singular.  Others may have the same or similar idea but the difference is often found in the way the artist communicates the nuances of his understanding.

If the idea feels half formed, the communication is often a means to discover the form. As the form becomes stronger, the artist may become more proficient at finding imagery or medium to express it effectively, or he may not.  And when this happens, often the artist feels confused or frustrated or emotionally ineffective.  The artist will strive to find the right medium to use, often starting one place and then moving on to another, or using multiple mediums until he finds that which most clearly communicates his ideas.

Many artists, early in their growth, find it appealing to use another’s choice of idea and communication style.  In many instances this works well, the way many voices in the choir carry the music in a powerful manner that is different than the power of a single voice.  But even then, if the artist does not feel some significant inner thought connection to the idea/insight, his effort will, while adequate, lack conviction.  Even if others do not recognize the lack of conviction, the artist will sense the emptiness in the work.  And then the artist has a choice, whether to stay or move on into uncertainty of outcome, whether to successfully repeat ideas that are not clear to his own thinking or to risk finding a different solution.  It may mean going back to the source and searching for that insight, clarifying the idea.  It may mean changing styles or mediums or directions. 

Years ago, I attended a workshop taught by two artists. One taught at MoMA and created large paintings in oil of figures swimming underwater before the idea became universal.  The other was a conceptual artist working in Europe, creating large installations.  Checking in on them more than a decade and a half later, the painter had changed mediums to videography and traveled the world creating a unique visual experience, while the conceptual artist was working with natural materials harvested, formed and assembled into delicate sculptures. 

We are never locked into what we are doing.  Mediums can change; styles, influences, and ideas are just fluid means of defining our inner truth and expressing it.  When we trap ourselves in tunnel vision, looking only at the inches of ground in front of our feet, we forget to look up and see the vast view that exists.   

But it always comes back to the source, to the idea and the degree of passion and skill to communicate it to those who will respond.  When a human being attempts to move that inner awareness into an outer concrete expression in form, he is what we currently label as an artist.

And being an artist is a description of who you are.  There is a difference between that and judging either yourself or others as to whether they are or are not an artist based upon outside criteria.  Validations from peers and strangers are a measure of the success of your communication, the appeal of the voice, the visibility, “newness”, “oldness”, in, out, ten minutes of fame aspects of life.  To chase after these things appeals to our human desire to reassure ourselves that we are effective in our expression, and it is equally responsible for creating doubt in our ability to be who we are – and that is an entirely different discussion we can have over the coming months.


How To Get Unstuck in August

 

In 1984 Suzi Gablik made this observation about the effect that Modernism, and Post-Modernism, had upon art and culture: that the “values of the marketplace” had replaced or undermined any sense of a “meaning-giving function” in the art being created. Artists found themselves in a cultural and economic system that rewarded those who created commodities that met the needs of the Art Market.  As Andy Warhol stated, “why do people think artists are special? It’s just another job.”

Warhol has been described as “the art market’s one-man Dow Jones.”  And while Gablik did not foresee the influence of the internet she did address the slip into Pluralism, where there are so many ideas about the value and purpose in art, we have no real “pattern of meaning” any more.

In all this chatter, have we forgotten to value – or are we merely ignoring - the C words?

No, not commodity.   Considering the social environment that exists, an artist cannot realistically ignore the forces of the marketplace unless he is willing to withdraw completely.

I am thinking more about these C words:

Creativity

Courage

Compassion

Compulsion

Culture

Creativity is the conceptual opposite of commodity. Courage is necessary to resist the status-quo, living in harmony with one’s inner creative values. Compassion allows the artist to find his path between the competing interests of the market, and his authentic, artistic voice.  Compulsion drives the artist’s need to reflect his image of the world in his art, and culture is the carrier of all that we value. 

August is always one of those transition months: an ending space before the next rounds of painting, submitting, and marketing activities.  It's easy to get stuck in August, worrying about what didn't work over the past several months and struggling to figure out what will.  If you are feeling stuck, wishing you could stay in August for the next several months, you are not alone.  Here are just a few ways I have come across to help get unstuck:

Dig out old journals.  Discover ideas that have hung around and are now finding their way back into your consciousness.

Rearrange your studio.  Sometimes just doing that gets you out of old patterns and thinking about new.

Don't stress about rejections.  One recent show that rejected me pointed out that there were over 1400 applications for approximately 140 slots. 

Read books like Rainer Maria Rilke's Letters to a Young  Poet, Eric Maisel's Coaching the Artist Within. 

Yes, it's a crowded, noisy world out there, but the journey is more solitary than you realize, and from that well you will find your strength.

 

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It means a lot to me that you have taken my words, and my art, into your lives.  So I would like to thank and welcome the new subscribers to this blog, and those who have also subscribed to my newsletter.  In my newsletter I write more about art technique, my motivations behind specific paintings, and occasionally offer paintings for sale at special prices.  Here is a convenient link to subscribe to my newsletter .

I would also like to thank those of you who have purchased my book, Ancient Wisdom: Emerging Artist: the business plan (not just) for the mature artist, over the past month.  I hope this book helps you with the intrinsic motivation, as well as offering practical ideas and a bit of humor at the end of the day.

 


Grids: The difference between dynamic symmetry and perspective as a means of organizing space

In all styles of painting and photography grids are part of the discussion.  The big three are the Rule of Thirds, Linear Perspective, and the Golden Mean or Dynamic Symmetry.  All of them function as a means to organize pictorial space, and the more experience you gain with composition, the more you might become curious about the reasons why artists rely on these concepts.

Since composition can be discussed in terms of finding a satisfying solution to visual challenges, it’s useful to study the differences between common concepts.

DSC07717web

  The Rule of Thirds, and a similar division of space using a 5:3 ratio (above), are often used as quick placement guides for major lines, horizon lines, or center of interest. It divides the space unequally and avoids static placement of elements, but does little for emotional content or eye movement.

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The easily understood concept of Linear Perspective draws eye movement up, across, and "into" the canvas by creating the illusion of three dimensional space, then back out and down again.  This is true regardless of subject matter, unless you are working in a style that embraces the flat, 2-demensional aspect of canvas with the express purpose of eliminating all idea of space. I would argue that even the most vocal advocates for eliminating the window into space idea could not completely avoid the visual sense of space without eliminating overlapping form or color contrasts.  We are hard wired to place our bodies within our environment, and the brain will always translate visual sensory as dimensional space. 

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Dynamic Symmetry is about spatial relationships, the distance between things, balance, and as a means of directing eye movement through space that emphasizes what the artist feels is most important.  It is about mathematical proportion, not limited to realistic painting, the nautilus shell,  or ancient Greek ideals: Abstract artists were also concerned with the role of mathematical proportion, most notable Agnus Martin, who was obsessive about it in her goal to create abstract line relationships that were aesthetically pleasing. There have always been artists working with proportion, and those seeking to obliterate it as a response.  Dynamic Symmetry is a tool that can be used beyond simple placement or illusion, and is important enough that artists should consider adding it to their accumulation of skills. 

Here is a list of books for further study in the area of grids in composition.  Some are easier reads than others, but I have them all in my resource library and I can recommend them:

Elements of Dynamic Symmetry by Jay Hambidge

Mastering Composition by Ian Roberts

Abstraction in Art and Nature by Nathan Cabot Hale

Classical Painting Atelier by Juliette Aristides

Classical Drawing Atelier by Juliette Aristides

Pictorial Composition An Introduction by Henry Rankin Poore

The Power of the Center by Rudolf Arnheim

Composition of Outdoor Painting by Edgar Payne (deals more with composition than grids, but valuable)

Composition by Arthur Wesley Dow (deals more with notan, line, and basic design principles)

 

Resources on the Web that provide quick visual concepts:

LeicaCameraMonkey.com

Photography Composition Articles:Golden Mean

Google Golden Ratio Calculator and you will find on line tools that will calculate proportions for you.

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It means a lot to me that you have taken my words, and my art, into your lives.  So I would like to thank and welcome the new subscribers to this blog, and those who have also subscribed to my newsletter.  In my newsletter I write more about art technique, my motivations behind specific paintings, and occasionally offer paintings for sale at special prices.  Here is a convenient link to subscribe to my newsletter .

I would also like to thank those of you who have purchased my book, Ancient Wisdom: Emerging Artist: the business plan (not just) for the mature artist, over the past month.  I hope this book helps you with the intrinsic motivation, as well as offering practical ideas and a bit of humor at the end of the day.

 


One Idea That Can Strengthen Your Design Skills

A painting can be a replication of what is seen, or it can be something more.  The difference is in the design.  And the best way to strengthen your design skills?  Spend more time planning than painting.

You can develop a structure to planning easily by considering these ideas:

Understand concepts in your own way.  In art, many approaches can seem vague and esoteric, and artists are not always effective in explaining what they mean, or even demonstrating it in a way that the student understands in his own mind.  It may take you months of study to finally gain your unique understanding of color harmony, the function of pattern, light versus shadow interest, or the idea of orchestrating a painting,  but until you have that understanding, your work will continue to feel uncertain.

Understand the conflict between emotional and logical thinking.  Logic comes first.  Emotional is last.  Think Sargent, wearing a hole in the carpet as he walked back from his canvas to check sight size, then forward for one stroke of paint, and then back again, before giving the final flourish.  As addicting as the emotion can be, save it for the end and remain disciplined as you build your structure.

Know the risks in combining too many visual approaches.  You can blend painting styles to create your own visual vocabulary without confusion: but when you try to combine too many ideas the viewer gets lost.  As you plan out your painting, decide your visual approach and maintain that throughout.  If a subject is better expressed with Impressionism, keep your style and the principles of Impressionism consistent to the end.  Check yourself: we don’t often realize when we’ve slipped into a different approach because, halfway through the painting, another idea occurred that seemed better than the first.  If going for a chiaroscuro instead of the close value/color harmony idea is actually better, rework the entire painting, or start a new one.  Just don’t flounder between hot and cold. 

Return to the basics. Use thumbnail sketches, grids, and compositional structure ideas to plan the placement of your shapes and center of interest. Determine what the finished surface quality of your painting will be before you start painting, and build up the paint, decide on mediums, determine brushes and knives accordingly.  Be clear in your mind what the painting is about, and how you will emphasize that – center of interest, color contrast, linear elements or abstract shapes – no matter what your style of painting, it is important to successful design planning to know clearly what you intend to accomplish. And be methodical in the steps, once you have decided. 

It may seem like planning takes all the fun out of painting.  Certainly painting can be fun.

But it can be a whole lot more. 

 IMG_1120 sm copyIf you are struggling with painting concepts, devise a method of study that works for your temperament.  Find two or three artists whose work exemplifies what it is you are trying to understand.  Write about what you see them doing, mark up copies of paintings with directional lines to determine placement and possible grids, keep exploring the ideas that seem most compelling to you.  Where I could not wrap my mind around the musical analogy many artists use to describe orchestrating a painting, I did eventually develop my own way of understanding the concept and to put it into practice.  It is always an ongoing process, no matter where you start you will never stop finding nuances and higher understanding - and that is what makes painting a lifelong exploration. 

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It means a lot to me that you have taken my words, and my art, into your lives.  So I would like to thank and welcome the new subscribers to this blog, and those who have also subscribed to my newsletter.  In my newsletter I write more about art technique, my motivations behind specific paintings, and occasionally offer paintings for sale at special prices.  Here is a convenient link to subscribe to my newsletter .

I would also like to thank those of you who have purchased my book, Ancient Wisdom: Emerging Artist: the business plan (not just) for the mature artist, over the past month.  I hope this book helps you with the intrinsic motivation, as well as offering practical ideas and a bit of humor at the end of the day.


“Unless it kills you…”

There is a quote from Alice Neel that I have in one of my journals:

“You should keep on painting no matter how difficult it is, because this is all part of the experience, and the more experience you have, the better it is…unless it kills you, and then you know you have gone too far.”

I’ve always felt a darkly humorous reaction to this sentiment, because yeah, this gig can certainly kill your motivation.  I find optimism in her sentiments, too, though, and it’s more valuable to explore the positive, rather than indulging in self-limiting humor.

The longer an artist creates the harder it gets, because of knowledge gained, mistakes seen, and a tendency toward intense self-criticism.  The counter argument says artists must learn to reach “good enough,” and realize when to accept a painting as finished. Both views are correct, and recognizing when one serves you better than the other is a skill worth cultivating. 

In studying today’s great artists, there are two areas that are most important to the success of their work.  The first is the concept, the idea or what the painting is about, and the second is the total design, a far more technical idea.  Too often, paintings that fail do so because of weakness in one or both of these areas. 

I believe that women are generally more intuitive about the concept, while men are more intuitive about the design, but any artist focused on craft understands both concepts.  If I were to generalize further, technical mistakes benefit from scrutiny and criticism, while concept is more subjective and best left to the “good enough” category once a single idea takes dominance.

So what do artists mean when they talk about concept and design? 

Concept is the emotional idea: what specifically is the painting about, what single area, or object, do you want the viewer to focus on to “get the idea”?  Too many competing ideas weaken the overall message, but the sensitive use of color and value can correct this during the painting process.

Design is closer to the idea of Notan: there is design underlying everything. It relates to the way our eyes see, and the way our brains interpret meaning.  A strong abstract design is critical, so critical, in fact, that if it isn’t clear from the beginning it is very easy to lose, and once you spot a design failure, it’s better to start the painting over than to try to “fix” it. 

Design works with words like underlying structure, value range, interesting shapes, grids, placement, while concept works with words like color harmony, pleasing brush work, and subject matter. Concept is also subjective, open to interpretation by the viewer as they decide what the painting communicates to them.  Design is not subjective: it is either strong and pleasing or weak and ineffective. 

My favorite tool to keep me on track with both design and idea concepts is my resource binder.  Whenever I come across an interesting example of either idea, or articles written by artists on these subjects, I put them in a large notebook. Over the years I have used this resource to identify areas of weakness, as well as strengths, when critiquing my own work.  This is empowering, especially when I lose my design pattern half way through a painting and waste precious hours trying to fix something that is really a fatal flaw.  Because, as Alice Neel warns, I would rather not have this gig kill me. 

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It means a lot to me that you have taken my words, and my art, into your lives.  So I would like to thank and welcome the new subscribers to this blog, and those who have also subscribed to my newsletter.  In my newsletter I write more about art technique, my motivations behind specific paintings, and occasionally offer paintings for sale at special prices.  Here is a convenient link to subscribe to my newsletter .

I would also like to thank those of you who have purchased my book, Ancient Wisdom: Emerging Artist: the business plan (not just) for the mature artist, over the past month.  I hope this book helps you with the intrinsic motivation, as well as offering practical ideas and a bit of humor at the end of the day.