I know that some artists are loathe to let others into their studios as they want to maintain a process that is not unduly influenced by anyone else. But given that this blog gets zero traffic, I don’t feel that’s much of a danger! 😉
One of the challenges I’ve faced this year, as I try to pick up the threads of my own artistic history and develop my voice in earnest, is the question of time. As an occasional artist, I’ve never had a regular practice. During times when I was painting, I rarely worked on pieces longer than one evening. I gave myself permission to work in the moment and not feel compelled to revisit and “perfect” pieces from the previous work session. By treating all my work as an artifact of my time in the studio, I avoided the self-judgment that plagues anyone trying to reach big goals. And anyone who knows me can attest that I’m not big on external goals. I’m much more intuitively and internally motivated.
But things change. And at this stage in life, my intuition tells me that it’s good to set some goals for myself and my work. Which means embarking on pieces (and eventually a body of work) that requires work applied over time.
Below are three stages of a work that’s very much in progress. It’s called “Dominion” and is a 2 x 4 foot piece of acrylic on panel.
I won’t bore you with commentary on what transpired at each stage, but I find it interesting how each time I revisit a piece, I resolve some issues but at the same time introduce new ones. And sometimes the goalposts change – as if I stated out writing R&B but then it morphs into country. I might create or discover new relationships between shapes and colors and textures that suddenly make the previous problems irrelevant.
I find this process quite exciting because like so much in life, you have to wrestle with risk and reward. Sure, there’s a chance that in this next session you might bring the piece toward a close. But you might also kill it. You might take it too far and essentially ruin whatever energy was holding the keeping the piece alive.
However, I have a couple things going for me. One, I’m still a student, so my job is to stay foolish and make mistakes. I quote the painter Charles Hawthorne, who told his students,
“Do studies, not pictures. Know when you are licked — start another. Be alive, stop when your interest is lost. Put off finish — make a lot of starts.”
Two, I’m inherently optimistic. As long as I stay humble and observant redemption is always possible.
After taking an online class that really helped me think about how I’m using color and composition (and all the elements that contribute to a compelling composition), I’ve started doing nightly collages. This allows me to practice the surprisingly difficult exercise of creating compelling pieces (define that as you will) with some movement, but also a clear focal point. It’s not easy, but I take a lot of inspiration from Richard Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park Series (an example of which is directly below).
The idea is to spend less time mixing paint (and definitely not trying to mix in the moment), because that eats up a lot of mental bandwidth, but rather to do my best to take existing paint swatches and build a composition that holds together. I won’t say they’re always successful, but there’s almost always a passage or two that interest me. And occasionally I stumble blindly onto something that works! What follows is just two nights’ worth of work. It seems like a great way to “paint” at a more meta level and try to improve my eye.
I made this diorama for a good friend. It’s chock full of personal references.