Three types of clutter invade painting: too many design elements, tightness and over-stroking. Cull compositional elements or zoom in to simplify and strengthen design. Try to focus on the features that, when combined, excite you most. Tightness is a product of fear – fear of getting into a colour mess or losing control of the composition. It creeps in with insidious ease when using a too-small or same-size brush throughout, and when over-rendering, over-detailing, over-focusing or hanging onto things. Instead, look for opportunities for obfuscation, mystery, paucity, joy and other painterly moments. Over-stroking diminishes the value of the strokes that count
Toulouse-Lautrec remarked, “A professional model is like a stuffed owl. These girls are alive.” He was referring to the women in the brothel. He had a point. A pose, while worthwhile for its own sake, is also static.
I often wonder what Michelangelo would have done with an instrument that froze his models in mid-action and left him to work them up at his leisure. As every artist who has used the method knows, photography’s a loyal slave and a tyrannical master. Here are a few ideas to prevent her from getting the better of you:
Like Mozart and Michael Jackson, Picasso was pumping out masterworks before puberty and demonstrated the key features of early bloomers: he was prolific, energetic, intuitive, idea-driven and speedy. At 15 and while still in art school, young Pablo painted his sister Lola in The First Communion — you can see it at the Museu Picasso in Barcelona with many of his other adolescent efforts. University of Chicago economist David Galenson, after analyzing auction results, concluded that Picasso’s earliest works are his priciest and therefore his best. According to Galenson, the poor guy peaked early.
In the jargon of the critic or art historian “serious artist” is often equated with “important.” I’ve always taken it to mean something else — someone who takes his or her work seriously.
If you accept this latter definition then the idea of quality is left out. An artist may struggle for a lifetime of seriousness in a morass of inadequacy. Top notch work is illusive, even for us geniuses. This thought is so depressing that it has been known to drive some people into chartered accountancy.
A subscriber who wishes to remain anonymous wrote, “Recently, I put four of my paintings into a new gallery that takes anything and everything. Two months later, my artwork was put in a closet. If I want to stay there, my only option is to rent a wall for about $155 a month. Contract signed, month-to-month, this way my artwork will remain hanging no matter how many artists they bring in. What good is having art in a gallery if it’s put in a closet?”
The next time you have one of the instruments of your craft in your hand, take a minute to see exactly what it is, and try to rethink what it’s best cut out to do. Paint brushes are often asked to do things they were not meant to do. Whether from laziness or ignorance, the wrong sizes and shapes are pressed into service. Large passages are laboured through with little brushes, while detail is attempted with big ones. This is often because artists have their eyes on reality and not on illusion.
Here in Ketchikan, Alaska, the creek is thick with spawning Pinks, having leapt waterfalls and manmade ladders to now shuffle against the current and shimmy at the stream’s shallowest edges. They’re like an elegant, undulating carpet, building their redds in the riffles (shallow nests). Local kids wade in and scoop them up in their arms for fun — if the bears haven’t got there first. Scientists believe the salmon use magnetic fields and their sense of smell to return to the very beds they were born in. If they manage to make it, after spawning an inborn senescence kicks in, softening
Yesterday I visited an energetic fellow who has produced his first ten paintings during the past three weeks. At his request I gave him my dollar crit — my best, most thoughtful, encouraging and circumspect. Every artist is different, I told myself — the best a crit guy can do is to be empathetic. As I drove away I remembered how I might have saved him a lifetime of trouble by just telling him a few particular things that he was not to do. I’ve often thought this. But I dislike the word “don’t.” I don’t like to use it.
In 1918, photographer’s apprentice Dorothea Lange set out from her home in New York City to travel the world with a friend. In San Francisco she was robbed, forcing her to abandon her plans and work as a photo finisher. Within a year Lange had established her own busy portrait studio in downtown San Francisco — she was twenty-three — but with the onset of the Great Depression, something happened. “The discrepancy between what I was working on in my portrait frames and what was going on in the street was more than I could assimilate,” said Lange. “I set myself a big problem. I would go down there… to see if I could grab a hunk of lightning.”
Like the kid (and the dad) in the Disneyland ad, I’m “too excited” to sleep. It’s a good feeling. Anticipation is one of the greater pleasures of love, travel, painting. Knowing that something exciting is going to happen, and more or less how, gives vitality. You set yourself up for it.
We all know the feeling when looking at a work-in-progress or even a blank canvas. You have an idea how the forms and spaces will evolve, how a look or a feel will be.