Yesterday, Richard Alm of Vancouver, B.C. wrote, “I recently completed 151 of the 300 11” x 14″s you requested as part of the “Genn School of Go-To-Your-Room.” I’m getting very itchy to do some larger ones. Do you permit making larger ones from the better of your smaller ones before the 300 have been completed?”
Thanks, Richard. When we last spoke I also suggested you follow your nose and don’t pay too much attention to any instructor, including me. I thought I also implied that those small paintings might be done concomitantly with any other work you might have in mind. If I missed this point, I apologize.
As an artist I believe in free will — but I also believe in preparatory exercises. Whether a series of exploratory roughs, comps, a-painting-a-day, or thumbnails before a more ambitious project, sketches pave the way to professionalism. Here’s a reminder of what sketches can do for you:
— Make your mistakes smaller, not larger.
— By including “notan” sketches (simple black and white patterns) you learn to find better compositions.
— Discover the best angles, aspects and forms of a subject.
— Learn to work fresher and looser so you’ll have less investment and obligation.
— Ask yourself, “What could be?” and have more fun wherever you go.
— Make more sense of your visual world and its manifestation in your art. Preparatory sketches help you understand what you are trying to do while helping you to feel less precious about your work.
Small works tend to be automatically stronger. For one thing they seem to more easily take up the whole picture plane. Further, you need not make your smaller works too comprehensive (This may be a problem with your sketches, Richard–they look like they’re trying to burst their britches and become larger paintings). Being a basically contrary person myself, I find it useful to ask, “What do I want to do today?” A sketch in the cold grey light of dawn often takes just a few minutes to find the way. Big, small, difficult, easy–the day’s karma appears like a genie. Then there’s nothing to it but to do it.
Esoterica: Life is an exercise, but it’s not a rehearsal. Many artists find that the sketch stage is just as vital and rewarding as the magnum opus that comes later. Sketches, to the dismay of many artists, may even be superior in quality. Particularly in rough form, it’s important to cave in to your most expedient inclinations, happiest pathways and most endearing sensibilities. “Preparation does not take away any of the enthusiasm of the final painting. In fact, the preliminaries in color and tonal studies free up the artist for an unbridled yet focused trip to the finish.” (Harley Brown)
Richard Alm – 11 x 14 sketches
More brush miles
by Jim Oberst, Hot Springs Village, AR, USA
A little over two years ago I started painting small watercolor paintings and posting one a week on a special website, www.weeklywatercolor.com. I started this project with the main goal of encouraging myself to paint more, thereby improving my paintings. But I’ve found that many of these small paintings are excellent models for my larger paintings. I’ve found that not all of them translate well… some of these larger paintings can look a bit “vacant.” The larger ones that turn out well are often based on a small one that looks somewhat “busy.” And sometimes I go in the opposite direction — from large to small. In any case, it’s very helpful to have an extra impetus to put “more miles on the brushes.”
Group of Seven sketches
by Brigitte Nowak, Toronto, ON, Canada
Canada’s “Group of Seven” were known for their small oil sketches, and, in many cases, these are stronger works than the large canvases they completed in the studio, based on the sketches: they were immediate, with bold composition, yet they had paid attention to colour and value and all the tools that make for a good painting. Richard Alm looks to be an astute student of the “go to your room” maxim, and might benefit further by checking out the Group’s sketches.
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Three hundred insipid little canvases?
by John Ferrie, Vancouver, BC, Canada
There is a reason why artists go to art school and that is where they can learn the foundations of being an artist. It is also the place where they can discover if they can push the envelope and fuse photography and print making with sculpture and performance art. Back when the earth was cooling, I attended art school. I remember my first year with an instructor named Ted Wichula, who had a thick German accent and would read for hours from Zen and the art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Most days, I was plotting his death. But his teachings, as painful as they were, are the ones I draw on most to this day. It is important to follow some assignments, especially when they inspire you. I cannot, for the life of me, understand why anyone would follow being told to paint 300, 11″ x 14″ canvases, let alone tell an artist that this is what they should do. I think it is a good idea to keep a sketch book with writings, clippings and drawings of where the work is from and the direction they want it to go.
Three hundred insipid little canvases? Ok, for our next assignment, we are all going to stand on our heads and spit nickels…
Painting over drawings
by Betty Covington, St. George, UT, USA
I have a dear friend who recently enrolled in an acrylic painting class for adults. I am also a painter, and I always do a good drawing first which helps me when I get ready to paint in oils. Her teacher told her to paint over her drawing. I find it really hard to believe her teacher would tell her to do this. Am I being stupid here? I would really appreciate your feedback on this one. I’ve been painting in oils since 2004, and I feel I’m a pretty good painter. I do portraits and figures that tell a story, but I always do a drawing first, which is a big help to me. I’m very proud of my large sketch book with all of my drawings.
(RG note) Thanks, Betty. Nothing wrong with painting over a drawing. Michelangelo did it and even the pope didn’t mind. But also, by all means yes, keep your drawings as well. They are an art in themselves.
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by Paul deMarrais, TN, USA
I am not a fan of mountains of sketches or any routine-ized way of working. You end up with a stack of routine paintings where a certain dull sameness is manifested. Do you necessarily get better when you make 1,000 tuna fish sandwiches instead of two good ones? It’s quality over quantity. It takes time to see real progress as a painter.
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The value of initial sketches
by Libby Gilpatric, Middletown, RI, USA
I’m currently working on a series of larger landscapes, roughly 36 “x 40” and in varying rectangle-shapes. I have discovered that my graphite sketches were meticulous in planning the spatial divisions of the picture plane and the placement of dark and light shapes. I used charcoal to transpose those division marks and loosely sketch the composition on the stretched- and primed-by-me linen. Applying the first layers of underpainting and drawing with paint has been extraordinarily freeing, and I’m capturing the colors of light and shadow with more paint and color, mixing new shades and tones as needed. Without those initial sketches, I would be struggling much more with the basic composition. Rings true for me:
“Preparation does not take away any of the enthusiasm of the final painting. In fact, the preliminaries… free up the artist for an unbridled yet focused trip to the finish.” (Harley Brown)
New mission statement
by Richard Alm, Vancouver, BC, Canada
Extreme thanks for the promo and more thanks for the release from penury and 1/2 time off for good behavior. My mission statement now reads: “To explore and enjoy the evolution of my personal style and quality of work by completing 300 acrylic paintings (11″ x 14″ and larger) by Aug 4, 2012, with the objective of bringing my artistic skills as a painter to a premium level, with work that is acceptable to better galleries world wide. I also played hooky with the attached 20″ x 31” which was just juried into Canvas Unbound exhibition at the Federation of Canadian Artists.
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Overpainting enhanced by underpainting
by Judy Palermo, Shoreview, MN, USA
Your article had phrases that reverberated down my spine: ‘helping you to feel less precious about your work’ and ‘work fresher and looser so you’ll have less investment and obligation.’ How true, but how hard it is to take work in which you were engrossed and lost, to look up at the clock and suddenly realize three painstaking hours have flown by, and then to force a cavalier attitude upon that effort.
But it’s indeed the best mindset for progress. I surprise myself in how easy it’s become to paint over a previous work, even when there are some pride-worthy passages within them. I remind myself that the world does not need more mediocrity; for whatever reason the new overpainting always seems to be enhanced by that one to which you are now brushing ‘Goodbye.’
Another rebellious artist
by Sandra Bos, Cookeville, TN, USA
I just want to say something about small sketches: I’ve tried that and it doesn’t work for me. I am one of those “shoot from the hip” kind of Artist. I start by sketching on my canvas and looking at the negative spaces around my subject to see my ‘over-all composition. (Well, hopefully I remember to do so…) Anyway, I just need to be immediate from the get go… Sometimes the canvas has a mind of its own and I know I better listen. (I guess that’s the genie in the bottle for me.)
One thing about oil painting: I can make changes and sometimes it’s better to ‘take away’ than to ‘add more.’ It’s always been a struggle to remember ‘less is more.’ In fact this was just recently suggested from another fellow Artist, about my work.
I know I’ve always been a bit rebellious but I never thought about this in painting. This is so very interesting! It really tells me a lot about my work! I’ll try to behave myself in the future!
Late afternoon Landscape 1
oil painting 40 x 60 inches
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Elizabeth Bertoldi of Toronto, ON, Canada, who wrote, “Robert, where will I find your “Go — to — your — room” program? Sounds like it may be just the thing to get me going again!”
(RG note) Thanks, Elizabeth. “Go to your room” is a term encompassing four important words in my lexicon of an artist’s thrival skills. Several people asked about how I might offer GTYR as a course. Unfortunately, it is an imagement of my figmentation.
Enjoy the past comments below for Rebellious student…