Artists and art-material suppliers come together at Pearl Paint’s Great American Art Event in New York. “Secrets” here are bought, sold and given away. Popular instructors demonstrate “trees, rocks and water” or “fruit, vegetables and lace” or “how to paint ‘itty bitty’ paintings” or “how to master abstraction.” With lots of free paint, brushes, stretched canvas and art boards it’s a creative rummage. For many, the gods are in the equipment. Others come for motivation or inspiration. Most are looking for techniques to match the quality of today’s materials.
A feeling of entitlement pervades. People are attracted to making art, and while they have the idea that a period of apprenticeship may be necessary in order to develop quality, they also have the inclination to hold their noses and jump in. My group completed two or three 11x14s in a day. This while watching my acrylic demos, looking at my slide shows and listening to me pontificate. People are introduced to new systems and they try things they wouldn’t normally do. Some of them screw up. Others excel — you can see them growing in front of you. It’s all part of the game and everybody understands. Generally speaking, they leave happy.
This business of “bashing them out” has value in and out of the personal studio. Painters, particularly beginning painters, need to lose the sense of preciousness about their work. I’ve noticed that preciousness often means “stuck.” After a lifetime of wonder I find it’s still a mystery why some people improve and others don’t. Desire, character and even economic pressure are factors. Talent maybe. Ego and a longing for uniqueness are also in there somewhere. I look at folks and try to see in them an “iron will and a butterfly mind.” It seems that the imaginative ones who also work hard (“WF” — Working Flakes) are the ones who are soon subsidized by this worker’s edge. It’s through production itself that people grow. Whether they do it at a workshop or in a workroom, it’s the working habit that pays for the art supplies — and eventually that big studio with the panoramic view. To get to that place a certain amount of sacrifice may be necessary. I’ve told so many people: “Go to your room.” I’ve suggested that they go for six months or a year. To work. To dig around in their potential. To really find out. This morning in New York, it may be an illusion but there seems to be fewer people on the streets.
PS: “He rose early, worked strenuously, and retired late. He seemed to forget the ordinary hours for meals and would have to be called over and over again — unfinished work frequently being taken in hand just at this time.” (Otto Bache on J. M. Whistler)
Esoterica: The Working Flake efficiently prepares ahead more than enough supports for her work. The timeline can be an hour or a life. Bashing them out, one to another, the works develop and techniques and skills are honed. Some works are honoured and put under another light. Some become Frisbees. The WF has the feeling she is the caretaker of a giant personal event where freshness, understatement and growth are a byproduct. Joy prevails. Sweat forms. Ideas breed.
Value in ‘bad’
by Deirdre Fox, Chicago, IL, USA
Surely an absolute willingness to make some bad paintings along the way is essential to developing one’s art; how else does one risk new techniques, identify bad habits, challenge one’s own senses. Out of the worst of my drawings/paintings has come the most learning (where did it go wrong; why did it go wrong?) and dedication to the idea that play and and process inevitably produce sweet fruit.
Few become masters
by Maria Scaringi, Don Mills, ON, Canada
The magic of art, like any other skill, is in the person and not in a name, tool or technology. One can learn techniques after techniques, read and re-read books and even duplicate others. In the end the person who chooses to learn, experiment and struggle to reveal the magic of their work will be grand. Nowadays, money, advertising, office address and trends are our obstacles. Only a few can truthfully surpass these obstacles and become masters of their art.
by Brad Greek, Mary Esther, FL, USA
In your photo of the group of Pearl workshoppers, where are all the guys? I know that in my plein air group there are very few guys, usually only me. I don’t do workshops — haven’t in awhile. Lack of funds mostly, that could be used for more materials or frames, etc. Is there something to that — a reason we see so few male participants in these venues?
(RG note) Thanks, Brad. Women are often natural networkers and enjoy togetherness. Men are more likely to go to their rooms. Both systems can contribute to competence. Statistically, in North America, for every five painters, four will be women.
Working flake on a roll
by Melinda Copper, Monticello, FL, USA
I’m one of those WFs you speak of. I was asked once if I thought of completed works as children or used Kleenex and after some reflection I decided on footprints. If they’re still around when I walk back that way I take some small notice, but I don’t pay much attention once I consider them completed. I wouldn’t have room to move (well, I don’t have room to move, but that’s works in progress…). I do get asked for advice and my usual suggestion is to get a roll of brown construction paper, 3′ x 50′ — 150 square feet of drawing surface (with a pretty nice tooth), and some charcoal and white pastel, and go through it quickly. If something happens that you want to save, great, but you don’t feel under such constraints to make it perfect, and you can relax and enjoy a bit.
Demonstration or instruction?
by Schar Chappell, Auburn Hills, MI, USA
Something is bothering me here. I believe it’s in the instructional part, the “how to’s” — a demonstration is just showing what you do, your technique and then the demonstratees try the same technique (which is yours). Wow! I can do that too? My point is we are individuals and we often have a unique technique to start with. I love it when you say go to your room and find your potential. Yes, but where is your room? That’s what I would ask a young artist. Six months to a year is a good start and that’s just to find where your room is. I see so many artists spending money and precious time taking instructions and I see their paintings and recognize which instructor has instructed them. Oh! so you took Charles Mcgee’s class this time.
(RG note) Thanks, Schar. In my workshops, which are few and far between, I try to home in on what others are doing and slant my demos to systems that might help them in the direction they are already going. It’s difficult in a larger group… but there are often similar needs. Getting folks to clone techniques is the modus operandi of some other instructors, not me, and it may be valid, because artists grab what they need and perhaps move on.
Experience guides creativity
by Kirk Wassell, Chino Hills, CA, USA
Although I practice in a different medium (digital art), I appreciate the connection with “Bashing them out.” It’s connotation for me is akin to “letting it happen,” or not getting in the way of the creative flow. When you push yourself, you flex your potential, and if you’re listening carefully, you’ll sense that the experience is the teacher, so by all means “Bash them out” and let growth through experience guide you toward creativity. As you said, without this perspective it’s so easy to become enamored with your own work, and begin to spend more time on less creativity. When I personally feel growth, I am on a roll, and all of a sudden in the midst of “letting it happen” something wonderful appears. And it is because of this sense of abandonment of what is conventional, which Buddhism describes as “Not Blocking the Blocking” that I fully support this idea, so keep on “Bashing them out.”
Moved to a new light
by Catherine Stock, Rignac, France
I have recently moved to France, after a new building blocked all natural light from my apartment/studio in Manhattan. I was able to sell the apartment but did not get enough to replace it. So I am spending the money instead turning my barn in a little French village into a wonderful studio where I teach and paint. It’s a little scary — I have been illustrating children’s books for about twenty-five years but my work is not cutting edge enough to compete with computer games. It’s not the direction I want to move into. So here I am, getting away with a couple of trips to the States a year to visit schools, meet with editors and execute portrait commissions. Your emails confirm my recent life decisions.
I create my joy
by Claire, Plano, TX, USA
Thank you so much for being here at this moment! Being widowed 18 months ago, at once seems like a lifetime and all too recently. But, tonight I celebrated our 25th anniversary with a toast to close that chapter and tomorrow, November 1st, I will go forward into my studio and my life and bash it out. I look forward to the process of falling in love with my priorities, my singular vision and my creativity. I have played life safe until I got my feet under me. I was afraid I had lost my enthusiasm and spark. Thank you for reminding me that I create my joy, my life and my art. It is only possible by taking risks, not being afraid of mistakes and emoting with wild abandon. Ha! I look forward to it.
Where the art is
by David Wayne Wilson, White Rock, BC, Canada
I have been trying to get back to the attitude of preciousness that is akin to idealism and which is intrinsic to myself as one who paints. Rather than let myself be competitive and seek acceptance and accolades, my original and superior inclination was to crystalize ideals and metaphors. I have enjoyed much painting since, but have been bounced around psychically by counsels from folks whom I errantly presumed were ‘artists.’ The fact is that artists rarely have much in common, one with the next, and I see it is one’s business to be true to one’s self and to uncover the motive within. It is not the ‘preciousness’ mentality that freezes a young artist, but their stumbling and fumbling with ‘vocabulary’ and articulation. Somebody should assure artists of the merits of observing and doing studies, and make sure that they not confuse this with their eventual art. Painting ‘still life’ teaches, but students like myself should be assured that once they familiarize themselves with ‘elocution’, they may become the gods they are! I do hope to allow my original innocence to arise, preciousness and all. It’s where the love is. It’s where the timelessness is. It’s where the art is.
by Billy McCullough, Charlotte, NC, USA
I’m an African-American painter and I consider myself an abstract expressionist. Most painters have a uniqueness about their work that distinguishes them from other painters. My concern about my work is that one could not tell that the same painter painted each of my paintings. I have been painting for five years. I will get better as a painter but I don’t think my style or styles will change. Is this something I should be concerned about? I have never taken any classes. Would that have anything to do with my painting such variety?
(RG note) Thanks, Billy. If anything, workshops might have you working in even more styles. Variety is healthy and invigorating. But all artists, given time and private toil, automatically begin to home in on their own personal “truth.” It’s that direction that ends up giving the higher levels of satisfaction. But also be prepared for this truth to shift as you move along. It’s part of the game.
by Arlene Woo, Honolulu, HI, USA
I’d be interested in knowing how you and others define abstract art. I am taking a course called “Understanding Modern Art” and I think it is difficult to “understand” abstract painting except as an involvement in the process of making the art. I resisted painting non-objective art for a long time, but now I do enjoy working with color and composition. But the term “abstract” is still mysterious to me.
(RG note) Thanks, Arlene. Your own work in the painting you provided is a good example of abstraction. While it is non-objective in subject matter, it nevertheless has control, nuance and magic. It is this latter — the inclusion of some form of visual magic that makes abstracts sing. Visual magic includes dazzle, cut in, inter-gradation, gesture, and other devices. Having said that, when you look around there is non-objective art that is simply intellectual exercise or the demonstration of a process — devoid of calculation or much that could be called visual magic. This blandness, for some, also constitutes abstraction. For some of the many definitions of abstraction, see our Abstraction art quotations.
Painter’s Keys art directory
by Linda Anderson, Penticton, BC, Canada
When my website was listed in the Painter’s Keys art directory, I noticed a marked increase in e-mails immediately. Some were simple “I liked your art work!” to “how much?” to “where are your workshops held! or “will you send me your color wheel” to “can we represent you” and also juried show opportunities. Thank you for your generosity in imparting knowledge and ideas.
(RG note) Thanks, Linda. Andrew is working diligently to make ours the best, most accessible and most effective artist directory on the net.
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 105 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2005.
That includes Jeanette Figueras, CA, USA who wrote, “What does ‘bashing them out’ mean?
(RG note) Thanks, Jeanette. “Bashing them out” means letting go and speeding up the process of making art — often in the form of a series of small sketches.
And also Kate Jackson, Merced, CA who wrote, “I get beginner watercolor students to toss their full sheet of 140# CP ARCHES paper on the floor, and walk around on it, stomp on it, get it a tad dirty, and then say: ‘Now, do you think you can screw that pristine paper up anymore than that?'”
And also Steve Hovland, San Francisco, CA who wrote, “Picasso said, ‘You aren’t a painter until you’ve done 10,000 paintings.’ Remember that Picasso worked until he was 90 or so, and that he had a lot of his success after age 50 and left a vault full of unsold work.”
And also Kelly Borsheim, Cedar Creek, Texas who wrote, “I was recently contacted by a man in Florida who found my site by searching on “women in art.” This surprised me since I generally try to avoid events and organizations that promote women artists. Out of curiosity I did a search on “women in art” on google and my quotes portfolio page on your site was one that came up How about that? What a quote and what a presentation. I’m famous — and I’m a feminist after all!”
And also Barb Leigh, Coquitlam, BC, Canada who wrote, “I find so much of what you say is pertinent to life in general, like ‘hold your nose and jump in’. How many of us stand forever on the periphery of something meaningful, too afraid to take action, too afraid that our next step will be less than perfect? You offer courage with your examples.”