Simplify Before Committing
Back in the day, when I quizzed established artists about best practices towards making art full time, the sculptor Ron Pekar gave me a great tip. He suggested limbering up by painting small studies in watercolor as though they would be cut into simplified wooden puzzles. Ron said beginner painters want to paint every leaf, branch and flower on complex landscape scenes, because we don’t trust the viewer to fill in the missing shapes. New painters want to copy detail, instead of painting a scene artistically, because we haven’t practiced editing, which is key to moving away from documentation and towards mature, painterly mark-making. When you find a complex scene appealing, make flat color-block and value studies. The scene will still be recognizable, with very little detail. Trust the viewer to understand the setting. A simplified practice version of your subject will remind you to lay compelling but unfussy color passages in the final, larger painting. Give your viewers’ eyes a place to rest.
One Lesson – Multiple Uses
Ron’s advice is echoed in Kevin MacPherson’s great book Landscape Painting, Inside and Out (see a page snapshot above) I’ve found this simplified block-painting practice to be very useful for printmaking too.
Ron’s tip to simplify the scene is so helpful with this one, because it’s complicated (below) by staggered depth, textures, and foliage. I’ve reversed the composition, to discourage my attempt to document instead of paint, and because it will print in reverse if I make a relief or intaglio print from the sketches. I started with a flat set of two colors; orange and sage green (see the first in-process image above), and later, added a darker plum to delineate shadow shapes. I still have to decide if this should be a linocut, or collagraph, or drypoint. Which media do you think fits this little landscape the best?
Art Party for 10,000
The reference for this study is the home of my favorite one hundred year old neighbor, who sadly passed away a few months ago. 🙁 She lived in the house since 1955 and her wind chimes hanging from the eaves have been the soundtrack to our neighborhood on breezy days. Her kids gave me the chimes last week. I’m very moved to hang them up and continue her tradition of chime-twinkles.🎶
On the subject of preserving precious friendships, I appreciate the connection I have with every one of you. Whether we know each other from this blog, or YouTube, or Instagram, or Facebook, or Pinterest, or down the street in my neighborhood. I’m sending you a heartfelt, tall person, bear hug. You are awesome, and I’m so glad to know you. Yes, you.
Can I be Sentimental?
Making things with your hands takes a lot of planning, focus, and alone-time. That’s good, but in order to share the work, or teach process, artisans traditionally had to leave their studios, load their gear into something mobile and hit the road. I’ve done some of that with art festivals, and it can be disruptive and exhausting work. Sharing steps and results from my studio, via the internet, is like plugging miles of twinkle lights into electricity. The lights are woven through a global forest, so each time I post something, all the lights flicker awake and I’m shaking hands and greeting every like-minded, enthused, creatively-charged and ready to make-stuff person – and we are connected, instantly. AND, we all get to keep working! If I stopped to travel, or teach, or sell face to face, I’d never be able to keep up. Thank you for being one of the shimmering twinkle lights in my forest network of art friends. Your feedback, comments, suggestions, encouragement and sharing of your own artist’s journey makes the whole forest bright, as far as the eye can see. Let’s all keep in touch.
Thanks for visiting today, and I’ll see you in the next post!
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Do stuff. Be clenched, curious. Not waiting for inspiration’s shove or society’s kiss on your forehead. Pay attention. It’s all about paying attention. Attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. Stay eager.