Doing Art is like doing whatever ‘whatever floats your boat’…
It’s like ‘anything goes’ – like the lava berg above floating down the volcanic rapids of a fiery lava river. Whatever form or shape it comes in will do. Do whatever you like with whatever medium you have or want to use- charcoal, pencils, pastels, or pen and ink, or maybe watercolor, acrylic, or oil, any medium, and use it on whatever ground you happen across. Well, it so happens that the above painting was done in acrylic paint on a 12” black square piece of shelving found in a trash pile.
Doing art is truly like floating my own boat, in a manner of speaking. I consider myself to be an ongoing, ever-learning art student/artist doing whatever moves me when inspired or asked to paint a family pet, for example. I enjoy learning about color, brush work, and art principles and techniques. I’ve gotten much information on drawing and painting from books, You Tube artists, and online courses from my favorite mentors who nurtured me from 2012 up to the present-Paul Taggart in Scotland and the Clarks, Dennis and Nolan in New Zealand.
I learned a lot about color mixing from Paul, and Dennis and Nolan taught me how to draw with graphite pencils and paint nearly anything with confidence. I do like to explore art with narrative paintings, paintings that tell a story about life, real or imaginative places that I’ve been to or would like to travel somewhere to see, like Portofino Bay in Italy or the Highlands of Scotland, or to the forested place where a car was left abandoned a long time ago.
Painting what I’m really interested in. In order to get the most joy out of my art experience, there has to be something that has emotional appeal to make me want to draw or paint it. Last summer 2018, I and many others were riveted in front of our giant screen TVs watching the Kilauea eruption news of the devastating lava flow on the Big Island of Hawaii. It was heart-renching to see the widespread property damage and destruction of whole subdivisions that left families homeless. Around that time I had found and pulled apart the tower shelf I mentioned earlier. I was able to chronicle the Kilauea eruption in May and June 2018 with my visual narrative in 6 volcano paintings. My art work was displayed in the gift shop of the Rehab Center where I volunteer weekly to assist with an art therapy group.
It amazes me that most of the members in the art group seem to have no trouble choosing what they want to paint. Unlike myself, I have tons of beautiful photo references but cannot decide what to paint next. Many of the members use their imaginations freely, paint about their life memories, or paint from reference pictures. What is amazing is that many have never painted before. When they finish one painting, they are ready to start another. I believe emotional appeal is what inspires them, to be able to express some part of them from the recesses of their hearts and minds as they are recovering from disabilities and health issues. Some folks are dealing with widowhood so that the art group provides a place to make friends and find a spirit of camaraderie in doing art together. Whatever the reason, all seem to experience a measure of peace and harmony with others and even I, who can get out of my home for one afternoon with other artists.
Some popular choices for paintings are waterfalls and seascapes, water fountains and lily and koi ponds. These water scenes are known to be soothing to the soul. Other members paint nature scenes and flowers. There are paintings of their pets; one person is tediously painting her former home; another person paints the ocean and fish (he used to like to go fishing at one time). The point is that the choices seem to be something of importance to them and have emotional appeal. For me, I paint ‘naturescapes’, narrative paintings that tell a story which include seascapes and landscapes, portraits of notable people and pets, and most recently, junk and abandoned vintage cars which have their own stories to tell.
Find out what works for me and stick to it. Moving on from what to paint and reasons for painting, an artist in the making should be moving forward and developing skills needed to produce art that brings satisfaction and joy. An artist friend wrote about the common sense approach to art and suggests that discovering your strengths and weaknesses early on will help artists to focus and develop better art. He says that taking a look at one’s natural tendencies will move a person forward with their art rather than hold you back. That means to look at what your likes and dislikes are, as well as your habits, i.e. your character. Then do what you’re comfortable with so that there will be positive art experiences and growth in confidence. This would minimize discouragement and failures, in the early stages of doing art, anyway.
Although I appreciate most kinds of art, abstract art and mixed media may not be my cup of tea. I tend to choose compositions that sometimes require more thought than time spent painting them. Then there are often many stages that may include a colored gesso ground, underpaintings of blocking in color, painting in layers to develop saturation and value contrasts, working from dark to light and highlights. The reason for ‘working’ my painting is because I am detail oriented and I also favor creating more realistic work than abstract. I don’t do abstract art or mixed media for the reason that I have to control where I’m going with my art with some kind of an end result in mind. It’s like when I make a quiche with a pie crust, I follow the crust and quiche recipe exactly so that it will come out perfect.
Another thing about my character is that I tend to be wholistic and like to see the parts of the whole when I plan a composition. That goes well with my patience to stay with a project and work it through to completion. But then I may sometimes go down a side road. Like spending a lot of time doing color charts or drawings and paintings of individual trees or cherries, though it was not time that was wasted because these activities led to painting landscapes or still life. Neither was concentrating on a specific dry brush technique learned on You Tube from Russian artists, since it produced a series of stormy skies and seas, and also the volcano paintings of ash and smoke. So I suppose persistence and determination are strengths that help a person to learn drawing and painting skills or techniques. I think while few people may be born with the gift of art like my grandchildren, more people like myself have to work at developing their art skills of drawing and painting. Nearly every hobby or interest I’ve developed came from practice and more practice until I could become proficient to a measure- ukulele, guitar, piano; crochet, but not knitting which I gave up, so surely one has to work at being an artist as well. Anyway, I rarely give up on a project and even keep all of my not so good work to learn from my mistakes.
Recognizing areas of uniqueness . I used to want to do plein air as a lot of artists do, but I confess that this won’t ever be. My artist friend pointed out that it’s good to know what works best for you. It seems that I am a painter who needs alone time in my converted guest room art studio. I cannot control the elements of nature and deal with the sun and wind while painting outdoors. I don’t want to wear a big hat or buy a special easel with a large umbrella attachment and have to pack the paraphernalia of a plein air artist. And I also know that I wouldn’t want to have curious spectators lingering nearby. The closest I got to plein air was sketching a small church early one morning, but that was with just a pad and pencil while standing on the sidewalk across the street.
One thing that needs clarification is that he said, ‘Some are creative, and some are procedural and structured’. I don’t think the implication is entirely true. A lot of artists like myself put much thought and time doing preliminary work which may include the use of notans, color sketches, grids, tonal paintings, etc. prior to beginning the painting process. Then there may be underpaintings before blocking in color and beginning to paint in layers from dark to light values, resketching and refining the composition as we go along. Procedures and structures are necessary to the art process and time spent by artists in these activities varies, but are not an indication that they are less creative. It makes me think of painting in an organized and orderly work space where a person knows he has everything he needs to do his project versus someone who works with limited supplies in a disorganized work space. Who is likely to be more creative? It’s hard to say since the way of working art is really by doing ‘whatever floats your boat.’
NOTE: You can find Paul Taggart on You Tube.