Last week we had fun going into the details of one of my most recent paintings with Hollyhocks, and discussed their intrinsic beauty. For the first time in our training we broke down the process into 10 steps with pictures and videos.
This week we get to dive a little deeper, past the steps and the process of painting, and into the value of art and my changing views and styles over the years.
If you have been painting for a while, you can probably relate to the stylistic or technical changes we artists go through. My work has experienced some dramatic shifts over the last 3 decades.
Monet and Childe Hassam, as well as Van Gogh, were at the top of my list in high school because I was enthralled with the optical blending of colors they used to form shapes.
That visual blending, rather than physical blending, is what helped me create ‘Reflections’ with pastels that won the Congressional Art Award when I was a Junior in High School.
To an extent, I’m still seeking the success of the way the colors played with one another and the wonderful division of spaces in that early pastel.
In college I fell in love with the vigorous brushwork and color shapes of Sergei Bongart.
The Spori art building at Ricks College, now BYUI, had a room entirely devoted to about 15 or 20 of his paintings. If you randomly chose a day in 1989 you would probably find me in there studying his paintings.
All of that glorious brushwork I wanted to emulate was contrasted by the exacting drawing required by Leon Parson’s exceptional illustration, head drawing and figure drawing classes I was taking.
Blending the two seemingly disparate approaches was at times exasperating psychologically because I was attracted to both.
The skill required to replicate objects from life in realistic values and proportions was very alluring because it was so easy to impress others with photographic renderings. And there’s something innately satisfying in knowing we can draw well and create accurate figures, landscapes and other objects from life.
But the swashbuckling style of Sergei was just so much fun.
A book devoted to Carl Rungius’ paintings my parents gave me for Christmas in 1985 simply compounded my love of simple forms and strong color.
Then I visited the Jackson Hole Wildlife Art Museum in 1989 and had the privilege of sitting in a rounded room surrounded by at least a dozen of his larger paintings. They are just wildlife paintings, right?
Maybe, but there is a power in art that transcends the sometimes difficult endurance of daily living. The feeling I had that day was so overwhelming I found tears slipping down my cheeks. In that moment all I could think about was that I wanted to create something that would touch others the way his paintings had touched me.
That is not a faint hearted pursuit.
Even today I get befuddled by my split artistic personality, wanting the skill of realist draftsmanship to show proudly while coupled with the flamboyant style of a Russian Impressionist. Unfortunately, I often get too much in my head and the painting falls flat like it did with this early hollyhock piece that exhibits very little of either approach.
When that happens I have to call a cease fire and let go of my inhibitions and head knowledge and just start painting with abandon. At those moments something I can’t quite describe happens – my instincts seem to guide my hand, time ceases to exist and the painting suddenly appears (with me physically and mentally drained).
That unconscious consciousness (couldn’t think of a better description, sorry) doesn’t happen as often as I would like, and the process is not as simple as writing about it might suggest. Getting to that state is not like turning on and off a switch.
Long hours of consistent training and practice seem to be at the root of it – yet they are not the totality. The courage to risk ruining a painting is a key component.
In that desired state of painting, the academic requirements of the painting don’t disappear, but for some reason I don’t have to think about them – they are simply evident when the painting is successfully completed.
And that doesn’t mean that I don’t have moments when I need to stop and think about what comes next. Sometimes I even have to backtrack and redo a portion that was too vigorous or out of harmony with the overall painting.
But the fluid movement and harmony of color and value that I love only happens when I reach that state. When I get timid or cautious, or too attached to detail, my paintings become stiff and lack vitality.
Most of my paintings are a combination of the two states – areas of beautiful reality and fluid movement running through the painting and areas of stiff overworked objects and spaces and rushed inaccurate drawing.
In Sunday Best I felt I came pretty close to the best of me.
At Home on the Range, the video we just added to the Master Oil Painting monthly membership site details my process for developing a hollyhock scene. It is closer to the ‘best of me’ than the lifeless look I describe, but there are a few areas I would change and I discuss all of that in the 5-hour long video.
Learn and study from the best artists you can find and practice drawing and painting from life in a realistic manner so you can reproduce anything you see in exact detail. Then let yourself forget it all for a moment and paint with abandon and experience true magic.
How do you get into the state that allows you to paint using the best of you?