How do you actually find your own voice instead of just copying someone else's forever?
A very good friend of mine once told me that you cannot find your style; if you paint long enough, it will find you. At one time, I painted still life in a highly detailed, representational, tonal style. I did that to find out if I could. I needed to prove to myself that I wasn't painting loosely just to cover up a lack of facility of my medium, drawing skills, or whatever. Painting loosely does not mean being sloppy or using looseness to cover up something someone doesn't know how to handle. Every piece of a loose painting should be totally "resolved" in some manner or other, (and here is the important part), with INTENTION. That more realistic style in which I was painting –smooth, controlled, and having no visible brushwork – was not what I was feeling in my soul. More on that in a minute. That's when I began studying with people who had a more impressionistic style, colorful palette, and exciting paint application. The words of my friend have stayed with me as I have taken classes, filtered them through my tiny brain, and experimented with what I felt was in my soul. Still, it is difficult, even after the filtering, to completely ignore techniques you have seen your instructors teach. After a workshop, I experiment a lot. Most of it no one ever sees. It is my "me" time, my "filtering" time, and sometimes parts of those experiments eventually end up being useful in actual work.
This past year that I told a dear friend and long-time mentor of mine that he is no longer in my every brushstroke, every thought, and hope for approval. While I still value his advice, I do not need his affirmation. It was a glorious moment and he expressed his joy for me knowing I had made it there. Studying with him was not about technique, although I'm sure innocently some of it rubbed off on me. It was about seeing the world of art and letting go of fear and ego.
Today, anyone who studies with me knows that I refuse to teach someone to paint like me. Yes, I demonstrate so by default they see my thoughts and technique. But I TEACH them to see and to search and to have the courage to know that they will find themselves eventually. A few years ago one of my students was sharing her online portfolio with me. Her style was totally different than anything we might cover in class. I asked her why in the world she kept coming to me for help. Her reply was something along the lines of, "Well that is what is popular and I thought I needed to learn it." "WOAH! Stop right there," I said. "Don't do that. Go and be YOU." No one had ever said that to her before.
It is interesting that some of us who do paint loosely, see the opposite side when it comes to following a trend. Almost all of my peers who paint more rendered or realistic than I, seem to be selling really well. Why? Because it is simpler for a gallery to sell beauty. Now, these friends happen to also be fantastic painters and some the most creative people I know. They are fantastic because realism IS their style. They are not just doing it to sell. It's only the paint application that separates us.
The resurgence of all things representational and tightly painted OR more abstracted and commercial is what I battle in my brain to this day. In fact, Mark (my husband) and I had this discussion just this morning. But I refuse to change for the fickle buyer. Trends come and go, but masterful works stand the test of time. I'm obviously not comparing myself to Sargent or Payne or Rembrandt, but the work of such greats transcends trends and that is a goal worth pursuring.
Another note on this, because subject matters little to me, I paint a variety of "things." I enjoy exploring value, color, pattern, and shape relationships and the subject matter itself is a minor player. This way of seeing the world is both a gift and a curse, for I know that if I stuck with one particular subject and painted a hundred of similar ones, I would have more solo exhibitions. Solo exhibitions are expected in career building. Gallery owners don't always know how to deal with people whose paintings are not about subject. But really good gallery owners do and they would love to have a Sargent portrait and a Sargent landscape for sale in their galleries. I suppose some people who ARE truly passionate about a particular subject are luckier in some ways. What [subject] they paint is a part of who they are and it is understandable to all who see it. What I paint [pattern, relationships, etc.] is who I am. Sometimes that is less visible to collectors and sadly even most gallery owners.
So, back to what I was feeling in my soul. While the word expression can mean many things (personal expression, expressive brushwork, etc.) it is important for me to say that EVERY brush stroke I make has thought put before it. I know what it should look like, what its purpose is, if it hard edged or broken, which brush will make the best shape, hold the proper amount of paint, and which side of that brush should be used. Once I am comfortable with the amount of paint loaded in the right way, then, an only then, do I lay down the mark with confidence that comes from inside... from my heart and soul.
Following trends unfortunately it is as old as art history itself. We are fortunate to live in a time where we have so many different styles going on at one time.
If you have a question you would like Lori to consider, email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
P.S., Aleex, thanks for asking about my palette (shown in the image above). It is an EdgePro Paintbook. I used a different pochade for about 10 years and tried many others in between. This one REALLY suits me. It has a nice-sized mixing area, is fairly lightweight, and fold nicely without screws and knobs to deal with. I'm sort of addicted to them now and in fact also own the smaller version, a Sketchbook, which I just use on my lap. Take a look at EdgeProGear.com. Enter code LPSTUDENT2017 at check out to save a few bucks.