I've been an artist a long, long time. I took my first steps as a commercial artist at age 13 painting t-shirts, dresses, vans and murals with an airbrush some 45 years ago. And I've devoted a great deal of that time since to the study of art, I had four years of art history in college, most of which I slept through, that is, until my mother insisted I go to Europe for a 6 week art and humanities tour which changed the way I looked at art. Mom's are good like that. After that, I really started to explore what is out there, past and present. If you are reading this, you are a devotee of creating, of being an artist, and as I am sure you have learned, a very big part of being an artist is growth. I am always looking, experimenting, searching for new ideas, new ways of doing things, never satisfied with my own little status quo. As I look back, change has been the one constant in my life, from airbrushing clothes to graphic design to painting stuff to look like stuff. It's been a good run.
For the last 15 years I’ve been heavily involved in the Plein Air resurgence, a movement that has had several zeniths over the last 150 years. It might be that the latest zenith has crested… when everyone on the planet is painting outside for fun and profit it’s time for the next thing to come along. Don’t get me wrong, there are artists out there who continue to amaze me with what they are bringing to the table, something new, something fresh. Certainly Lori Putnam is one of these, she just has a thing that is captivating to see. There are a handful of great PA painters out there who keep impressing the bejeezus out of me.
So, I'm wondering now, what can I bring to the table? It's the question that we should all be asking ourselves. If you are going to be a landscape painter, for example, strive to bring something new. One of the things I see lacking in the current workshop-based movement is the focus on how to paint but not how to think. Art is thought. Historically the best artists, the ones who are remembered, are the ones who thought something a little different, or a lot different;
Thomas Hart Benton brought his curvilinear forms and Americana narrative, Edward Hopper created his brilliant, lonely compositions, the entire Ashcan school documented their time in a way that even photography could not, Sargent, that magnificent bastard, expanded portraiture with a kind of personal psychology on top of and underneath his masterful paint (e.g. The daughters of Edward Boit),
Monet’s water lilly series gave birth the color field concept and
Paul Cezanne was the father of Cubism with his fractured landscapes (Picass even said so). The list is long, wide and deep. So what can we bring to the visual cornucopia-palooza? Think about it, these artists were using the same paints that we are, the same formats, what's the difference? Thought.
The first part is the hardest, it's the learning of the rudiments part. Drawing, color, shape, paint, form, edge, etc. But's it only when you have mastered how to strum, finger and fret a guitar that you can play the music in your head. Once you put in your 10,000 hours, then the world is your canvas. Here are some thoughts on where to go once you can play those notes freely and without conscious effort or maybe just while you are on the way:
Learn the basics first. Period.
Fear not. Fear is the killer of great ideas.
Play. Give yourself permission.
Mentoring is good, being influenced and inspired is good, but do not copy, people will know.
And when you go see a painting you like, don't ask how, ask why.
Find inspiration not just in the art books and google searches but in the places you would never think to look: books of wallpaper, antique stores, your collection of old photos, that palette that you forgot to clean, the patterns on an old desk, the shapes that emerge in your closet. Look for the divine in the ordinary.
Good ideas are like a good joke, you take two or three things that don't belong together and make something new.
Join the school of What if U, there's no tuition. What if you painted on patterned fabric rather than canvas, what if you made that sky pink instead of blue, what if you morphed that shape in your painting rather than following what is, what if you actually told a story with your painting? What if you painted not things but textures and shapes? What if you knew there were no rules?
Don't worry about what others have done, worry about what you are going to do.
Open your mind to new possibilities. Let the explorer explore and the artist play, don't be afraid to try different approaches.
Do lots of prep for your paintings in the form of sketches and color studies, let the paintings make themselves.
Trust in yourself enough to not paint in the lines.
Create like no one will ever see it. Many have and it gets seen and remembered. Ever seen the
quilters of Gee's bend ? Look it up.
Think bigger, paint bigger, be a first rate you and not a second rate someone else.
The only person whose judgement matters to you is you.
Now go and do.
I'm taking this stuff on the road. I want to teach people to think rather than teach how to paint.
Visit Larry's website to see his wonderful work.