Thursday, July 30, 2009

Finding Your Style

“It was in the fall of 1915 that I first had the idea that what I had been taught was of little value to me except for the use of my materials as a language --charcoal, pencil, pen and ink, watercolor, pastel, and oil. . . . .But what to say with them? ....After careful thinking I decided that I wasn’t going to spend my life doing what had already been done.” Georgia O’Keeffe

When I went to the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe in May I was knocked out by seeing the confidence in her work. There is no equivocating. Even in her early watercolors, like the one above, she just puts that paint down exactly where she wants it and that's final.

Harry Truman used to say he was looking for a one-handed economist because he was tired of hearing "on th
e other hand." Sometimes I look at a painting in progress and feel it's been painted by someone with five hands. The style keeps changing, getting farther and farther from bold and clear.

Franklyn Liegel, former teacher of mine at Otis College of Art and Design, passed on a number of ideas I try to dredge up when struggling with style. The most helpful, I think, is to spend some time identifying what draws you in by looking at images you like as well as ones you hate. We were urged to spend some time with these images, from magazines, library books, whatever, not to get ideas to imitate, but to figure out where we like to be - with big shapes, fractured spaces, strong colors, whatever it might be.

Painted this alley diptych from a photo taken in Seattle after the trip to Santa Fe; I've have almost stopped changing it around.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Accepting Influences

For my part I have never avoided the influence of others. I would have considered it cowardice and lack of sincerity toward myself. I believe that the artist’s personality affirms itself by the struggle he has survived. One would have to be very foolish not to notice the direction in which others work. I am amazed that some people can be so lacking in anxiety as to imagine that they have grasped the truth of their art on the first try. I have accepted influences but I think I have always known how to dominate them. Henri Matisse

Why does it seem that having your art called derivative is so much worse than just about any other criticism?

What are your influences? How consciously do you seek to dominate or resist them? Diebenkorn looked to Matisse, Matisse borrowed to buy works of Rodin, Gauguin and Cezanne, and everyone had an eye on Picasso, so what am I so worried about? I suppose they all became confident that at some point, they would so fully digest or push against their influences that obvious imitation would never be an issue.

My former teacher at Otis was emphatic about the need to constantly feed our minds images. This was a relief because I always felt I was starting with a completely blank mind. In addition to photos we took ourselves, he practically demanded that we start tearing out pages of magazines to build an image file we could use later when looking for a certain color we didn't know we wanted until we needed it, or an idea for a texture, or some area of visual complexity, like a picture of mitochondria or something that would help with an abstract background.

Here's Ferry Crossing, a diptych I painted last year when I was reading a lot about Diebenkorn:

"I have nothing to Say and I am saying it." John Cage

I don't know why I connect so much with this statement. . .(which is actually the title of a performance biography about the late John Cage. He must be glad to see M. Cunningham again; they are probably collaborating on a new piece right now.) Anyway, I am so seduced by the temptation to let much of my time slip away reading the paper or cruising around online that it helps me to watch my time more carefully.

So much talk about how you spend your time. . .are you sick of trying to manage your time? How much conscious thought do you give to what you do with your time? Are you somewhat afraid, a little afraid, very afraid of spending more time accessing someone else's creative output than trying to develop your own? Are there a few sites, magazines, columns that do actually help you creatively by providing ideas and inspiration beyond a momentary distraction?

What do you think? Which columns, sites, or blogs are worth a slice of your day? (And by the way, if you haven't seen Maira Kalman's blog, it's only monthly and most definitely worth the 5 minutes a month:

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

What about all those planners artists?

“I can never accomplish what I want, only what I would have wanted had I thought of it beforehand.” Richard Diebenkorn

Well, I tried this and it definitely does not work for me. Diebenkorn may have been reconciled to his trial and error working method, buy this approach drove me crazy.

What about all those planner artists? Apparently, Vuillard made lots and lots of sketches and so had

a pretty clear idea where he was headed before he began to paint. The finished work was already in his mind's eye.

Are you content with your working style? Are you wrestling with it? Do you do a lot of planning or not?

I found that when I get into the middle of a painting and feel completely lost it helps to stop and do a notan or two to clarify values. Or I turn it upside down, or walk away for a few days, or look at other art I like. Sometimes it helps to cover up most of it with tape and brown paper and just work on one area. A tricky idea is to ask someone else because, of course, it all depends upon whom you ask. Big backfire potential here.

I think I used all of these approaches in this painting of Bow Hill, a long grade between Mt. Vernon and Bellingham, Washington.