So alike, but so different
Don't know about you but on my art path I have spent a lot of time trying to get from one level of expertise to the next. There has been a drive to constantly improve and become a better hobby/amateur artist. I could feel it, knew it was attainable, but just simply couldn't seem to break through.
There have been many books, one I am thinking of by Gail Sheehy, written in 1976 called Passages. At the time this was a pioneering book about predictable commonalities we all face going through adulthood. We could all surprisingly fit into a few categories, react similarly to conditions and it proved we are just all so much more alike than we really acknowledge.
It got me thinking about the common steps all artists have to take as part of our art journey. We spend so much time on learning our techniques and the intricacies of drawing and painting that we don't spend a lot of time thinking about our journey, reflecting on where we have been and setting the goals to where we want to go. Believe that if you want to progress you need to spend some time inside your psyche planning this exciting art journey we are all on.
Personally, am pretty much self-taught and been bumbling around making art for 30+ years. Kind of learned about things as I tried more complex paintings and then figured out why they didn't work. Read, watched and studied new steps, but I couldn't ever find the key. Some of the advice just wasn't something I wanted to do. Realized now, however, there are certain key steps to learn, not necessarily in any specific order, to be able to paint freely and expressively.
Gosh, there is just so much to learn from how to hold a brush to creating a perfect grisaille. When I talk about technique it is about how you put marks on paper. Whether you are abstract, impressionistic or very realistic, you have a unique voice to share with the world.
Because each of us has different interests, background experiences and see with your unique one-of-a-kind artistic eye, how we approach making art differs. Just like how we learn differs.
The great thing about art today is that there are so many sources for knowledge, inspiration and feedback. New materials are constantly being created making it easier than ever to draw or paint successfully. And best of all, with mixed media, there are almost no formal rules.
You can really let it fly and just have fun while expressing yourself. TIP: No matter where you are on your journey listen to yourself - tell the critic in your mind to be quiet. Then paint/draw, experiment, play and learn all the different ways your medium(s) can be applied. You really can't get successfully to some of the next steps unless you quit worrying about how to put paint on paper or canvas.
Be sure to read and watch videos, so many great artists share their ideas and techniques for free. Some of this information will blow your mind or point you in a whole new direction. It is incredible what people are smart enough to do. Try the ideas that appeal to you. Keep the parts that appeal to you and incorporate them into the way you want to tell your story. Sometimes it is just having the information in your subconscious, letting it percolate and it will surprisingly appear in your work.
Well this is a gnarly topic but essential. Composition is the foundation of how you build your painting. How/where you place your elements emphasizes focal points, adds life/drama, and most importantly can set you apart from the thousands of other artists. Leaning the basics can help you quickly move to becoming more expressive. "They" talk about "your voice". How you compose your chosen subject leads to consistently using that voice which allows your work to become recognizable.
While we are learning we tend to rely on formal lessons, paint exactly what is on reference photographs, go with recommended color choices, etc. These are all necessary to learning and becoming skilled and confident. But at some point we need to deviate from the established and begin to think and create for ourselves. Challenge yourself to take that lesson, use it as inspiration, but choose another similar reference and change up the color scheme or background. Initially it may give you an ugly result, but the more you do that, the easier it will become. Many people say work only from life. But if you work from a good photographer's reference photos you will subconsciously learn about good composition. TIP: watch "how to" beginning photography videos to improve your compositional skills.
Expression isn't always about painting loosely. Expression is bringing your painting, regardless of the subject, to life. That can be done abstractly, realistically, or somewhere in between, however, you want to do it.
But the kicker is that you can be very skilled technically and still not have a lively painting. Being able to communicate efficient expression is so darn difficult. It requires going inside yourself, and most importantly trusting your inner voice/intuition, and allowing that to direct what you want to portray in your painting. Because you truly are a unique voice, to be set apart from others, you need to speak with your voice. Every time you paint a picture ask yourself what drew you to the idea or photo reference, and then paint your way, telling others your interpretation.
One of my goals for 2021 is to learn more about color, so imagine my surprise when I picked up Stephen Quiller's book, Color Choices, and in the introduction read a paragraph about the development of his career and the key steps on his art journey. OMG, it was so eerily similar to mine! Got to say felt so validated and pretty darn smart that we almost took the same steps, in the same progression. Remember that you really are where you need to be, right now, so learn to enjoy the journey and you will get to the destination.
Why study color? As artists we are so visual we want to use every beautiful color out there. But alas, restraint often the best option. Knowing how colors work together allows you to customize your personal way of telling a story. It is a key contributor to "your voice".
While creating and working on color charts can be very tedious, it is loaded with surprises. There are many terrific books and videos on learning colors and color schemes. It is really fun to play and see how you can change the picture message by changing the colors. Learning about, practicing and applying color to your own work will help develop richer and more powerful expression.
One of the hardest things to do is learn to be open and honest with yourself. I was so reluctant to really get personal and delve into that "woo woo" stuff. Okay, so daily journaling isn't a sustainable habit for me. But tried it for several months and surprised myself at what came out written on paper and what transferred and came out through the brush. It was time well spent and definitely a key to pushing me to my elusive next level.
While you stretch to take your art to the next level, there are always things to learn and goals to meet. The question is, how do you know when you reached your destination? As a practicing artist, simply don't think that you ever really do. As we acquire skills and knowledge the bar raises along with our expectations. You probably already have experienced some of these steps in your journey, plan to pick up the ones you haven't.
As you walk your artistic path you will find that these keys are so entwined that progressing in one changes all the others. Truly a lifetime is not enough to learn it all.