Thursday, July 12, 2007

the eternal dilemma

As a self taught artist, and rather impulsive person, I just jumped in boots and all several years ago, read a few "how to" books, bought a few paints to decide which medium grabbed me, fell head over heels in love with oils and went for it. I still devour books and try new directions all the time, I enjoy the process of evolution, the fact that 10 paintings later, I can see growth, and forward movement. But at the same time, I am aware that I have picked up some bad habits along the way, and skipped over a lot of early foundations, so I am really concentrating on fixing that.

Hence the shopping spree recently to get watercolours, indian ink pens, conte pencils etc and a determination to get into some disciplined sketching. I thought it would be like taking pills daily, I hate routine and discipline. But it is such fun, and i cannot believe how the simple act of single colour sketching is stretching my ability to discern tones, highlights and shadows, to simplify, get to the essentials. And because i am excited about the results, it is rapidly moving from a chore to a delightful adventure that i look forward to.

That said, the next steps are a bit intimidating for me. There is an endless debate in the art world, the two camps basically being "I can paint just as well from Photos" vs "if it isn't painted from life, it isn't real art".

So far I have done very little plein air or life painting, and when i have the results have been a bit disappointing. I realise that painting from photos is a shortcut, because the camera has already done the work of converting the image from 3d to 2d. Training the eye to do that job is what the sketching is all about.

But strangely enough, this is where my struggle is coming in. I have no problem sketching, and a couple of pen and wash quickies I did recently of surrounding houses, and a nice light effect at sunrise, were even quite successful. But I seem to have a hard time turning the sketches into paintings, and I don't understand why! I produced a really gross little effort from the sunrise sketch. The sketch has done the same work as the camera, I have a 2d reference, but i somehow seem to lose something in the translation onto canvas.

However, I am relishing the process of learning as much as the thought of finally suceeding, so it's all good! (And the cool thing about oils is that a crummy painting is not a total disaster.... at best, it can be kept as an example of "how NOT to...." and makes you feel good years later when you look back and see how far you have come, and at least it can be painted over and the canvas re-used. In fact, some of my favourite paintings started out as something else, and the underpainting gave something special to the top one. (I was going to be brave and show you some of them, even though they were embarrasingly bad early works, but I have been saved by blogger who seems to be having a bad day and will not upload pictures...whew!)

I am making a concerted effort to do more life painting, and, where safe and practical, plein air landscapes (like the houses around here, while armed with pepper spray against muggers, how ridiculous is that!!!!?), but I still am not such a purist that I won't use photos as a reference. Lately friends and family have been sending me wonderful photos of their overseas travels, and I am sure they are going to turn up on canvas soon!

So there you have it, an insight into the ongoing challenges facing an emerging artist!

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