In last week’s posting, I started a discussion about how difficult it can be to retain objectivity about our own paintings. I used the analogy of a parent’s feelings for his or her own child. This week, I have a new analogy involving singers or musicians, who never hear the sound they create the way the audience does. Paintings, while more tangible than a musical performance, can produce a similar phenomenon for artists. We see a scene, have our senses stimulated, envision a painting, and then attempt to communicate the concept on a surface with pigment. The end result can be as strange to an artist as listening to recordings of a musical or vocal performance can be to a musician.
Here are a few more tips that may prove helpful when trying to keep your painting in perspective:
- Use a mirror to see differently. Tricking the mind to see a scene or painting in a slightly different manner can prove useful. Use a hand mirror to glance back at a scene or painting, making it appear in reverse. This challenges us to reanalyze angles and the placement of major compositional shapes. Positioning a mirror at an angle above our forehead can also afford an upside-down view of a scene or painting without standing on our heads.
- Taking Color Out of the Equation: Analyzing the relative lightness and darkness of things can also prove tricky, especially when color is a major influence. A simple piece of ruby-red plastic will eliminate most color in a painting or landscape, creating a monochromatic value study. Some artists take a digital photo and convert it to gray scale for a similar effect. Since memory often clouds what we see by what we believe we see, these can be very useful visual aids.
- Seek the perspective of others. Critiques from artists whom we admire are always useful, but a simple observation from a passerby can be helpful, too. Often, they see structural drawing flaws, like a crooked horizon line, before we do. What they may lack in artistic sophistication is more than made up for in honest observation.
- Don’t make the painting itself more important than the process. Take a breath and stretch your shoulders now and then. If a section of a painting is not going well, move on to another. Obsessing will only lead to negative feelings about the painting. If it is still unresolved later in the process, set it aside and start another painting. Remember, it is not a race. Take chances, listen to your internal voice, if it says to try something, do it! Worse case scenario, you make a mess and wipe it off. Tomorrow will be another day.
Like most aspiring artists, I once believed that learning good technique and acquiring a solid understanding of representational painting fundamentals were all I needed to produce a beautiful painting. While those skills are invaluable, the emotions behind the process are often an impediment on our road to mastery.
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Artist and workshop teacher Richard McKinley is a regular columnist for Pastel Journal magazine and the author of the instructional book, Pastel Pointers. Check out the Richard McKinley Special Value Pack with his book and DVD set at northlightshop.com!
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