I have frequently painted this scene. Each attempt has brought a looser, more poetic outcome. The underpainting was inspired by the cold, windy, lonely nature of the winter’s day.
A frequent question I hear at workshops is, “How can I loosen up as a painter?” After devoting years to learning craft, many painters often find themselves trapped in utilitarian methods that may render a competent painting but lack the elusive poetic quality of more painterly works. Just as a poet plays with syntax to express his thoughts (think e.e. cummings), so too must the painter. We start with a basic study or drawing, value relationship, color harmony, and media mastery. These are our syntactical starting points. How we orchestrate them ultimately becomes the poetic statement.
As we diligently work to hone our painting skills, we learn to analyze individual objects or areas within a scene so we can better understand them. This can lead to paintings that are overly detailed and somewhat photographic in nature, which can defeat a painterly, poetic intension. To overcome this, it is helpful to familiarize yourself with the subject matter. The more intimate we are with what it is we paint, the better we are able to loosen up and express how we feel. I have found it very helpful to paint the same scene or similar subject matter repeatedly. With each painting, I become more comfortable, less controlling, and more poetic. Just as a fine musician plays the same composition repeatedly bringing more depth to each performance, so too can the painter.
Another tool I find very helpful is the application of an underpainting. Often utilized by pastelists in advance of final pastel applications, an underpainting can provide a utilitarian or inspirational base upon which to respond. When I teach, I like to define an underpainting as a setup. It is the foundation upon which you will build the painting. A utilitarian underpainting tends to be more area specific. This can isolate objects within the framework of the painting if not finessed. An inspirational underpainting, which can be thought of as more intuitive, attempts to set up more of the artist’s overall feelings about the scene. Atmosphere and mood can be heightened, colors and value relationships harmonized, and edges manipulated as a means of conveying the artist’s intent. Think of this as a prosaic rather than a poetic description of a scene. Both rely on words, but one is merely matter of fact, while the other conveys feelings.
Artistic personality is also an important element. We each have a voice that is individual to ourselves. It can be very frustrating to wish for something that is not part of our DNA. Just as some of us are neat freaks, while others are quite content to be surrounded by clutter, so too is the tighter versus looser painter. Find your personal comfort zone and create within it. With patience and steady work, you may give yourself permission to loosen up. If not, so be it! It is who you are! Viva la difference!
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