Using the finished work, Red, Yellow, Blue (top; pastel on paper, 29½x22½) as a model, I painted Study From Red, Yellow, Blue (bottom; pastel on paper, 10½x14½), a more graphic and turbulent version of the same composition.
As I keep returning to flowers—sunflowers, to be specific—I’m always looking for a fresh way to explore the subject, which has led me to look at other artists who have worked in subject specific series. The first artist to come to mind is Andy Warhol with his droll repetition of soup cans. Monet offered a rich trove of ideas by repeating motifs at different times of the day, re-cording the changing effects of light. Van Gogh repeated subjects by making more than one version of a painting; with each interpretation, he sharpened his vision and descriptive powers.
The notion of interpreting the idea of a painting, rather than just repeating the subject, leads me to the contemporary artist Jasper Johns who said, “Do something, do something to that, and then do something.” Johns repeats the same imagery over and over again in a variety of materials and scales until the series runs its course. Encaustic, ink on vellum, lithography, etching and even cast bronze depict the same flag, beer can or coffee can full of studio brushes, over and over again. Each work is fresh and unique, yet it mirrors the other works in the series.
Taking a cue from Johns, try this exercise: Use a previously finished painting as the starting point for interpreting a new work. The object isn’t to reproduce or copy, but rather to interpret afresh, specific aspects of the painting, such as composition and orchestration of color, using the same subject. Unlike a preliminary sketch that’s not meant to be finished, the goal is to make a work that stands alone as a finished piece—not identical to the original, but a continuum of the visual idea.
Try This at Home
Show us an example of a pastel painting in which you reinterpreted a previously finished work. E-mail your image/s (4×6-inch JPGs with a resolution of 72 dpi) and a description to email@example.com by June 22, 2009. Type “Creative Spark” in the subject line and include your name, e-mail and mailing address. The “editors’ choice” will receive a $250-value fine art media gift basket, including a six-month subscription to ArtistNetwork.tv online video workshops, $60 worth of North Light art books or DVDs; the 2006, 2007 and 2008 Pastel Journal CDs; and a one-year subscription (or free renewal) to The Pastel Journal, The Artist’s Magazine or Southwest Art.
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