Improv Art

What do you get when you combine a bowling ball, red oil paint and a hair dryer? That’s for you to figure out. Let someone else choose the materials for your art and watch your creativity steal the show.

If you’ve ever seen an improvisational comedy show, either in person (at the Second City, for instance) or on TV (Whose Line Is It Anyway?), you know how the process of turning your creativity over to other forces goes. Basically, the audience gets to dictate the particulars of a scene on the spot, and the players have to act it out. The results can be hilarious, moderately humorous or dead on arrival. But just imagine how the actors must feel: scared, excited, energized and, if they get on a roll, thrilled at the magic they’re creating out of nothing.

That could be you. But before you panic, keep in mind that there need not be an audience for your artistic performance. Beyond the creative charge you’ll inevitably get, you can learn more about working with your everyday materials and bolster your understanding of basic principles of art in the process.

Kathleen Kuchar, an artist and art professor in Hays, Kansas, gave improv art a try as a way to work through a creative block. She asked a good friend to join her, and they each bought a small papier-mache box from a hobby store and filled it with various items and kept the contents secret. After exchanging the boxes and making a few sketches of what they imagined was inside, they opened them and sketched the actual items.

Noted pastel and watercolor artist Doug Dawson of Wheat Ridge, Colorado put this concept to the test at a demonstration. His plan was to get as far as he could in an hour and a half with a portrait of his wife, starting with three sticks of pastel. The catch: He allowed the audience to choose the sticks, instructing them to select colors they felt “would really sabotage the painting.”

Even within this sort of format, however, you can give yourself a bit of a break. Dawson did make sure that the three initial colors covered the three values he’d need (a light, medium and dark tone). And once the hues were selected, he fiddled with them a bit—mixing in another shade of pastel with the dark tone, for example—to ensure that the colors were all in harmony with one another.

“What you’ll begin to discover after doing this a few times is that it’s almost impossible to completely sabotage yourself,” he says. “There’s a way to bring almost everything you begin with around to what you want.” So, even when you think you’re blindly jumping into something a little off-kilter, there’s a good chance you’ll be surprised at how unscary it really is.

Po Pin Lin fell in love with nature while growing up on Formosa Island, Taiwan. Now living in San Francisco, where he studied at the Academy of Art College, he continues to search for nature’s beauty in his landscapes. Lin’s paintings have appeared in more than 20 one-man and group shows and have won numerous awards in national competitions. He’s a signature member of the Oil Painters of America, and he’s represented in California by the Howard Portnoy Gallery (Carmel), the Lee Youngman Gallery (Calistoga) and the Garden Gallery (Half Moon Bay), and elsewhere by Gallery Fifteen (Clovis, New Mexico).

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