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Richard McKinley’s Pastel Pointers Blog
The interaction between a painting medium and surface plays an integral part in an artist’s painting technique and the final appearance of the artwork. This is especially true with pastel. While wet media, such as watercolor and oil, are applied with a brush that is capable of pushing pigment into a porous surface, pastel is applied dry, relying on the textural nature of the surface for adequate adhesion.
Even when the ingredients for bravura in painting are present, there is an ironic side-effect that can occur from all the training: It can lead to painting motor skills that consistently produce over-rendered subject matter, producing finished paintings that appear tight. If you struggle with this and wish for a looser painterly appearing outcome in your work, there are a few things you can try …
It’s helpful to remember that everything we see is due to light. Without it, nothing visually exists. Painting is a representation of that light and is incapable of exact duplication. We are restrained by the limitations of the products we employ. We only create an illusion.
Being reminded of the purpose, or concept, that motivated us to paint a specific subject, or scene, is key to evolving as an artist, once technical mastery is achieved. Without purpose, it is easy to fall prey to technical perfection devoid of feeling. It may look exactly like the scene but says very little. Practice may get an artist to Carnegie Hall but it is passion that produces rave reviews.
When learning to paint the landscape, it’s common to encounter “Subject Matter Intimidation.” This is the belief that there’s only a certain way to paint different things such as rocks, clouds, trees, etc. While these objects are very different in their physical makeup, what we ultimately do with pigment when representing them on a surface is very similar.
Generally when viewing paintings, the public is attracted to subject matter first, followed by medium and style. They are drawn to, and associate with, the story of a painting—its content. Conversely, fellow artists and connoisseurs of art tend to appreciate style and mastery of medium over subject matter. This observation helps to explain why some artists sell very well and others win more awards. To be relevant in both is the goal of most artists.
One of the most alluring aspects of painting is color. Science has proven that the appearance of color is based in light. White light is made up of a full spectrum of color. A trifecta of energy, surface and human perception come together to produce the phenomenon. Since no two individuals perceive color in quite the same way, no two artists will represent it in the same fashion. Some choose to paint with bold expressive palettes of intense color saturation, while others choose a subtle, more muted palette of neutral color. Ultimately, what makes the representation of color work in a painting is the appearance of harmony.
Large elaborate studio spaces might be the dream of many painters and one worth working towards, but the reality is that the humblest of space will suffice if it is designated, utilized and honored. It is a place where the artist retreats from the daily world for the sole purpose of creativity. What is most important is the work produced, not the studio itself.
It can be frustrating during the painting process when we know there’s something wrong—something that’s just not quite right—but we can’t seem to put a finger on it, or what to do to resolve it. While some paintings just seem to fall into place, others can require considerable adjustment to be considered finished. I assure you, having a studio filled with my own unresolved paintings, that this perplexing situation has no prejudice between novice and professional artist. While there may be no cure, there are a few things that may prove helpful.
With the dawning of the new year, most people reflect upon what has been and eagerly usher in the new. This introspection provides an opportunity for optimistic goal-setting as well as providing a perspective on what has been accomplished. This is especially useful for artists. Creativity is not a linear activity. Minus personal reflection, it can be hard to know where to focus one’s future attentions. I separate my New Year goals into three artistic categories: craft, creation and career.