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How a Strict Artist Schedule Can Lead to Creative Spontaneity

Marike Kleynscheldt’s daily regimen and system for combatting artist’s block help her create playful and thought-provoking still lifes.

By Lauren B. Kirchner

Green Depth of Field (acrylic, 23 1⁄2 x 35 1⁄2) by Marike Kleynscheldt

In this conversation with artist Marike Kleynscheldt, you’ll learn how the self-taught, full-time artist uses a structured artist schedule — as well as a clever preventative measure against artist’s block — to keep producing her playful and meaningful still life paintings in acrylic.

Small Objects, Big Ideas

Although the subjects of Marike Kleynscheldt’s paintings vary widely — from beads and buttons to lush fruit and delicate flowers, to solitary skulls — her style is both constant and inimitable. Some of her still lifes are playful and bright; others are more somber and thought-provoking. What all of her subjects have in common, though, is that they are small and precisely rendered.

It’s hard to believe that Kleynscheldt, an artist from Cape Town, South Africa, who paints exclusively in acrylic, has focused seriously on painting only since 2007. It’s perhaps even more difficult to believe that she’s entirely self-taught. She says she dabbled in art as a child but was encouraged by her teachers to pursue something more practical after school. She studied graphic design for two years and began working in the advertising field, but quickly realized that wasn’t enough to fulfill her creative drive. About six years ago, she dedicated herself to painting full time.

Kleynscheldt says she doesn’t regret the background in design theory that she gained from her previous work; nor does she wish that she had studied painting in a more serious way. “I feel that my lack of formal training has been an advantage in developing my own style and opinions. Figuring everything out for myself has given me more of a unique perspective.”

Variation: Red, Green, Blue (acrylic, 19 1⁄2 x 35 1⁄2) by Marike Kleynscheldt

Acrylic Roots

Acrylic paint is a natural choice for Kleynscheldt; it was her first and favorite medium when she began playing around with paints in high school. She also has dabbled with watercolors and gouache in the past, but she prefers acrylics for their predictability. She adds that she feels that she owes a lot of the development of her signature style to the medium and that she probably won’t deviate from acrylics anytime soon. “I feel that I know its qualities inside out, and I can rely on them,” she says. “When I work on a painting, it’s about capturing the light and texture — about form and color. There’s a lot to wrap my head around. But the one thing I don’t have to worry about is whether the paint will do what I expect it to.”

Kleynscheldt’s favorite aspect of acrylic paint is its quick drying time, since she typically paints wet-on-dry. “That and the staying power. It doesn’t fade. It doesn’t crack. And not having to work with thinners is just the cherry on top,” she says.

Composition With Buttons (acrylic, 30 1⁄2 x 40 1⁄2) by Marike Kleynscheldt

Time to Experiment

Not surprisingly, Kleynscheldt’s advice to painters who may be making the transition from another medium to acrylic is to set aside time to experiment with it, just as she did.

“Play around with different brands and different levels of gloss and opacity. Try to buy the highest quality paints and canvases that you can,” she says. “It might take some trial and error to figure out the drying times of different types of paint and to see just how much the canvas will absorb. I always use four different brands together. At this point I know the differences in opacity and which colors will stay bright when they dry. I particularly enjoy using very glossy paint next to a matte finish; it can really make objects stand out — especially when I’m using complementary colors together.”

Granaat (acrylic, 24×12) by Marike Kleynscheldt

Regimented Spontaneity

As for Kleynscheldt’s own process, she says it’s important to keep a routine; don’t just work when the inspiration hits. Because painting is her full-time job, she goes into her studio and sits down in front of her canvas at 9 a.m. every day, whether she’s in the painting mood or not. But within this daily structure, she lets spontaneity rule.

“I’ve found that the compositions that I pine over and plan for days tend to look too stiff,” she says. “More often than not, the composition works when I just throw everything down in a heap. Then I tweak here and there, rather than drawing and planning out. If I try to force something, it won’t work.”

Composition With Marbles (acrylic, 28×40) by Marike Kleynscheldt

Working from References

Accordingly, she sets up her still lifes organically, choosing materials and objects that inspire her most, whether a handful of shiny candies, a vibrant chili pepper from the market, or an arrangement of flowers and silverware. She always works from her own photographs so that she can easily control the lighting and positioning of her scenes.

A look at one of her recent favorites — shiny glass marbles — makes it clear why having a still, precise photograph as a reference during her painting process is so vital. In her piece Green Depth of Field (top of article), light reflects and refracts through the glass globes in countless ways; her own reflected image is visible in seven different spots. Painting such a complex miniature landscape directly from life would be next to impossible.

Sweets for My Sweet (acrylic, 23 1⁄2 x 35 1⁄2) by Marike Kleynscheldt

More Personal Than a Photograph

Kleynscheldt says she has been inspired by realist painters Heather Horton and Chuck Close. Like the work of those artists, Kleynscheldt’s paintings can be so stunningly sharp that at times they look like photographs. But don’t tell that to the artist; she says that of all the compliments she hears about her work, “photorealistic” isn’t one of her favorites.

“A painting is much more personal than a photograph,” she explains. “Painting is about feeling and expressing through color and texture, knowing when to keep pushing and knowing when to stop. I’m trying to give you my version of the object, my interpretation. The photo I use is a means to an end, but it isn’t the ideal. I believe that paintings should always be beautiful, but what’s just as important is the emotional connection they create.”

Marbles: Depth of Field (acrylic, 20×28) by Marike Kleynscheldt

A Wonderful Balance

She says her still lifes tend to fall into two categories — “frivolous” and “serious.” Both of these express parts of her personality. “I believe that every great painting is a self-portrait,” she notes. Her more playful still lifes depict candies, toys, or fruit and are saturated with color and radiant light. Her more understated still lifes are often vanitas paintings, featuring the classical subjects of skulls, books, candles, and plants.

Kleynscheldt loves the vanitas tradition not just for its visual appeal but also for its juxtaposition of opposing symbolic elements. A skull represents death, while a fresh flower represents life. “There’s this wonderful balance between macabre and an almost holy beauty; death versus life, natural versus man-made, faith versus the world,” she says. “I really connect with that as a basic concept. But at the same time I try not to overthink. If it doesn’t make a beautiful composition in the end, it doesn’t matter anyway.”

Vanitas With Meerkat (acrylic, 18×22) by Marike Kleynscheldt

Meaningful Objects

Vanitas With Meerkat is one of the artist’s favorites among her paintings. The diminutive size of the painting’s centerpiece, a 6-centimeter meerkat skull, required that everything else she included be small and delicate, too. Each item carries a certain significance for the artist. The glass beads came from a tablecloth at her parents’ house, right as she was preparing to move out to start a new life with her future husband. The pearls were a gift from a recently departed beloved aunt, and Kleynscheldt wore them at her wedding. She picked the flower from her parents’ garden and added it to the tableau to help offset the grays and whites with a tiny splash of color.

The resulting scene now serves as a snapshot of an emotional time of transition in the artist’s life. She says she loves it so much she’ll never sell it.

“The painting couldn’t help but be meaningful,” she says. “And it was probably the first painting that was just what I wanted to do and not based on some kind of commercial idea.”

Vanitas Variation III (acrylic, 12×18) by Marike Kleynscheldt

Attack Artist’s Block

Kleynscheldt has her own particular method for avoiding “painter’s block.” She starts to plan her next painting before her current one is finished so that she can keep her creative momentum. As soon as she reaches the finishing stage of a painting, which she says is “somewhere in between shadows, background, and fine detail,” she starts setting up her next subject and taking the photographs she will use as a reference.

“I try to have the photographs done and printed before the painting is finished, so that I can literally take the finished painting off the easel, pick up a blank canvas, and start right away,” she says.

She also takes care not to fall into a rut with her still lifes by limiting the number of paintings she completes of a certain subject. When she finds a new subject that feels exciting — cherries, for instance, or candy — she wants to paint it several times to try to master it. “But I generally force myself to move on to the next object after a maximum of three paintings, because otherwise my eye gets too used to the shapes; I start painting the object the way I think it looks instead of really delving in.”

Shake Things Up

Ultimately, Kleynscheldt believes that an artist should always move toward whatever challenges him or her and whatever feels the most exciting. She suggests that if you’re feeling a bit stuck, getting out of your comfort zone is key. For example, change the scale of your project — get a canvas twice the size as the one you’re used to, and zoom in on the subject’s details. “If you normally work in painstaking realism, do a painting where you try to be as loose and fast as possible,” she says. “That will either get you excited about a new direction, or it will turn out so badly that you won’t be able to wait to get back to your old way of doing things. Odd advice, but it works!”

Meet the Artist

Marike Kleynscheldt is a self-taught artist from Durbanville, in Cape Town, South Africa. She had her first solo show in 2008 and has been part of numerous group exhibitions since. Kleynscheldt mainly paints still lifes, focusing on simple objects that evoke nostalgia or sentiment. She believes the emotional connection between her and her subject matter to be just as important as the emotional connection between the painting and the viewer. She’s represented by Everad Read and Absolut Art Gallery, both in Cape Town. For more information, visit marikekleynscheldtart.blogspot.com or her Instagram page, @marike.kleynscheldt.art.

A version of this article originally appeared in Acrylic Artist magazine.

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