I was doubly lucky last week because I had a thoughtful discussion with a great artist, Patricia Watwood, about how most notable representational art is "real" and about what happens to artists when they are faced with stepping outside that mold. For example, Watwood recently created a painting of an angel, and, leaving aside religiosity, we discussed how fun yet strange it was for her to figure out how to draw angel wings, of all things.
Fallen Angel by Patricia Watwood, 2012, oil painting on linen, 30 x 30.
It made us both realize that there aren't many tried-and-true processes for painting and drawing images that are more fantasy art than not. Yet most people really respond to the genre–in movies, books, and, yes, art. Watwood, a well-respected oil painting artist who works extensively with visual allegory and symbolism, pointed out that sometimes painting objects or figures that aren't 100% "real" is liberating and necessary for her. The lure of this kind of image is that it allows her to articulate feelings and energy that realism alone isn't able to evoke.
Watwood is certainly not alone. Because "fantasy" images sometimes do a better job of conveying an artist's message than something concretely real, it's no surprise that artists have turned to fantasy pictures over the last few decades, but we should also remember that fantasy art is as old as art itself. After all, what is a mythological painting by Goya or an ancient sculpture like the Winged Victory of Samothrace, other than pure fantasy? And many fantasy pictures of yesteryear are the forefathers of today's comic books, blockbuster movie hits, bestselling books, and some really good art.
It's up to you to decide whether or not to paint angels, insects, people, landscapes, or anything else you fancy, but I do think that choice is yours and yours alone, and no one should feel like there is a dead end to their art because of the impasse between realism and their more imaginative ideas. And if you are curious about what is on that "other" side where representational art and realism part ways a bit, check out how masterfully James Gurney traverses this divide by blending aspects of realism and fantasy art in his book Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter. Enjoy!