Sunday, August 25, 2013

Realism, Concept and Innovation

The ability to render reality has always been a compelling skill for any artist to have. For the non-artist, the illusion of reality, painted or otherwise is just as compelling.

Why is realism so compelling?

Realism is easily digested, and a there is a level of comfort judging art on the basis of how convincing the rendition is. While there may be an idea behind the work, a viewer doesn't have to get caught up in whether the concept was successful or not to connect to the art.

For an artist, positive reactions about their ability to render realistic scenes is inspiring and rewarding. If you are an artist, at one time or another in your career, you will try to recreate the emotional experience by dissecting previous works and attempt to incorporate similar qualities into a completely different subject. Even if the result is disappointing, the exercise is certainly an effective way to improve one's technical skills and perhaps even sales.

Find The Right Balance

There is a challenge in the pursuit of mastering realism. The focus on rendering can shortchange the quality of the concept. Concept is the why and how of your painting. Without settling on a strong concept first, the pursuit of craftsmanship and skill will take over your art.

I'm not suggesting we abandon realism for concept, but I'm suggesting that concept is what makes art memorable.

If you think about all the memorable still-lifes, portraits and landscapes you have seen, which are the ones you remember most?

For me, Andrew Wyeth's Cristina's World, Raphaelle Peale's After the Bath, Eakins' The Gross Clinic, John Singer Sargent's Lady with a Rose. represent an ideal. While they are realistic, they are also grounded by a concept which keeps them fresh.

There's no question that realism is welcomed by many collectors and galleries alike. But there is an opportunity to improve and excel by exploring the notion of concept as well.

Commit to Exploring Concept

There are two ways to embed your work with concept. The first way is by developing an idea through sketching, and resolving the concept before you begin painting. The second way is to develop the idea as you paint, giving yourself permission to shift the emphasis from technique to subject and style.

Developing the concept as you go, even for just one painting, can re-energize your work and your art. The process may seem counter-intuitive, but I am confident that your heart will soar, and you'll connect with new energy to paint.

Coming to a neighborhood near you.
27 x 40, pastel on archival paper, © 2013 Tom Weinkle
Foggy Morning, 24 x 36, pastel on archival paper © 2013 Tom Weinkle
I paint using both processes, but the second way is more exciting for me. I've included examples of both approaches above so you can see the differences. The upper painting was completed with the idea in mind before I began. In the lower painting, the concept evolved as I painted.

Give both methods a try. See if the rules you were following to render reality suddenly are a little less important when you focus on concept. Find out if you have a burst of energy to explore, invent and learn by focusing on concept in different ways. Whatever style you are most comfortable with, I'm confident your skill and talents will grow along with your art.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Process, Efficiency and Voice

If you've ever watched someone create a painting, it was probably one of three situations; a demonstration or performance; a workshop; or in studio/on location.

Order demands process, but process does not demand order.

When an artist demonstrates or teaches, they are generally sharing their process with others and so there is a need to be orderly. Order enhances understanding, is efficient, and will reduce anxiety for the observers, while increasing their satisfaction.

On the other hand, when working alone in the studio or painting from life without the need to share information, I think there is a tendency for an artist to be less orderly. This is because process can involve many more adjustments and exploration than what is typically seen in a teaching environment.

This leads me to conclude that the artists' process should not always be orderly. Working with less order leaves room to incorporate the idea of chance and improvisation into their art. Much like the field of invention, finding the right balance can bring great discovery.

Process and The Poetry of Pastel.

When I paint, except for doing a commission, I rarely begin with a pre-conceived idea of what I will end up with. Working this way, I have the opportunity to learn the most. Although it increases the chances of failure, the journey is very exciting.

Edge of the Dome, 18 x 24, pastel on
archival paper, ©2012 Tom Weinkle
To the left is a pastel I did that incorporates a lot of chance and improvisation. This scene was inspired by a swamp walk in the Big Cypress Preserve, but the painting is more of an impression of a place than reality. The final result is very different than what I started because I followed the idea of process instead of an orderly set of steps that would simply render the reality.

My process includes a lot of experimenting with texture, liquifying pastels, as well as using tools to manipulate the pigments once they are on the surface. I'm guided by the what I see and react to that in the moment. When I work this way, I am testing my assumptions and the limits of the materials.

A viewer sees the finished piece and may never know what happened along the way or care. Ideally, they connect with the result and not the work you went through to create it.

Efficiency and Expectation.

For some artists, efficiency of process is important. It is a proven way to maximize their output, consistency and quality. Often the reasoning is based on satisfying a gallery, collectors, or an upcoming exhibition. But there is also another side to efficiency. The efficiency of learning. I believe that taking chances, pushing limits, and testing rules can expedite understanding.

Do what works for you.

It's worth stating here that learning from experts is invaluable. If you develop a voice that is based on the work of others, your work will likely look like someone else's. That can be a worthy goal, as an example, to paint like Titian, or Michelangelo, or DaVinci, or Sargent. Or perhaps modern masters like Motherwell, Klee, and Pollock.

If you seek to develop your own voice, then I encourage you to lead with process, and follow with order. Find the balance that works for you. You can incorporate learning and experimenting, without giving up your voice. It's a very exciting experience and your work will be judged on its own merits. 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Can you see the difference?

Many artists will agree that if you want to have a successful work, you have to plan carefully. If you were painting a landscape for instance, you would select a location or scene, and then carefully consider how to frame that scene on your canvas. You would sketch variations considering whether to paint a horizontal or vertical piece; what elements to include or omit; how to use value (light and dark) or hue (cool or warm) and intensity (neutral or bright). You might do studies until they are completely satisfied with your decisions.

The Collective, 40 x 27, pastel on
archival paper, © Tom Weinkle
What does a planned painting look like? At left is The Collective, which I painted a few years ago, based on a visit to New Harbor, Maine. Before pastel touched paper, I spent a good deal of time deciding on how to frame the composition.

While the painting appears fairly fresh and loose, the actual process was quite structured. The technique for applying the pastel in this painting is what makes gives the painting its liveliness. The idea itself was quite planned.

The Pair, 18 x 12, pastel on
archival paper, © Tom Weinkle
On the other hand, painting by mood means you leave the idea of planning behind. It is similar to the act of writing poetry, where you are guided by an idea, in the moment. The Pair, was painted on location here in South Florida. It is really a study, and it was painted without any sketch, blockout or preconceived idea. The painting was actually done on a recycled Wallis board, where I had washed off an older painting from an earlier trip to New Mexico.

I think there is a feeling in this piece, that can only come from working this way. We can be critical about details, and improve various formal aspects of the results. At the same time, my goal was to see what would happen if I just painted in the moment.

One thing I would like to make clear. I am not suggesting that artists should stop planning. There are clearly trade-offs, one of which is that you'll fail more without a plan than with. At the same time, I think we can find a useful balance, that can add qualities to our work that transcend the ordinary.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Using Mood to Guide Your Painting

Most of the time, when we are painting, we have a finished idea in our minds. A scene, a still life, a portrait, where our activities revolve around reaching the finished idea. In order to be successful, we have to plan a route to this final place, much like taking a road trip. First, we have to sketch, then we typically block in. Details and finessing follow until we arrive at our completed piece.

Edisto Hues, 27 x 40, pastel on archival paper. © 2013 Tom Weinkle
The Poetry of Pastel works a little differently. To use the road trip metaphor, the idea is to get in the car with only a loose idea of where we want to go. Instead of taking the most direct route from point A to point B, we might "head in a general direction". The excitement of this approach is that we may see and experience things the more direct route would have avoided. It's true that we may get lost on the trip. On the other hand, we may delight in an otherwise missed opportunity.

When thinking about painting, what if we took the less traveled road? What if we set out with a general idea of where we wanted to go? What would that look like?

To answer the question, I've posted a recent work created using this technique. In the next post, we'll compare this work to a more planned work and see if we can tell the difference.

Let me know what you think.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Poetry of Pastel can add more creativity to your art

The poetry of pastel is a method of working that takes a contrarian approach to creating art. Instead of planning an entire piece, the process is more akin to writing poetry where one is guided by mood and moment.

I'm not trying to dispose of the traditions of developing art with sketching, blocking, and finessing. Or comparing compositions with a study process. I see the process as an exercise, which can be incorporated anywhere along the way of a particular work.

The goal is to help artists work more intuitively and to gain confidence by connecting more directly with their work instead of the "idea of their work".

In the coming posts, I'll show work developed using the process and then explain more about how it works.