Friday, November 25, 2011

Avoiding A Method

When I'm teaching, I can only tell students how I go about things and try to convey my thought process while I'm painting. This can be tricky and definitely difficult to do while demonstrating, but with practice, I've gotten better at it.

One of the things that I hear from students is, "I want to try your method" and I'm always taken a bit aback by this, since I really never have thought about the "way I paint" as being a method. In fact, if anything, I'm avoiding working routinely in a particular way and continually trying to mix it up. Otherwise, painting would become boring to me and I think that would definitely be reflected in the work. So instead of a method, I think of it as an exploration; "how can I make this work?", "what if?" What if the paper was red, what if I used charcoal under the pastel, what if I got it wet? I don't really worry about my work having a "style" as I'm pretty certain that everyone has a  unique hand and my work will just naturally look like my work.

I also have students ask about why I used a lot of mixed media with pastels, what's the advantage? First and foremost, it keeps a piece from being too precious. I'm not exactly sure what it is about mixing media, but somehow I'm a lot more free and willing to experiment when I'm not going with a traditional or purest approach. Mixing media gives my work more spontaneity than straight pastel, or paint. It lends that "happy" accident component. When I use mixed media, I'm much more apt to have a "it's just a piece of paper" type of attitude towards the work.

Variation done with pastel and an oil wash

When I start, I always start with what is easiest to my eye. In some cases that could be the sky, in some cases it might be a foreground shape. I don't "always" do it a certain way. I don't want to be formulaic in the process or the result.  This might be to my detriment in that it makes for a continually moving, shifting of my work. Very often clients and or students will say, "Well, you've changed your palette". And I'm thinking to myself, well YES!! Isn't that what we do??

One way to start/ a grisalle underpaintings done with nupastel on Colorfix paper

Another way to start done with airbrush acrylics on Wallis paper
I totally understand that students want to figure out how to do things and its so much easier to wrap our heads around a set of steps to get to the end result. But the real answer is that there aren't any set steps but rather foundation skills to employ. If you know value, then you can start with your middle values and work out from there or you can start with your darkest darks and lightest lights. If you have a thumbnail sketch, your drawing and composition will be sound. If you know the elements of color, you can orchestrate color to convey mood and passion in your work. This is the stuff we focus on in my workshops along with that playful, curious attitude that leads to poetry in painting.  I'm always super open and excited to share by trying to tell just exactly how I go about doing any piece, but I love helping students realize that they already have their own unique voice, it's just a matter of bringing it out, making it louder, so we can hear it.

I'm currently in the process of exploring several new directions and have never found such deep satisfaction in my work or in the act of painting. After so many years it's deeply rooted in me to paint and for the first time, I feel like I'm mining my unconscious and letting intuition take over the work... I'm so invigorated by painting, I can barely sleep at night, the images are so strong. Surprises to share soon!!


David King said...

I love your attitude! Being more or less a beginner I can certainly understand the desire to understand "method" but I also love the fact that except for a few foundational concepts art requires no set method and in fact suffers from overuse of "method".

Sarah Bachhuber Peroutka said...

I enjoyed reading your thoughts and am excited to see what's to come!

Debbie said...

The spontaneity that comes from the loose underpainting is so freeing when creating a painting. I think that is what caught me the very first time I watched your demo video a few years ago. I knew then, that I had to be one of your students.

Marla said...

hi Marla, I'm another Marla. I am a total beginner with pastel, have done a burro and a baby calf. don't have a clue what I am doing. just had some pastel sets sitting in my studio, so decided to give it a whirl. I am an oil painter for many years but just wanted to try this. am thinking of taking a local pastel class, is this the best way or just go for it myself and get my feet wet, get the feel for it, then go to a class? thanks. Marla Smith

Casey Klahn said...

I love the airbrushed acrylics idea, Marla.

Kelly Marszycki said...

You are so right about the 'what if?' attitude. I remember reading about Helen Frankenthaler and her attitude of "stumbling" into a painting, of the clumsiness of it all -- love it! -- allows one the freedom to "err" (?!)