Sometimes I think it’s a good idea to get a bunch of recent work together and just look at it. To see what you notice.
So that’s what I’ve been doing.
Most of the recent pieces I’ve done have been flowers, from life where possible, and once or twice outside – kind of plein air still life.
Now, there’s an interesting thing that happens when you teach – or at least, it happens to me. I don’t know about other artists.
When I’m teaching, I’m always looking for where I think I can make the most difference to peoples’ skill levels. I’m looking for big picture things, where I think most of the people that learn with me can benefit – what I can give that will make the most difference to most people – to everyone, as much as I can.
And when I identify those things, they also become a focus for when I’m painting – often without me noticing.
So I find that, even when I don’t paint much because I’m too busy teaching, my work changes. I’d like to say it improves, but that’s a loaded term!
I’ll let other people decide what they think about that. Me, I just try to focus on moving forwards.
What I’ve been teaching lately is what I’ve come to term the Painter’s Perception – the term I’m using to describe the process of seeing shapes, values, relationships, colours, edges…instead of things.
Because I think that when we focus on things too much, we very often risk losing the big picture.
The relationships get out of whack. The edges end up all hard and unforgiving. The depth and life can go out of the work.
Now, I’ve always taught this to a greater or lesser degree. But just lately I’ve begun to have a much clearer focus on it, to actively look for ways to make it explicit in the teaching. To make sure people get it.
Of course it takes practice too. But I think I’ve been seeing a really positive dfifference in a lot of people’s work, especially in the last workshop. It was very exciting and inspiring to teach.
And what strikes me about the pieces I’ve done lately is that they all show a fairly noticeable focus on shape, value and relationships. And edges.
Of course that’s what we all think about, or at least what we know we should be thinking about. It’s all the stuff we know makes a difference. But I think often, we can forget to keep it at the top of our minds when we’re working.
When a painting runs away from you, it’s very often becasue you’ve become embroiled in the details, in the thingness of the things, and detail is very often the enemy of the big picture and keeping the relationships good.
I know this because it happens to me, and because I can see it when it happens to the people I have the privilege to teach.
So when I’m trying to come up with innovative ways to shock people out of their detail obsession, to see the big picture ALL the way through a piece, and to keep the temptation to obsess ovee inconsequential detail in check – well, it turns out I’m teaching myself too.
I’ll leave you with this work in progress shot of one I’m on with at the moment. I’ve just done the second session on it today, and I’ve been trying very hard to resist the tempotation to dive into the flowers, and to stay focused on the relationships and the big picture. Even after all this time painting, it’s still not easy. But I do think I’m getting there.
It’s actually easier to see when a painting is further away and in a small image like this – and in fact that’s a useful thing to do. Try taking a pic of your painting on your phone and making it really, really small. Then all you can see are the relationships, and you can see things that you might not otherwise.
It works with reference images too.
I hope that some of this resonates with you in some way, I hope it helps you to try to stay with the big picture and with the stuff that makes the most difference, especially at the beginning of a piece.
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