pinned down

‘St Ives’ watercolour painting

We’ve been talking about subject matter. As an artist, is it important to stick to just one or is it ok to dabble in several?

Some artists are well known because they paint boats, or they paint nudes, or they paint still life and that is what they become recognised for. But in obtaining an audience or following, is it necessary to pin ourselves down to just one subject?

I thought about this and decided that for myself personally, the answer was ‘no’.

I know that because of my inner nature, I am always seeking to create something inspirational and I know I cannot do that if my subject is becoming stale and boring…if Im bored then my audience becomes bored – how can one create a work of art that shimmers with inspired spirit if the artist in question is tired of their endless bowls of fruit or weary looking nudes?

Surely this is reflected in the spirit of the painting?

I go through seasons of painting – I enjoy landscapes, nudes and figurative work, the occasional still life has found its way into my portfolio and I am currently relishing work of a more illustrative nature.

If I limited myself to one subject I would not be allowing myself to grow as an artist, to explore new terrain and develop and polish my style.

I love working with acrylics, but I favour landscape work for this medium over the watercolour and inks I would choose for my illustrative work. Having a subject range to choose from lets me play happily with different mediums too.

But aside from all this, I must acknowledge that I know of many good artists who are out selling and exhibiting who work constantly with just one subject. Perhaps it is because they never cease to tire of the scenery that they paint, or are in a continuous love affair with the fascinating contours of the human body…whatever the reason, I think it comes down to the personal whims of the inner spirit and what keeps you feeling alive as an artist, you as well as your work.

As long as an artist is creating authentically, from the soul, and letting her own true nature show itself on the paper, on the canvas or in the clay, I dont think there are any real rules to follow as to what you should and shouldn’t be creating.

I dont feel that you should limit yourself as an artist through fear of losing an audience either – where you may lose some of your original following for taking the brave steps to embrace new subject matter, you are inevitably going to pick up more supporters of your new work along the way so that would not pose a problem for me personally.

And if anyone out there is reading this with a slight ball of fear in their belly at the thought of diving into a new area of work then listen:

We only have to turn our gaze to some of the great masters themselves, to see that they successfully played with many subjects ~ Van Gogh painting landscapes, self portraits and still life with such a distinctive style, there was no way his varying subjects could ever have been mistaken for anyone elses.

Keep your art authentic, own your talent and let it shine through whatever you do.

Inspired Style

Suffolk Punch – Commission piece 2006
This week Im writing about a subject that has given me pause for thought after a good in depth discussion with my dear artist friend Niki Jackson.
The subject is finding our style.
What makes us different to the countless other artists who are out there drawing the same landscapes as us, the same subject matter as us. What defines us from them?
We spoke about being inspired by other artists, and how we have both tried to emulate and ‘be’ that other – it proved detrimental to both of us I hasten to say, we felt the work we created lacked depth and appeared lacklustre in comparisson to work we created when we were being authentic. Copying what someone else has done, for example in a class, can often feel like a struggle or perhaps doesnt come out the way we want it to because we are trying too hard to do what the artist in front of us is showing us – we are not working from our authentic self, we are trying to be something we are not, expecting to recreate exactly the same type of work as they have. It leaves us feeling let down inside, not very good – ‘hell I cant even paint, whats the point I cant draw this Im giving up art forever!!!!’ (-kidding-)
However…
If we attend a workshop/class with the intention of learning new ways of creating art but in our own style, we are going to have a lot of fun with it.
Copying and emulating others limits the flow of our own perfect potential as an artist.
‘A fragment from At the Beach – 2008’

Being authentic means creating from within, following the path that feels good to you, painting or sculpting, drawing or printing what makes you feel alive.

Having an authentic style of your own, doesn’t mean pinning yourself down to one type of material or subject matter – if you are true to your self, your style will shine through and be identifiable as yours.

You might ask 10 artists to draw the same scene, and I can guarantee that you would get 10 completely different paintings or works of art from them.

The beautiful thing about being an artist is that nobody will ever do anything the way you do it! They may try and copy your way of working, but it wont look the same because its not been done in an authentic way…nobody will ever see it exactly the way you have, its what makes you unique, this is what your style is!

The two works I show here are vastly different in medium and overall style, as in when you look at them you can see that one style is a lifelike reproduction of a shire horse and the other style is a more illustrative one. The shire horses were a commission piece for a wonderful gentleman in Suffolk and were painted in acrylic, the illustration was worked in watercolour, ink and crayon.

I leave it to you, my reader to determine whether or not you would distinguish them to be by the same artist or not, and perhaps some of you would say they were and others would say not.

But I know that when I created both of these pieces they were done authentically, I worked in my own style and the work felt good.

I think this is something that Im going to come back to again sometime, its a trap I sometimes fall into myself and this will be a great reminder to myself to keep it simple, to work from the heart.

In progress

I found myself without a clue what to do after an idea Id cradled in my mind for the last few days just wouldn’t translate to paper the way I wanted it to…such is the life of a painter (sigh).
I began drawing randomly (after a cup of tea and 100 cadbury chocolate fingers to console myself), and ended up with half a design for a Get Well card – it may not turn into anything more than what it is now but it seems to be unfolding nicely all things considered.
I keep going back to it, adding bits with watercolour crayon – so it still has the chance to blossom into a finished piece….god ive got so many unfinished pieces lurking about, I found one whilst hunting out a certain watercolour block and it was something I did whilst living on the Isle of Wight a few summers ago, a large canvas painted in a deep and serene blue with a spiralling shoal of golden fish, from big to small as they swam into the infinite ultramarine of the deep. Some of the fish had been rendered with a golden medium that lent a shimmer to their orangey yellow bodies – I wondered why the hell Id never finished that piece because it would have been awesome. Thing is, I know its something that will probably never be touched again, but something inside prevents me from throwing it out for the dustman…
I wonder what prevents us completing the journey of every painting?
Maybe its just the way I am – I tire easily of something that quickly becomes mundane…too often have I found fresh enthusiasm for a new idea whilst in the midst of a project that all too soon has become dull and lacklustre in comparison with what lies, tantilisingly, ahead of me.
The taste of anticipation is a beautiful flavour, and I admit that I am often seduced by the idea rather than what is actually involved.
Maybe this is the essence of an artist…maybe it is this that compells us to create, this taste of anticipation, the excitement of new inspiration that teases us away from our loyal subject matter. Maybe if we didnt experience those feelings we would never create art from the soul – it would be mechanical and lacking in spirit, there would be no essence in a painting that was done by a bored artist who felt that they had to complete a piece simply because they had started it.
Maybe its all part of the journey.
Finding our way as creative pioneers, discovering our own true style and finding deep within the stuff that makes us tick.