In the Broadway play, Red, the actor portraying Mark Rothko says to his assistant, “Painting is 90% thinking and 10% doing.” In fact, even while the theater guests are seating themselves, the Rothko character is already seated in a chair opposite a very large painting. He remains deep in contemplation for at least 10-15 minutes until the play begins. This pre-opening scene effectively illustrates the commitment to “thinking” portrayed by Rothko. The play continues by examining the numerous struggles that belie what we perceive to be the very successful career of an iconic artist.
Like Rothko, we struggle to constantly evaluate the “inspiration” for our compulsion to paint a particular subject. Most of us are inclined to get lost in the details of a rendered object or the beauty of a particular color relationship and in that enamored moment get distracted from the task of portraying the dynamic impact of our inspiration. So, how do we stay focused?
Stepping away is how to stay focused. We need to emulate Mark Rothko’s character by literally, stepping back from the easel. Situate a chair across the room from your easel and invest time in constructive and honest examination of your progress. Set a timer if necessary to remind yourself to step back from your painting.
Most artists juggle a myriad of distractions in their lives; family, jobs, domestic demands, community involvement, etc. Inevitably, when we finally find time to paint, we attack the opportunity with a blind ambition. Take the time to reflect. Contemplation is even more productive than application. Give value to the time needed to intellectually resolve painting problems before physically applying a solution. The creative process takes a great deal of thinking; “90% thinking and 10% doing.” Mandate time to contemplate. It is not time wasted.
Quick study #1 for Allen Farm View
Quick study #3 for Allen Farm View
Quick study #2 for Allen Farm View
There are no shortcuts to becoming a better artist. You can read all the books and attend all the demonstrations, but practice is the most efficient discipline toward improving your artwork. The theory in effect is the “10,000-Hour Rule”, based on a study by Anders Ericsson, who is widely recognized as one of the world’s leading theoretical and experimental researchers on expertise. In Ericsson’s study, subjects demonstrated significant improvement in their skill based on the number of hours dedicated to deliberate practice.Talent is often credited with a creative individual’s success. But talent is only a small part of the successful formula. Practice, or 10,000 hours, is the catalyst that separates the good tennis player from the great tennis player, or the good musician from the great musician. A talent or a great passion for a subject drives the inspired artist to keep working toward a better image. That passion allows the artist to persevere and to eventually invest 10,000 hours toward proficiency.
Therefore, if you want to become a better painter, then paint more and more and more. Suspend the desire for a “product” and press on for a more succinct message. Make studies, studies and more studies until you create the study that reveals the best possible resolution for your inspiration. Do not settle for the first draft if there is the possibility for a more compelling painting. Occasionally, you may stumble upon an easy and successful result, but if you want a consistent body of work, be patient, and be resolute. Invest 10.000 hours and you will be rewarded.
THE VALUE OF STUDIES, THE STUDY OF VALUES
Maturity has taught me that executing quick studies is the most important tool gained from over 35+ years of painting. As an “immature” artist, I thought that I neither needed, nor had the time to create studies prior to executing a painting. However, experience is a great teacher. I now know that studies are the “hall pass” to depart from the predictable and to run wild! Studies are the permission slip to take risks and explore all of the possibilities!
I highly recommend the implementation of studies if you wish to s-t-r-e-t-c-h yourself as an artist. The practice is low risk and high yield.
My current method involves using small pieces of paper or board (approximately 4”x 6”). I invest a mere five minutes to explore the opportunities in each visual idea. Initially, the simple pencil thumbnail sketch explores the painting’s composition and value pattern. Once determined, I move on to various color schemes for the imagery. Within ten to fifteen minutes you can try out three or four different possibilities from one composition.
Studies can be executed in any medium that can be quickly applied to small boards or papers. I use pastels because I can get rich color statements in only a few minutes. Once executed, the color studies are posted where I can see and contemplate them for several days (or weeks or months) until I commit to the one that best communicates the visual and emotional impact desired.
Next time I’ll explore practice, or “10,000 hours”. Stay tuned
Having just viewed the Matisse exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I am even more committed to the practice of the search for “True Painting”. The Matisse exhibit features not only numerous versions of a single idea but also a photographic record of at least 8 iterations of what became one of his iconic paintings. The exhibit reveals that Matisse questioned, repainted and reevaluated his work. In his own words, Matisse wanted to “push further and deeper into true painting”. Seeing the exhibit made me realize that Matisse also struggled with composition, color, line and ultimately the fine tuning of the final image. Whew! It’s not just me!
Like Matisse, (and I feel audacious to compare myself) I begin every painting with an idea, a concept, a message I want to convey. The process begins with the quest to tell that particular story. I have found quick studies to be the most effective vehicle to hone the idea down to it’s most concise visual message.
The initial study is a very basic drawing in a sketchbook addressing the question of composition. I explore various arrangements of shapes and values with a goal to find a solution that offers balance and flow. Sometimes I end up with several versions of the design that include vertical or horizontal options with either a low or a high horizon lines. Once a composition is formatted in pencil, I begin to address the color options with more studies.
More about color studies in the next post.
It’s a new year and it’s time to start a blog! My plan is to post thoughts on my current methods, inspirations and struggles in this world of art.
At this point in my art life, I have learned that a creative goal focused on taking risks toward expressing a succinct idea is more effective than the goal of producing a “product” (as in a finished painting). It’s similar to the goal of “excellence vs success” idea. And, the best method to hone the inspired message to it’s most fundamental, is by creating studies. The implementation of studies is the most valuable lesson of my 30+ years of painting. Go figure. Hard to believe that it took me over 30 years to recognize the obvious! More about the why and how of studies in the next blog. Stay tuned…