Sunday, June 13, 2010

Horizons - Sky's the limit! Part Two

This post specifically directs itself towards further examining and applying the second possible application for the term "Horizons" to creating one's art. As I previously suggested... "extending the limits, scope and knowledge"... or "horizons" of one's own creative ability and potential can only take place when one is open to risk making changes in one's process and thinking.

The first step in achieving this goal is to look carefully and objectively at the process you currently work with... identifying the "hallmarks" of your style... preferred mediums... the genres, or subject matter that you feel most comfortable with... sizes or formats that you feel comfortable using... reference materials you work from... even the artists and friends you admire and allow to influence direction(s) in your work.

If you consider these "attributes" of your process objectively... a pattern will likely emerge which best describes your working process. It is not necessary to create a change for the sake of change alone. Make a change if, and only if.. you feel a strong need "within" to make one. I often do this when I feel myself..."running out of gas"... or enthusiasm... for the act of painting. Some might call it a "painter's block".

I deliberately choose a "change of pace"... a change selected from any of the "attributes" mentioned above in my own painting process.IE doing a lino cut for a few days... therefore undertaking a change of medium. This change forces "Me" away from my oil painting preferences... and forces "Me" to use a very different vocabulary for my picture making. Simply working en plein air is usually the most effective way for me to recharge my batteries... and to regain my enthusiasm and fresh new ideas. Any one of the "attributes can become the focus of a change... and from it comes new experience and learning... not only about the medium, or your process... but more importantly... about "You"- the Creator!

My latest painting project is a very large 36x48 inch commission for an interior designer and their clients. It originates from one of the five "Lilac Series" panels from the last few posts. The series arose when I "chained together" dissimilar ideas or sketches based upon a common theme. I had not planned to complete a large canvas from any of them at this juncture... but it "happened"... simply because I had "shuffled the deck" and created a focus that excited 'Me" to think "outside of the box"... and theme..."Lilacs". It obviously struck a similar chord with the clients.

The large canvas derives from the sketch "Barriefield Village at Lilac Time" on a 10x12 inch panel. Since this subject lined up with my usual landscape interest... I could easily apply my usual process of "moving-from-small-to-large" with ease. I chose to work on my usual burnt sienna acrylic toned ground... but began with a looser initial "searching" for shape and design. I added darker accents with the burnt sienna to accurately create a good drawing and then blocked in masses broadly with only approximate value interests. I began the real painting... by pushing and pulling tones and values in all areas the painting simultaneously to create unity and coherence in the overall design.

It was at this juncture that my usually dependable process seemed to be
"missing the mark" somehow... and I became increasingly frustrated and disinterested in the painting as a whole. The painting surface and mood was too "quiet"... so I stopped painting and set it aside for two days... only visiting it in the early mornings and late evenings to "look" at it... all the time hoping to discover something to rekindle my enthusiasm.

This morning... it struck "Me" that it completely lacked any texture. So I decided to take drastic action... one out of the ordinary for "Me" in my usual comfort zone. I took up a palette knife... laid out a very huge amount of titanium white... mixed it to fit the paint colour on the sunlit part of the road. But I intentionally lifted the value much higher and I worked with an "alla prima" abandon... creating a higher key and very impasto texture... in contrast to what I had accomplished earlier using my usual "big brush approach". The effect was immediately uplifting for "Me"... and the canvas took on new life and vitality! I believe that this excitement comes out of the contrast between "the quiet"... and the "alla prima" techniques... side-by-side.

"I" am... "back in the saddle again!"... eager to continue... thanks to a calculated risk... and the addition of a new strategy for enhancing a "quiet" painting!

The old adage "A change is sometimes better than a rest" sums up what I am trying to present in this example. Rather than abandoning your painting process... being driven into discouragement and inaction... Step back! Evaluate! Try another activity!... Set a new course that encourages success and doesn't wallow in defeat.

Early morning coffee "alone" in the quiet of my studio... with my creative Self has on more than many occasions given "Me" insights, solutions and new directions in those fallow periods. Often I "sip n' read" my way through old sketchbooks and I often stumble upon a hidden kernel... waiting to be fertilized and grown into reality.

Just some ideas folks! We ALL travel the same or "parallel" artistic paths... in different locations and under slightly different circumstances perhaps... but we suffer the same uncertainties... have life intrude and impose upon our creative spirits and energies and often are paralyzed by self-doubt.

Take joy in the fact that "You" are not... "alone" in this struggle. Know too... that nothing worthwhile can occur in life ... except through personal struggle. Adversity is the greatest teacher... and lessons learned from this process build character and lifelong positive change.

Good Painting to All!!!

PS Horizon... Sky's the Limit Part Three... will examine the term "horizon" from the perspective of travel... and how travel through its broadening influence and exposure to new cultural and physical landscape... broadens the scope and limits of one's artistic process.

Stay tuned for my next travel-influenced posting... featuring my new plein sketches from around St Andrew's, Scotland... where I will be celebrating my daughter Allison's receiving her PhD in Art History. "I" have done some preliminary scouting... and have a few choice painting destinations already in my cross hairs.

New Horizon..... much anticipated!


  1. I find myself awed by the layering and buildup of colors to create such a vibrant painting. So well done!

  2. Thank "You" Autumn for dropping by again...and for the gracious compliment... but there is nothing to cause "awe" really.

    The trick is to build up the layers slowly using a glazing technique... thinning the pigment using a medium (in my own case Liquin Gel).

    This makes the pigment "flow" transparently and allows immediate reworking because the Liquin speeds up the drying process substantially... permitting the underpainting to peek through... causing a glow.

    It is slow work indeed... but the overall result makes the effort worthwhile..."I" think!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,

  3. Good Morning Bruce,

    Couldn't get to your blog sooner. Family and life has a way to take top priority. Thank you for sharing your process and thoughts. I have learned so much from you Bruce.

    Next week I will attempt the acrylic toned panel and also work from one of my plein air smaller paintings.

    Have a great day.
    Warmest regards to you,

  4. Good Morning Back to "You" Joan!... "You" have your priorities right my Dear!

    "I" will be anxious to see what "You" come up with using the plein air-toned panel combination! "I" think that you will find that they will work well for you!

    Good Luck with it... and Good painting!Be back to you next week when I am back from Scotland!

    Warmest regards,