Practice vs. Painting

I have said many times that I am a technique painter. Always have been and always will be. I am not a talented painter and it takes hundreds of paintings for me to catch a concept. I have probably painted over 700 paintings with birds. At least 30 this year so far and I will be painting many more for sure. Many of them I don’t show. I paint for myself to learn concepts, practice techniques and advance my skills.  I also paint pieces to teach concepts.  I practice a lot. I approached this painting with a different mindset and it shows in the bird. I have painted her many times before in different positions.   The flycatchers nest at our house and I so enjoy watching them raise the little ones. So I have practiced her several times. So much so I can see her shapes and feathers with my eyes closed. That is the key. You must be able to see the subtle color tones, feather movements and edges with your eyes closed. That takes repetition or talent. I use repetition. Do I have talent? No, I have a gift. My gift is I never quit. My gift is I will practice until I understand it. I never say I can’t do it. I will do it, it just take practice and time. I paint her with a technique. A technique that I have used on hundreds of paintings. She has warm and color tones. Look to the subtle tone changes in her head and down her body. The feathers are applied with a larger brush and very few strokes through thick…thick paint. This gives the power to the color that John Sargent talks about. Smaller color tones are painted in and painted out around the face to give the details. This is a technique I use when I want the extra “spark” in a subject whether it is a bird or a rose.

Practice helps me see. Repetition gives me confidence. How do you make those powerful feather strokes with the body feathers over the wing? You have done them so many times that it is nothing to you. When it is no big deal, then you have the confidence and it does show in your brush. Each stroke is applied with the direction of the body in mind. Each feather area is stroked with the knowledge of the feathers. Smaller feathers around the beak and eyes and larger ones in the wing and mantle. You can’t paint confidently by copying, you paint confidently by understanding. For me that takes practice. I can copy a painting, but it doesn’t have the life and energy that shows when I understand it. This is why I like fast painting studies. I am a big advocate of them. They force you to practice the concepts, shapes and tones over and over again until you can see them in your sleep. Then, you can paint confidently. I know now that the most important tool in painting for me is temperature. I am a temperature painter and when I add more of that to the paintings, I like them more. I know I must look for the color temperature in all my paintings and make sure I add them. They are techniques. It is practice. Anyone can paint.   It is like cooking. I remember watching my grandmother make a pot of soup once and she used the palm of her hand to measure salt. Wow, how do you know that is the correct amount? Making many pots of soup. Of course when I made it I followed a recipe, then used a teaspoon to measure. After a few hundred pots of soup and especially since I didn’t have time I learned that the hand can certainly do it and it doesn’t have to be exactly perfect to be delicious. Same with paintings….. An area doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful. Art embraces change and variation.  Have a great day creating!

Becoming a Better Artist

Being an Artist…….

Today I read something about work ethic that I think really applies to what I am doing as an artist. It was about Jerry Sienfeld. Sienfeld took a calendar and marked a red X each day he did some writing. Writing jokes was his job. He said the X on the calendar became a chain and that chain must not be broken. This habit he attributes to his success. I would say making 300 million is one year is pretty successful. The more he did it, the more he observed other things and the better his skills.

The point is the chain and observation. He found it easier to write if he did it every day.   I find it easier to paint if I do it every day.   The other thing is change. As I am painting and trying new things, my techniques and the way I present a painting is changing. I have said this many times. To learn to paint a beautiful rose, you must paint water and landscapes. You “see” them different but they don’t have to be.

Art is about brush movements. I study clouds here in Nebraska. It changed the way I painted roses. It changed the way I paint birds last year.   I wrote of the best bird books I feel I have done when I came here and studied the wind blowing over the short grass prairie. It changed the way I paint water. The more things you study, the better at observation you are. Observation is the key to being an artist.   I may discover while painting clouds a new technique that I can use on roses to give new looks. I may discover while painting a rose a great way to create an illusion in a landscape. It is about observation and that is a skill you must refine. You refine it by forcing yourself to “see” other things and by doing it every day.

Tomorrow, I will paint different. I will create some new ways to capture an image. I will create new brushwork because I am studying different things that change me and I am routinely doing this everyday to refine my skills. My goal is to paint different and advance my skills.

In the photo above, you can see the transparency. It is an illusion. The illusion can be used in one way on a rose and another way on water. Many times I will use different techniques to create this illusion form direct painting, negative painting to back painting.   I practice these everyday so my observational skills increase and so does my brushwork.

This week I was painting prairie grass, writing a seascapes book and this morning I painted a new look to roses that I really love. I mean really love! What changed me….. trying to capture prairie grass completely changed the way I see roses. Undertones are so important to the grasses in the prairie, so I tried it on the roses…WOW.. Amazing. Now I knew about undertones since studying the Dutch techniques, but I really never saw them in this way until I tried to capture the short grass in the wind. Time for another book… 🙂

Painting everyday increases my observational skills. So does painting different things. I am going to get a calendar and mark an X each day I paint something. Anything.   That is my goal. To make an unbroken chain and see where it leads me. Have a great painting day!