(and how to find yours)
I probably should have provided a video for this, and maybe someday I will, but it will take weeks to make this video because of the time spent making a painting. Not that it’s physically some long, involved process, but sometimes it’s a long mental/emotional one. So how do I paint what I paint? When I first started painting, my process was to choose a positive word/feeling, really focus on it – do whatever I could to get into that feeling place – and then paint. This is where all of my big oil paintings came from. Now some time has passed, I’ve stopped using oil paint, switched to acrylics, and have a different intention with my work.
I should note that MY definition of process and style are almost interchangeable.
process (prō-, -səs) noun :
the steps (or decisions) I make that lead to a finished painting that come from my personal preferences.
style (stī(-ə) noun: my personal preferences
These can be in any order, but it becomes my style because I repeat these decisions/steps in every work, over and over and over using my preferences.
If we were both asked to paint an apple, you would paint it very differently to me, even if we were given the exact same materials. Maybe you would collage it. Maybe you would abstract it. Maybe you would turn it into pop art. YOUR preferences/decisions determine your style. That’s it. There’s no secret club that artists belong to that hands out a style. There’s no style fairy that visits you while you sleep and infuses your body with style dust. The fastest way to get there is to look at a LOT of paintings. You are going to find there are things you LOVE immediately. They make you feel something exciting. It could be the color palette. Or maybe you like drips or texture or minimal paint strokes. Maybe you like ink instead of thick paint. Every time you see a work that makes your heart jump, identify what specifically you are drooling over and write it down. Keep a list – this will help you if you get stuck too.
The How: I follow my preferences.
- Remember from my previous post that there is always an overall intention to MY paintings. (this is one of my preferences. You don’t have to have one)
- I found that one of the many things I love in artwork is texture. I LOVE texture. I want people to want to run their hand across my painting. I begin every single painting with very heavy gesso. (like in the first photo above). I use a plastic bag, a comb, a palette knife, a toothpick… all kinds of stuff really to create texture in the gesso. I really like lines of all sizes and thickness, (another preference of mine) so a lot of those went in there. Then I let it dry for a couple of days. I never use a hair dryer to speed it up (another preference).
- Now it’s time to PLAY! This particular painting that I am showing in the photos was inspired by one of my favorite artists who uses pink and green a LOT in her work. I had never made a pink and green painting so I thought why not start off that way? I grabbed some green and some pink and started applying it. I had never, until this painting, (this will probably sound shocking to many of you) applied paint using a wet paint brush, so I tried it here. I let the paint mingle. I grabbed a toothpick and pulled the paint along into all of the texture I had created. Because I had a wet brush, I did a wash. I watched what was happening on the canvas and if something looked interesting, I did more of it. if two colors mixed together and I liked it, I tried to create more of it. This layer is really anything goes. I know it’s not a finished product, I know it’s about getting color on the canvas in interesting ways and just following what feels good/fun. BUT, paint is always applied based on my preferences. Unless I’ve seen some new way to do something and I want to try that, this is where I do it.
- After that layer has dried, I take a good look at it and decide what parts I like and don’t like and let that inform my next steps. I felt everything was too linear at this stage (the photo that’s missing, sorry!). I really like the mixture of straight lines and organic shapes and I liked the wash I had done and wondered “what if I added an organic shape with more intense color?” I immediately remembered that I had magenta acrylic ink and poured it directly on the canvas. It comes with a little eye dropper and I thought it would be fun to draw with it so I did that too. I’m constantly asking myself questions. Although sometimes the painting talks and says “put this here.” I LOVE when that happens. Another preference of mine is to not force or push things. If I am out of questions/ideas (or I really needed to wait for things to dry before I could continue), I walked away and let it dry. Some artists believe in pushing through – and that works for them – my preference is to leave it and come back with fresh eyes another day.
- The above continues until I feel (and this is the key word here, it really is about how it feels) like I have enough color and a balance of shapes on the canvas and now it’s screaming at me. Now it’s not about just throwing paint at the canvas and making a mess because things will come through the layers (things peeking through layers of paint is another of my preferences/loves)
- Now that I feel like my painting is sufficiently noisy and there are areas that I really like (these are those detail areas that you have to be up close to the painting to see) it’s time to start quieting it down. White is my preferred quiet color. Another preference of mine is applying the paint thickly and scraping it back with a catalyst wedge.
- I add and subtract paint, letting areas come through. Add some white, add some color. Add some more white, add some more color. It’s a dance of back and forth, layer after layer, preference after preference, until I have what I’ve decided is a finished painting! *can you see why I haven’t filmed this? I don’t paint in a way that happens in one session. I can spend weeks asking “what if” questions to move a painting forward, sometimes only making ONE mark on the canvas and I step away.*
I will make another blog post to talk about how I decide when a painting is finished. I do hope my process/style definitions and description have helped you! I know that I felt like an artistic failure/imposter when I thought that I didn’t have my style and felt like it might never come. Once I understood that no one would love the EXACT same things that I love in painting, I never worried again. Not to be repetitive, but I know a lot of new artists struggle with this. So here is my perfect analogy: You and I could go to the grocery store and buy the same ingredients, but the way you and I would cook things, and the order we ate them in throughout the week would always be different. So go look at a lot of art, figure out what is exciting to you, try it out in a new painting and you might find that it becomes part of your style!