Nobody does it like you
Sally Schisler offers this as a topic for discussion, "Hows about a discussion on being original in our paintings? Do you ever feel like you've looked at so many other talented artists' work that it would be impossible to filter out their content or style of painting when executing your own pieces? Particularly when it's the style of painting that you're after because you love it so much?" and "Furthermore, did you ever suffer from ending up with the same general composition over and over again?" I gotta say, after my last post about Eric Aho and that great painting blog site, I got all twisty and fuddled. I rolled up into a big ball of angst and confusion about who I am and what to do next. It came from looking at all the beautiful work on that one site; landscapes, urbanscapes, still lifes with trash, the figure, the figure with trash, interiors, interiors with trash and almost everyone of the paintings I wish I had done. It kind of kicked me in the solar plexus and took all my mojo. "Crap! Someone has painted a giant trash landscape of epic dimension... I always wanted to do that and now I can't". But, I'm better now and it's because I remember the wise words of my great friend and fellow artist Lynn Whipple who says, "But, they won't paint it like you", whenever we have this very conversation, which is frequently.
Think about it, and this goes straight to the artist's voice, how many landscapes have been painted? Same stuff, different artist and yet I will eagerly look at a roomful of the same thing from different points of view because I am interested in how each artist sees and translates, composes and, most importantly, handles the paint. How many songs have been written? And there are, what, 5 scales and a few octaves and only so many notes, yet every song is different. Okay I don't know a thing about music but you know what I'm saying. 26 letters in the alphabet and you can sure arrange them in wonderful and unique ways. What separates us creatively often comes down to the most subtle of nuances. Sally (from the first paragraph... SC link at right) works primarily with a palette knife and has a beautiful and unique voice. Even if she were in a show of the Landscape Palette Knife Painters Association of the World, her work would still shine through... because nobody paints them like she does.
The trick, I'm thinkin, is in three things; the idea, the voice and the method. We used to say in advertising that the idea is king, there's nothing worse than fluff without form. The idea of something isn't just "I'm going to paint a barn" it should be bigger, like "I want to explore this field with the barn in it, use the geometric shapes of the barn against the soft forms of the trees, hard versus soft... play with shapes and space." And when you are working out an idea, just one won't do it. One painting scratches the surface. Do a series to really figure it out. The first solution in a series is rarely the best anyway. Jaime Morris, who is a coacher of writers (see on writing link at right), says in the comments of the last post "It's as if it's OUR material to work with--until we've resolved it". A list of artists to consider for this series idea includes Wayne Theibaud (cakes and gumball machines), Georgia O'keefe (flowers), Lucien Frued (the figure), Ernest Blumenschein (New Mexico landscape) and Monet (haystacks and water lillies).
The voice is made of a myriad of things, all mentioned before in previous posts, but to recap: drawing, color, shape, composition etc. And the last is the method, the handling of the medium goes a long way to separate one from the next, from thinly painted and tight to layers and layers of thick, impasto, staccato strokes. From hard edges to lost edges. Some say that it's really this thing that makes one artist different from the next, but i say it's all three.
So carry on and make it work as Tim Gun says. Don't let anything that has gone before you stay you from your course. And as for the other thing about repeating compositions... that's next. Thanks Sally.