The war on stuck
Eisenhower by yours truly
Kathleen wrote and pondered these things, "I'm feeling "stuck", and thought you might have some grain that might be fruitful for me... Its not about finding things to paint, and its not about making the time to paint. Its about direction. And she goes on to ask these 3 questions:
1. How to push through the frustrating feeling of painting for marketability or what we "think" might be marketable, vs what we really love, if they differ 2. How to combine the discipline of drawing with the freedom of expression--restraint vs. looseness? (ie Daniel Pinkham) 3. How to be influenced by other's art without mimicing (how many times have all of we designers looked through magazines for inspiration--)
First read a couple of books that deal with this topic, Art & Fear by David Bayles and the War of Art by Steven Pressfield, the former is more to the point. So the issue isn't about what to paint but how to paint it (though the what to paint thing is a whole nuther topic, one informs the other). The issue is about finding your voice as an artist.
Under what not to do is flip through a copy of American Art Collector to see the vast amounts of sameness. Just because it's in a magazine doesn't make it good and certainly doesn't mean it sells. Also under wntd is don't pick someone you admire and mimic, it's just not you. You can glean stuff from popular artists but stealing is stealing and it will leave you hollow. Plus how can you be a first rate you if you are busy being a second rate somebody else? If you are going to study artists, go to New York or any major metro area and hit the museums, see all of it, not just the landscape section. Find the stuff the really appeals to you and ask why. What is it about this artist that really speaks to you, that's a good place to start.
In the realm of representational art there are 7 elements the comprise the individual voice of the creator: drawing, shape & form, palette (color,value,key), technique (paint application, brushwork, etc), surface, edge, and content (what is the message). Each of these items take years to flesh out. It takes some people a lifetime to find or evolve their voice and some lucky bastards come out of the womb with it. I'll put up a few of my favorites to make my point.
My best advice is this, do 100 to 500 small paintings. Cut up canvas or heavy watercolor paper sealed with gesso or PVA, tape off the same sized window and get to it. Your real, true voice only comes from doing. And if you are all caught up on what will sell, you are pre-carting the horse. Play with shape, color, edge, composition. Experiment with abstract, wash, palette knife, layers, glazes, put small rocks in it, whatever. John Burton did 100 5x5 paintings to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Arizona. He said the growth that came from that alone was invaluable, you could see it in his work. And while you are at it divide up that number and do series on an idea... really work it out. You must go through the top layers of stuff to get down to the deep bottom of the sea yummy stuff.
Paint stuff you really care about and paint stuff that you could care less about, you can learn from both. As for really getting inspired for new directions, don't just go to the Metropolitan Museum, go to the MOMA and the Whitney, then go to the Design district and find the stores with the cool handmade wallpapers, then go to the flea market, stop by a biker bar on your way back. Go somewhere you have never been. Next time you think, man, I should paint that old dilapidated outdoor movie screen at night, do it. Or, that art deco wallpaper is really blowin up my skirt, figure out how to incorporate it. If it moves you, paint it, and paint it like no one will ever see it. Lose the fear.
The people who are the standouts are the ones who don't imitate.
And don't let sales influence you too much. If you need to do some doggy portraits or romantic sunset paintings to pay the bills, fine. But chasing what sells is a killer. What sells is the voice AND a large, consistent body of work. And color.