“Intuition is subjective and depends on … what you go after. Much of intuition is also related to memory and perception.” Albert Handell, Intuitive Composition, page 22
Instinctively knowing how an ink might behave, what adding that colour will do to the others … these individual snippets of knowledge are the building blocks, the muscle memory of intuition. Practising art techniques can improve your artistic intuition.
“When you paint things exactly as they are, you don’t show people anything they couldn’t see for themselves — you’re telling them what they already know.” Paul Strisk, The Art of Landscape Painting, page 34
It’s a game to play with a friend, to be somewhere, anywhere, and ask not “what do you see” but “tell me three things you see”. In a group, write it down, then share. Play it with yourself by closing your eyes, counting to ten and then seeing what pops up in your visual memory.
Some people look at things close by, others in the distance; how good your eyesight is and whether you wear glasses being factors too, of course. Some focus on details, some on colour. Sometimes a favourite thing will hold our attention, such as when I see foxgloves or daisies growing on a verge.
“But by correcting every flaw, you might lose the sparkle and vitality of the painting. In some indefinable way, the strangeness of the picture can often be a essential part of its charm.” Paul Strisk, The Art of Landscape Painting, page 71
Resist wiping up drips, covering every sliver of underpainting showing through, straightening a freehand horizon with a ruler … I’m sure you can think of other fixes that tidy things up but simultaneously add blandness rather than character to a painting.
Start by saving the ‘fixing’ until tomorrow, telling yourself you’re only leaving it for now not forever. Then look at it with fresh eyes and ask yourself not if it’s right or wrong but if it detracts or enhances. Call it quirkiness rather than flawed.
“I like to think of painting as a form of drawing. And drawing is a form of guessing followed by correction.” — James Gurney
Quit telling yourself a line has to be correct the first time, that you only get one go at it. You are allowed to change your mind, and probably should expect to. Treat it as you would seasoning in food, a starting point to be adjusted as ingredients are added and things develop.
It’s a Catch 22: we need self-confidence to pick ourselves up after failing (whatever form this takes), yet doing so does help our self-confidence. The fallacy is believing that winning (whatever form this takes) removes all doubts. Some doubts don’t change, others get replaced with new ones you didn’t previously know existed.
Aim to get better at embracing the uncertainty, and recognising that what you see of an artist’s work is but the tip of the iceberg. Learn to fail better.
Sunday morning, studio cat Ghost and I are sitting in the chair listening to Beethoven’s ninth and the birdsong, reading a ‘new’ book that arrived from a secondhand bookshop in the States.
I like these older books because they tend to have more in them, more thoughts and less how-to broken down to the nth. While the photos may be black and white, they’re full of gems that require “reading with a pencil”. Like this:
“If your work is original and if it draws deeply both from your imagination and from the world around you, your work will continue to have relevance. Take your inspiration first from your own experience. If you want to get fired up by the art of others, look at artists of the past or from other cultures, not your close contemporaries.” — James Gurney
Experience need not be far-flung. How long didn’t Monet paint his pond?
One of the hardest things for me when asked “what do you think of my painting” is not to hesitate too long before replying because this delay is invariably taken as a sign that I think it’s terrible rather than I’m thinking. Saying “let me gather my thoughts” to gain a few more seconds doesn’t reassure either.
We all want people to like our paintings, to be intrigued by them at least. Be patient and let someone have time to look.
While you’re waiting, think of a different question to ask. Be a bit more specific than “do you like it?” or “what do you think?”. Perhaps about something new you tried, the colour choices, how it fits with your other paintings. Start the conversation.
“When your utmost goal is simply to get better, all failures and successes are temporary because you will forever improve, given more time and more practice. You don’t define yourself by any single moment in time; you define yourself by an entire body of work in service of ongoing growth and development. Your pursuit ceases to be something you are aiming for and becomes a part of who you are.” — Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness 6 Principles to Crush in Life Without Burning Out
Don’t compare your paintings to last week’s, but to last year’s. Don’t destroy drawings that are unsatisfactory until at least a week has past, ideally more. Some will be as dire as you thought at the time, others will surprise you pleasantly or you’ll be in a mindset to see what they taught you.
“We often think of drawing as something that takes innate talent, but this kind of thinking stems from our misclassification of drawing as, primarily, an art form rather than a tool for learning.
“…Human beings have been drawing for 73,000 years. It’s an inextricable part of what it means to be human. We don’t have the strength of chimpanzees because we’ve given up brute strength to manipulate subtle instruments, like hammers, spears, and — later — pens and pencils.” — Matt Davis, Why drawing isn’t just an art