“Art is about more than the creation of beauty; it demonstrates an enthusiasm for life, which is contagious.
“Spreading some of that enthusiasm around is the artist’s contribution to the world.” Christopher Gallego, Painting Perceptions interview, 1 November 2012
Infectious enthusiasm is the name of the game. Let’s spread it around, starting with ourselves.
[Edited 6 April 2020 to add: I wrote this Monday Motivator in January when I was writing ahead in anticipation of being at Higham Hall for my workshop. The words feel quite different today reading them whilst in covid-19 lockdown.]
The Pre-Raphaelites show us how beautiful detail can be, but used it with a strong focal point, leading us into a painting to gently discover more and more. Don’t give everything equal weight or importance, otherwise we don’t know where to start looking.
This painting by Millais is dominated by the blue dress and the orange stool. Large, striking shapes of strong colour that pull you in immediately, straight to the figure.
Your eye probably next went to her face, and then left towards the light rather than right into the shadow.
The dark in the top righthand corner and floorboards provide other reprieves from detail until you start looking more closely.
How many leaves do you count? Do they make you wonder where they came from, if there’s an open window to the left of the scene? Taking your mind outwidth the painting.
Learning about different art styles painters have created, and trying different approaches, are all part of the journey of discovering what you enjoy the most and developing your own painting. This list outlines major art styles from most realistic to least; it is by no means a comprehensive list, but a starting point.
The late 19th century and 20th century saw artists make huge leaps in painting styles, influenced by technology, such as the invention of the metal paint tube and photography, as well as world events. Part of the joy of painting in the 21st century is the range of art styles to choose from and the freedom to experiment. We learn by looking, copying, and transforming.
Art Style: Photorealism (“It looks like a photo”) Photorealism, Super Realism, Sharp Focus Realism, Hyper Realism, call it whichever of these labels you prefer and argue about the minute details between them, but ultimately they’re all art styles where the illusion of reality is created through paint so the result looks more like a large, sharply focused photo than anything else. It’s a style which often seems more real than reality, with detail down to the last grain of sand and wrinkle on someone’s face. Where nothing is left out, nothing is too insignificant or unimportant not to be included in the painting. Though it doesn’t mean an artist painting in this style doesn’t consider the arrangement of things to make a stronger composition. Find out more:Photorealism from the Scottish National Gallery
Art Style: Realism (“It looks real”) Realism is the art style most people regard as “real art”, where the subject of the painting looks very much like it appears in real life. From a little distance everything looks “real” but up close you’ll see it’s an illusion created by skillful use of paint, of color and tone. The artist uses perspective to create an illusion of reality, setting the composition and lighting to make the most of the subject. Find out more: Realism from the Scottish National Gallery
Art Style: Painterly (“see the hand of the artist”) Painterly is an art style that is close to realism but celebrates more the use of paint, through evident brushwork and texture in the paint. It doesn’t try to hide what was used to create the painting by smoothing out any texture or marks left in the paint by a brush.
Art Style: Impressionism (“capturing the light of a moment”) Impressionism is an art style that is still much loved today and it’s hard to imagine that when it first appeared on the art scene in Paris in the 19th century, most critics hated and ridiculed it. What was then regarded as an unfinished and rough painting style, is now loved as being the impact of light on nature filtered through an artistic eye to show the rest of us just what can be seen if you know how to look properly. Find out more: Impressionism from the Scottish National Gallery
Art Style: Post-Impressionism/Expressionism / Fauvism (“colour for emotion”) A broad category of “what happened after Impressionism”. Think Van Gogh and Matisse. Characterized by the artist not feeling compelled to use realistic colors or using perspective techniques to recreate an illusion of reality. Rather colors are selected to fit the emotion felt or to create emotional impact. Find out more:Post-Impressionism from the Scottish National Gallery
Art Style: Abstraction Abstraction is about painting the essence of a subject rather than the detail, but still retaining an echo of whatever it is that prompted the idea (unlike a pure abstract). You might reduce the subject to the dominant colors, shapes, or patterns. Think reduced reality the detail you need to paint the character of the scene.
Art Style: Abstract (“Shape, colour, pattern”) Abstract art doesn’t try to look like anything from the “real world”, it is an art style that is intentionally non-representational. The subject or point of the painting is the colors used, the textures in the artwork, the materials used to create it. At its worst, abstract art looks like a accidental mess of paint. At its best, it has an impact that strikes you from the moment you see it. Find out more:Abstract Art from the Scottish National Gallery
“Stevens likes to compare his creative process to that of a jazz musician: He thrives on improvisation.
“I make a mark, a shape, or an application and then respond to it, like how a jazz trio might improvise and respond to each other … I look for ways to repeat or vary the elements, gestures, patterns, or rhythms in the marks and textures.’”
Being able to improvise requires you to have a repertoire of marks and materials to pull from. Options, to put it succinctly.
It may appear to be pulled from thin air or imagination, but it’s acquired knowledge and experience mixed with impulse and openness to possibilities. Sometimes is discordant, sometimes harmonious. You’ve got to play to see where you allow yourself to be taken.
That the act of painting, the doing thereof, the brush into paint and onto paper, needs to be rewarding in itself, disconnected from the need for a satisfying end result,hard as this is, is something I struggle to explain. This quote filled that gap for me as I instantly related to how I interact with waves on a beach compared to pebbles (shells, sea glass).
I might take photos of waves, but they’re eternally ephemeral. I don’t have thoughts other than to watch and enjoy (okay, and to stay out of reach of them). Pebbles I can pick up and hold, turn over in my hand, feel the weight and texture, walk with for a while until I encounter another that I want to touch.
We experience painting every time, but don’t collect a painting every time.
“Brainstorm when tired. Ron Friedman, author of ‘The Best Place to Work’, explains our fatigued brains are less capable of filtering out all the weird stuff, like we are during the day. He suggests finding that time when you’re tired and less focused to box off that time for creative brainstorming.” Ed Terpening, Creativity in Art is Risky Business
Tired is when I’m least likely to ‘plan’ and ‘think hard’ because it feels like it’s going to take energy I don’t have, take too much effort. But it would mean that my thought filters are tired too and so perversely it’ll take less effort to get to outlying thoughts, if I can get myself over the hump of starting.
“Accept that some paintings will be rehearsals for new brush techniques, palettes, or subject matter that build your skills and experience
“… there are three qualities you need to develop as a painter: patience, persistence, and passion.
“Since painting is a complex process, you need to be patient with yourself as you learn to master the craft. Your persistence is important, in order to move past your failures and frustrations. And finally, it is your passion…that propels you forward.” Suzanne Brooker, “The Elements of Landscape Oil Painting”, page 195
“I paint from remembered landscapes that I carry with me—and remembered feelings of them, which of course become transformed. I could certainly never mirror nature. I would like more to paint what it leaves me with.”
Joan Mitchell, letter written in 1958 (in John I.H. Baur, Nature in Abstraction: The Relation of Abstract Painting and Sculpture to Nature in Twentieth-Century American Art, via David Zimmer)
Remembered from a single occasion. Remembered from multiple occasions. Remembered from visits years apart and remembered from frequent visits. Remembered by telling someone else. Remembered through listening to someone else’s remembering.
The layers of memory as layers in a painting. Each memory in a different medium? A different type of mark?