Monday Motivator: Deliberate Incompleteness

Monday Motivator Motivation Quote

“Often times my work can look unfinished in a traditional sense, but at the same time feel finished the way it is. This is the area of work I love to explore, this balanced ‘incompleteness.’

“…a work is finished when what I try to capture with the mood, composition, and visual rhythm is there; even if that means the whole surface isn’t covered in paint or fully rendered. Adding more to a work doesn’t always make it better for me…”
— Daniel Segrove
Daniel Segrove: Mundanity, interview by Debbie Chessell

Segrove is a contemporary figure painter who leaves areas of a composition “unfinished”. Does it create mystery and intrigue, or does it leave too much unsaid?

If “incomplete” unsettles you, try substituting the word “ambiguous”.

Does “finished” means “tells you the whole story”? Isn’t it more interesting to figure out part of the story yourself rather than be told?

Ultimately, I think, one person’s “finished” is another’s “still more to be done” and yet another’s “overworked”. Your painting, you decide.

Monday Motivator: Van Gogh’s First Impression of the Impressionists Wasn’t Favourable

Monday Motivator Motivation QuoteVan Gogh first saw impressionist paintings in person in Paris at the eighth Impressionists group exhibition (15 May to 15 June 1886). He wasn’t initially impressed:

“…people have heard of the Impressionists, they have great expectations of them… and when they see them for the first time they’re bitterly, bitterly disappointed and find them careless, ugly, badly painted, badly drawn, bad in colour, everything that’s miserable. That was my first impression, too…”
— Vincent van Gogh, writing to his sister Willemien, c20 June 1888.

However, it did make him think about the colours he was using:

“That initial reaction did not prevent him from noticing, however, that his own paintings were very gloomy in colour. A more direct influence from the contemporary art of the impressionists and neo-impressionists would become visible in Van Gogh’s paintings only in 1887”.
— Marije Vellekoop,”Van Gogh at Work”, page 115

Influences may not be immediate, nor overt, nor dramatic. Denying influence would be like denying oxygen — we use it without being aware of it most of the time.

Irises by Vincent van Gogh
“Irises” by Vincent van Gogh (1889). 71x93cm. In the J.Paul Getty Museum. Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program.

What we like, and why, changes. I like Turner’s paintings tremendously now, especially his later ones, whereas when I first wandered through the Turner wing in the Tate Modern I was quickly overloaded and befuddled. Perhaps it was the number of paintings? Now when I get the chance I always walk through the entire wing, stopping in front of a few for a closer contemplation.

Does my current enjoyment of painting in layers come from my looking at Turner or is it painting in layers that has led me to enjoying Turner, or a bit of both? Does it matter?

Monday Motivation: Find Fresh Courage

Monday Motivator Motivation Quote

“… Freshness. Some call it confidence, or boldness, still others call it Courage. … it’s the leading emotion most often communicated from our own heart … through our arm and out to our brushstrokes.

“…The opposite of Freshness in art is a painting that’s been overworked. That is also reflective of the artist, but this unsureness or fear, also shows in the art, ironically it comes out as more work, or the look of busy brushwork. Watch out for this emotion, because it has a way of creeping into every brushstroke.”

— Artist Steve Puttrich, Facebook post 28 May 2017

So much easier said than done. Be fresh. Be courageous. Be creative. Be bold.

But how? If only we could find a yellow brick road to follow and find it.

Courage is overcoming the doubt, the niggling nag, and you find it in yourself. Others may encourage and support you, but ultimately you have to hold the brush yourself.

The risk of failure never goes away. Instead you learn to realise you’re not a one-trick pony, that a failed painting or drawing doesn’t make you a failure, it’s one failed painting. So you try again. You keep learning, you strive to learn, you endure, you persist.

Even one-trick ponies have to learn their trick.

Monday Motivator: Love In-Depth

Monday Motivator Motivation Quote

“We often avoid studying the things we love in depth … because we;re afraid we’ll miss out on all the other things that might be out there.”

— Austin Kleon, “More advice for the recent graduate“, 25 May 2017

How many one-time subjects have you painted? Do it once and never again but move onto something new? Even if you were pleased with the result, what else might you have done with it?

If you start with a fresh subject every single time you paint, you’re needing to establish everything from scratch. If you start with a subject that has a little familiarity, you’ve a head start.

People don’t (generally) whinge that Monet painted the same things over and over. Poplar trees. Hay stacks. Rouen cathedral (more than 30). His lily pond, again and again and again some 250 times. Rather we wonder at the different versions of the same thing, his persistent, in-depth study of colour and light in one subject chasing an intangible.

This is not to say you have to do it all at once. Three years separate these paintings of Monet’s:

The Manneporte (?tretat) by Claude Monet, 1883. Size: 65 x 81 cm. In the Metropolitan Museum in New York.
The Manneporte near ?tretat by Claude Monet
The Manneporte near ?tretat by Claude Monet, 1886. Size 81 x 65. In the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

Don’t let yourself be pressurised into moving on from a subject if you’re not ready to, or stopping you from coming back to it. Your friends, family, art group may question your doing so, and be overly ready with suggestions for other subjects, but those can wait until another day when you’re ready. We may not be Monet, but we can learn from his example and know that we’re not missing out on all those other subjects, we’re allowing ourselves to enjoy a particular one more.

Monday Motivator: Just Give the Dog a Job

Monday Motivator Motivation Quote

“If you have a creative mind, it’s a little bit like owning a border collie. You have to give it something to do or it will find something to do, and you will not like the thing it finds to do. … Just give the dog a job, and you’ll have a much happier life, regardless of how it turns out.”

— author Elizabeth Gilbert, Fear is Boring, and Other Tips for Living a Creative Life, 24 September 2015, Ideas.Ted.com

Misty the Sheep Dog Isle of SkyeAcross the road from my studio lives a wild-haired bounce of enthusiasm and eagerness who goes by the name Misty. Not being particularly good at what was supposed to be her main job — being a crofter’s sheep dog — doesn’t deter Misty, and has never stopped her from trying to herd me into giving a neck scratch.

Keeping busy and keep trying; that’s the only way I know too. Strive to approach painting (and life) with enthusiasm and try not to focus or obsess on the aspects that are problematic (or at least, too much of the time). Keep at it, keep focusing on the joys of a challenge, the joy of colour. On hard days, do things that require less thinking such as tiding up or watch a favourite film. And never, ever worry about muddy paws or unruly hair.

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Monday Motivator: Stand Back a Little

Monday Motivator Motivation Quote The Impressionists “fragmented their brushstrokes into flickering touches of colour that seemed to dissolve their painted worlds into shimmering mirages … Stand back a little [and] relations between the masses of colour begin to be established.”

The ideal viewing distance for Impressionist paintings suggested by Pissarro was “a distance measured at three times the diagonal of the canvas”.

— Ross King, “Mad Enchantment: Clause Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies”, page 56

If only we had a formula for everything in life we needed to get perspective on, wouldn’t life be simple? Apply the formula, and it’s sorted. But then again, exactly how does one measure “three times the diagonal”? Do we all step forward with a measuring tape? Do we do it by eye, a guesstimate, or does that undermine the rule too much? Is there a little label telling us what the answer is and a mark on the floor with outlines of footprints dictating exactly where to stand and look (like in airports these days for facial recognition cameras)? And what about viewing height, surely there must be an ideal measurement for this too?

That Impressionist paintings dissolve into a myriad of bits of colour when you’re up close, more like three finger-lengths than three diagonals, is one of the great delights of this style of painting for me. The dance and shimmer of colour, of brushmarks, and the subsuming of the importance subject into the joy of colour. Step back and the painting changes, tells another story. Step forward and get lost in a forest of colour and mark making. The ideal viewing position is wherever it tells the story you feel like listening to at that particular moment.

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Monday Motivator: Do It Over and Over

Monsieur P painting

“Art is slow, physical, resistant, material-based, and involves an ongoing commitment to doing the same thing differently over and over again in the studio.

— Jerry Saltz, “My Life As a Failed Artist“, in the 17 April 2017 issue of New York Magazine

“The same thing.” But is it truly? You’ve the same materials, the same techniques, yet never quite the same knowledge nor emotional state or mood. You’ve also got another day’s experience, for better or worse, from whatever you did the day before.

A favourite brush wears out and you’ve got to get familiar with another. You can’t find a particular tube so use something else and all your colour mixing shifts.

I wonder if it isn’t more “involves an ongoing commitment to doing a similar thing again and again, with the infinite variables that small changes bring”. Or is that close enough to call it “the same”?Save

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Monday Motivation: Develop the Capacity for Imagination

“… imagination is a capacity that must be developed, and only that enables us to create a more exalting and consoling nature than what just a glance at reality (which we perceive changing, passing quickly like lightning) allows us to perceive.

“A starry sky, for example, well ? it?s a thing that I?d like to try to do …”

— Vincent van Gogh, letter to Emile Bernard, c.12 April 1888

We may have varying levels of inherent imagination, but it is also a skill that can be developed. If the word “imagination” frightens you, for whatever reason, whether it’s because you believe it contradicts “the truth of nature” or because you think you don’t have any/enough, substitute alternative words.

How about “enhancement” or “colour saturation” or “brushstrokes”? Pick an aspect, something specific, and work on that rather than the vast vagueness of “imagination”.

And take inspiration from the fact that it’s Van Gogh’s second starry night painting that is the famous one, not his first. There’s a fair bit of imagination separating the two, in mark making and brushstrokes (less so in colours).

Van Gogh other Starry Night

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Monday Motivation: Painting From the Heart

“…in the painting I let my own head, in the sense of idea or imagination, work, which isn?t so much the case with studies, where no creative process may take place, but where one obtains food for one?s imagination from reality so that it becomes right.

“… I also read a conversation that he [Delacroix] had with other painters about the making, that is the creation, of a painting. He asserted that one made the best paintings ? from memory. By heart! he said.”

— Vincent van Gogh, letter to Theo 28 April 1885

“By heart” as in emotion, with feeling, and as in “off by heart”. The latter for the things that help us translate our ideas into paint, such as colour mixing knowledge, brush control, and mark making vocabulary. The former for the things that make a painting such as the subject, composition, and our choice of mark making.

Paint studies on location, sketch, sit and look, make notes of what caught your attention, what you actually see rather than what you know is there, build up memories to tap into later.

Use reference photos only to check a specific detail, as you use a dictionary to check the spelling or meaning of a word. Don’t let a photograph dictate what you include; you’re painting not trying to be a camera. You’re a being with emotions, preferences, experiences, and by filtering what you see through these you create more interesting paintings, art that is uniquely yours.

Monday Motivator: Develop the Capacity for Imagination

Monsieur P painting

“… imagination is a capacity that must be developed, and only that enables us to create a more exalting and consoling nature than what just a glance at reality (which we perceive changing, passing quickly like lightning) allows us to perceive.

“A starry sky, for example, well ? it?s a thing that I?d like to try to do …”

— Vincent van Gogh, letter to Emile Bernard, c.12 April 1888

We may have varying levels of inherent imagination, but it is also a skill that can be developed. If the word “imagination” frightens you, for whatever reason, whether it’s because you believe it contradicts “the truth of nature” or because you think you don’t have any/enough, substitute alternative words.

How about “enhancement” or “colour saturation” or “brushstrokes”? Pick an aspect, something specific, and work on that rather than the vast vagueness of “imagination”.

And take inspiration from the fact that it’s Van Gogh’s second starry night painting that is the famous one, not his first. There’s a fair bit of imagination separating the two, in mark making and brushstrokes (less so in colours).

Van Gogh other Starry Night