Wednesday, April 01, 2009

MAM Poll April: What's your favourite subject matter?

What's your favourite subject matter?
What do you like to draw or paint the most?

The Making A Mark Opinion Poll for April seeks to identify what is the nature of your favourite subject matter for creating art.

Pigeonnier, Najac (1994)
pen and sepia ink, 16" x 11" in sketchbook
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

On my quest for learning more about the history of art I've become really intrigued with how the subject matter of art has changed over the centuries and the reasons for that.

I'm now fascinated to know the reasons why people focus on particular subject matter and what the various influences are - in terms of art education, personal taste, "gut feel" about what you're drawn to et al.

Your options are:
  • anything and everything
  • scenes - landscape / urban / interiors
  • still life
  • botanical / floral
  • animals and wildlife
  • portraits and figures
  • narrative (the story is the main focus)
  • conceptual / symbolic
You'll find the poll in the normal place in the right hand column - just below the module about Blogger Followers. Two important caveats
  • this poll is NOT looking at HOW you choose to work. So which media you choose to use, what style you use and which format you like the best are completely immaterial as the poll purely focuses on subject matter
  • the poll is also NOT concerned with the subjects you choose to paint to earn your income. It's purely about the subjects you most like to paint - for your own enjoyment. Hopefully they might be the same!
Do please comment on your motivations to draw, paint or sculpt whatever is your favourite subject matter.

I'm also be very interested to hear your views about why subject matter has changed over the years and what some of the reasons for this might be.

The poll finishes on 30th April (in the early hours) and an analysis of and commentary on the results will be posted later in the day.

I was stuck for an image for this post and then thought that, naturally enough, it ought to be a favourite subject. So, the drawing at the top - although a sketch - is one of my all-time favoruite drawings (although I ought to try and get a better image of it!). So much so that ten years later I took a biggish detour while driving through France to visit the same place - Najac in the Aveyron region - and draw it all over again.

The menu Carte Gourmande in the restaurant at L'Oustal del Barry might have also influenced the decision to make another visit. Which reminds me that another one my other favourite subjects is drawing people in restaurants. Then there's views and vistas and............

Pigeonnier, Najac (2004) from my dining table
11" x 16", coloured pencils in sketchbook

copyright Katherine Tyrrell


  1. That's a really difficult survey, Katherine. Of course it could just be that I'm totally unfocused that I finally made the choice I did. I also can't choose between your two Pigeonnier sketches - they are both delightful and it sounds like the restaurant alone was worth going out of your way for.

  2. I have been primarily a landscape painter until recently. I am now finding utter joy in painting interior scenes of glass blowing studios. The colors and the intensity of the heat and work going on is so exciting to me. I love painting the various ovens and tools. This series has me very intrigued and I think it will keep me busy for a while.

  3. Thanks Robyn

    It may not come as a surprise to some but all my planning for driving across France always starts with the restaurant guides and then the maps! (Plus my souvenirs tend to come in the form of menus). Somewhere en route there has to be a three Michelin star restaurant for the big treat! I mean - why would one go to France if you don't plan to experience one of the things the French do really well. ;)

  4. Wow Miki - your series is simply stunning - check it out folks.

  5. For me, subject matter that is my comfort zone is people or animals. However, I do dabble with landscapes and I guess a version of still life, which in my case is more like a study of a single object, rather than anything structured.

    Your question got me thinking about why I return constantly to people and animals. Part of it is how I learned to draw. I attended a lot of life and portrait classes. My portfolio consisted predominantly of people and I was told to go away and add more subject matter!

    I didn't want to, as my comfort level was with living things. A tree did nothing for me, a landscape less. While others exclaimed over the view from some outlook, I examined minutia at my feet, wondering how to draw the intricacies of a leaf or blade of grass.

    The other part of my comfort level is that a single subject gives me a focus. A landscape is daunting to me. So perhaps learned behaviour and laziness contribute to why I prefer drawing people and animals over any other thing.

  6. Well, this is timely as I am sitting down to write my bio and artist's statements!

    When I returned to art making 4 years ago, I drew drew drew any and everything. Finding focus with my Waterways Project has really helped me find joy and greater expression in my work.

    And I'm finding lately that the conceptual work engages my mind as well as my skills so I'm really appreciating this as well.

    Looking forward to the results.

  7. I think people have different 'natural' frames of reference - just like they have different abilities to see (literally).

    However I don't know that we always know what these are. I made sense of landscapes when I realised I was intensely attracted to 'very big picture' which I now call "Vistas and views". However, I've also learned it's something to with patterning - you can see more of a pattern in a really big landscapes. The same thing applies to interiors - why draw just two people sitting having a coffee when I'm actually more interested in the big picture. It's very odd.

    Now - here's the thing. I didn't realise any of this until I put a website together and realised what I drew most and what I liked the best. I just hadn't seen the pattern in what I was doing quite subconsciously. However once I did "see it", it was if I'd been given permission to go and look some more.

    That's when I discovered the vast landscapes you can see in macro pictures of natural objects - and that's how I got into my macro flowers and cacti.

    So - there you go - I like drawing patterns, preferably in a way which means you don't quite see what you're seeing to start with. Now you may look at my work and say that's not what you see. But I know that's what it's becoming and that's where it's going.

  8. My favorite subjects are animals, primarily cats, and also that order. So far these subjects have given me endless possibilities for inspiration. I tend to paint what I know and what gives me pleasure in life. I shy away from architectural subjects with straight lines because I'm lousy with perspective and some can seem so 'stark' to me. Really, any organic shape appeals to me, no matter where it occurs.

  9. Ever since I was a little girl, sitting on my grandmother's floor, looking endlessly through the envelopes of photographs of all the friends and relatives captured there throughout the years, I have enjoyed drawing or painting people and people's faces. I was always absolutely FASCINATED by how they could change so much through time but still be the same. How the people they were on the inside would show up on the outside.That fascination is with me still and I love to paint people doing what they do. As I have grown, however, I have especially found inspiration in how sunlight influences their image. It's kind of like the light from the outside captures the light on the inside of people and illuminates their whole inner spirit. I love that magic that happens and it is what continues to sustain my enjoyment of painting people to this day.

  10. I think this poll should have check boxes and not radio buttons, as its very likely people have atleast 2 favourite subjects :D I do landscapes, still lifes and people, almost in equal proportion. I don't prefer one over the other. Digging deeper with all my paintings, it looks like I am attracted to strong light and stronger shadows in anything. Most of my subjects have sharp sunlight and strong shadows. Good that this poll got me thinking, thank you!

  11. Nithya - sounds to me like you're getting pretty close to needing to vote 'anything and everything'!

    Isn't it fascinating how some artists just paint one thing while others paint a complete range. It's got nothing to so with relative success as an artist because quite a number of very successful artists paint across a range of subjects - while others stick mainly to one subject area. But is that because it's what they're known for and it's what pays the bills? That's the question.

  12. The timing of this is so strange and wonderful. I have been trying to write my artist's statement and finding Luann Udell's blog posts on the subject really helpful. Last night it finally clicked that I am not writing a statement about the whole of my work over my entire lifetime, encompassing all future work I might make, but just writing about my current work and what I'm focusing on right now. I know, I'm slow!

    In that moment I realized that right now I am utterly fascinated by trees and plants so I checked floral/botanical although I rarely paint flowers. I paint trees but not landscapes and I think this is similar to Jeanette's and Katherine's comments about focus - I zoom in on one tree and the shapes it formed as it grew. I'm less interested in zooming out and looking at the tree in its landscape. Isn't it fascinating how we each see shapes better at different zoom levels!

    I think I have some more material for my statement thanks to your poll and the comments!

  13. Katherine, I really appreciate your blog, talent and enthusiasm that you give us on a regular basis for this I am giving you an award it helped me with my attitude. see it on Dancing Strokes.

  14. I've just read Jeanette Jobson's comment, above. I love her work, so I'm rather surprised to say that my comments on favourite subject matter would be the exact opposite of hers! I really have to psyche myself up to do anything but landscapes. I have answered 'scenes' on your survey, but am trying to think about 'narrative' in my actual painting.


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