Friday, March 25, 2011

Make your own art!

Let's talk about why and how every painter can be an 'original'.   This post includes some tips for those that are struggling with this.  You are also most welcome to share your own thoughts on what has helped you to develop your own creativity and originality.

Following on from yesterday's post about plagiarism, somebody sent me a note which reminded me that Stapeleton Kearns recently wrote (ranted?) on a related topic.

Within the context of the bigger picture about creating original art, Stapleton has a post last Sunday called Some thoughts on art and money which I very much endorse.  It contains this paragraph
"Art has no reason to exist other than that it be excellent. If you are imitating another artists style, get your own! I open the art magazines and see page after page of amateur rip-offs of Scott Christensen and Richard Schmid. That's not good enough, everyone who sees those ads knows they are seeing a Richard Schmid ripoff. People are not easily fooled."
In general I don't follow daily painters as much now as I used to - simply because I grew very tired of looking at too many artists who were copying other artists.  All that really achieved at the end of the day was to highlight more clearly those artists who were different.  By that I mean those who made sure they were clearly individuals who were not following the crowd and instead were trying to find their own individual way of creating art.

Artists who are original shine like beacons in the midst of the "same old same old".

What I have noticed is that those artists who seem to be the most successful at creating their own artistic identities (which is that thing you have to be able to talk about when the gallery asks you "what do you paint?") all too often also have the happy knack of having their own individual and unique take on the world around them.

In other words, their choice of WHAT they paint and how they look at it is as much part of their ID as HOW they paint.

Essentially that means that the way a daily painter responds to the challenge of coming up with an answer to the question of 'what to paint' each day is as much part of that artist's development as the way they paint.

Your choices about what to paint reveal who you are, what you like, where you live and how you see the world. 

If you really are a unique individual - and initiate rather than follow - your choices will create a portfolio which won't ever look like it belongs to anybody else. 

Those artists who share their work in portfolio view let us into their journey and into their life.

Views and Vistas - landscape drawings by Katherine Tyrrell
TIP:  The portfolio view of your work is absolutely brilliant for being able to see connections in your art which you might not appreciate when looking at pieces in isolation.  It helps us all to identify the unique aspects of our particular view on the world.  If you don't have a portfolio view of your archived work can I suggest you develop one - you may be surprised - here's a couple of reasons why:
  • I'll never ever forget when I first constructed my website being absolutely gobsmacked (I come from the north!) to find I obviously love the complex patterning which comes from doing huge Views and Vistas.  First - I had absolutely no idea that this was such strong theme in my work,  Second - I then had to set to and create a whole new gallery just for them!  Third - it took me forever to work out that this was hardly surprising given that my degree is in geography and I have a qualification in geology and I both love and am used to looking at landforms and thinking about what lies underneath.  See - these are connections which make my work very personal and about me!
  • Sometimes it can be very difficult to see wood for trees - or lemons from clementines.  If you develop a portfolio view it also helps other people show you the artist where your strengths and weaknesses lie as a painter and which are the paintings which really engage our eyes and jump off the screen.
Small daily paintings by Karin Jurick
Continuing the discussion about connecting to subjects which are about you.  We had much discussion yesterday of clementines and lemons.

Consider this.

Ask yourselves why Karin Jurick (A Painting Today) has never painted clementines or lemons or indeed grapes on a routine basis.
  • One answer would be because it's not required
  • Another might be because that's not what interests her
In my experience of watching what Karin has painted over the last five years, I can confidently conclude that although Karin experiments with different approaches and subjects, she essentially sticks pretty much to subjects which interest her - with the challenge of occasional workouts on other subjects to provide punctuation and stimulation.  Take a look at her small daily paintings starting in 2006 - and click through and watch the journey.  There is a theme to her still life paintings and it's certainly not lemons!  ;)

Karin is also very accomplished at demonstrating how it's possible to pack a sophisticated painting with a lot of content into a small space!

TIP: We discussed yesterday the proposition of taking the principle of an idea generated by another artist and making it your own.  I feel sure that Karen's basic principle of creating content rich paintings must make her collectors feel like they're getting added value.  This is a principle which can also transfer to other painters - without them needing to paint the people looking at art in galleries!

I could talk about a number of other daily painters and former daily painters (or other artists) in the same way. Some arrive fully formed with their own unique take on the world while others take us on a journey as they find their own ID.

TIP: Sometimes we, as viewers and commentators, can really help an artist on that journey if we are judicious in our comments and reserve our real plaudits for the truly exceptional pieces and those pieces which make a real connections with us as the audience.  Maybe keep a lid on the 'happy clappy' type comments and think about what's the best and/or most helpful thing you can say about their work? I know that feedback from peers is always hugely valued by most artists.

In my view, those artists who are unique and original have that certain something which lifts their work out of the ordinary.  Let's not call it the 'X factor' but you know what I mean.

In the past Duane Keiser has commented that there is nothing particularly unique about Vermeer's brushwork or palette - it's all about the subject and the composition.  He had the uncanny ability to find a way of looking at a subject which made ordinary things look special.  I've always felt that Vermeer is an expert at enabling me to see what he is seeing.  He makes a personal connection with my eyes and draws me into his paintings.

I guess the point I'm making here is that it is entirely possible for every artist to make their own art - there is simply no need to copy. Nobody needs to be choosing the same subject matter as anybody else, or designing paintings in the same way or trying to paint in the same way.

TIP:  When you choose to do what others are also doing, ask yourself how that contributes to creating your own identity as an individual artist.

Artists making their own art

I want to see artists making their own art.  I want to see what interests you and how you see it. 

I LOVE IT when an artist shows me a new way to paint a very familiar object or a very familiar scene.  Give me a new perspective.  Make me stop in my tracks when I'm paging through lots of blogs.  Make me want to come back to your work in a gallery and look at it again.

I LOVE IT when an artist takes a subject which many other people would not even think worth painting and then turns it into an absolute magnet for my eyes.   Take a look at the painting which won last year's Making A Mark Award for Best Picture of 2010 on an Art Blog for an example of what I mean

I LOVE IT when somebody sends me a link to a blog, announces I think you'll like this painter and I click the link and my eyes get a visual feasts and workout from a range of NEW visual images.  This is what happened last year when somebody nominated Lisa Daria (Lisa Daria), the artist who won the Painting A Day Stickability Shield as part of the Making A Mark Awards and I took a look at the paintings she'd been producing in 2010.  She's a painter with a fine sense of colour which is something I greatly enjoy.
I've had a lovely time looking through her blog at her wonderful paintings this afternoon and was very nearly distracted and started to buy a painting!  Always a good sign of a very promising painter!  Her blog has gone straight into my list of blogs that I follow.  

The bottom line - I agree with Stapleton's statement that the priority for artists when starting out is.... 
Make your own art, make it good and then market it
Featuring art on Making A Mark

I'm very pleased to be able to be able to feature both budding and established artists on this blog and to be a very small part of the marketing process for some artists.

For me it's the quid pro quo for you giving me the pleasure of looking at your art.

For the most part I go looking for new artists, but I'm not at all averse to art bloggers (ie NOT their gallery reps) sending me links to their work, showing me their creativity, showing me how they've developed into somebody with a claim on being unique or telling me about artists of note and originaility who deserve to be noticed more.
  • I love being able to encourage artists who are making significant progress on their journey and showing great promise by featuring them on this blog
  • I'm always more than happy to feature any artist who has made their own journey and found a way to represent themselves to the world as a unique artist
  • I'm ecstatic when they write to me to tell me about their shows and their successes.
This is an invitation to tell me about all the artists you feel make their own art, make it good and have achieved that very important status of not looking like anybody else!

Please also feel free to add YOUR TIPS for being an original artist - please share what has helped you.


teri said...

I've been told the best way to develop your own style is to avoid looking at anyone else's work. Hard to do unless you live in a cave, but a fascinating idea. Enjoyed reading this post!

Making A Mark said...

On the contrary, I think I would suggest that one of the best ways of developing your art is to look at art by a very wide variety of artists.

Let eclectic be your watchword!

Kimberly Kelly Santini said...

I love to study/follow other artists' work, especially other daily painters. I learn from what they do (and what they don't do!) and become bolder to try similar things on my own (like introducing a new color or improved study of light). It's akin to painting alongside a friend - you have this dialogue about what works and what doesn't. But you are both creating different pieces because your own filters are driving the decision making. My advice is to pay attention to your own filters - ask yourself why (repeatedly), give yourself permission to fail (that's how we learn!), and paint subject matter that you love and know intimately (so that you can in return critique yourself heartlessly).

Pattie Wall said...

Katherine - what a positive and proactive response to the issues that have seemed forefront across the web where we artists live these past few days. The 'happy clappy' has a life of it's own at times. Somewhat of a 'glow and grow' idea is always on my mind when making comments on other's work and I appreciate more on the 'grow', less on the 'glow'.

Rose Welty said...

Katherine, I'm glad to see you trying to turn this into a positive learning experience. Education is the only way to stop this emptying and devaluing of art.

I don't think I've developed a style yet but I do think I am learning a bit about the process of doing so and getting there for myself. That said, I think key points are time and patience.

Why did your portfolio reveal so much? Because you had a fair number of images, gathered over years, to look at all in one go. Then your geology background suddenly became obvious. I don't think the obvious becomes obvious until time and practice reveals it.

It's not easy to hear "just wait", which is why people are tempted to copy another's style or subject matter. After an artist has spent years finding their style and voice, then they can say that is more enriching and satisfying to develop your own, but I think it takes a while for that satisfaction to come. As I said, I'm not there yet, but I have been working on pursuing my own interests in my own art recently and I am more excited about my art then I have been in years.

So after years of working with CPs I'm just beginning to find what makes me tick. Is it something someone else wants to buy, probably not for a while yet. And it will probably be a few years before it reads as a cohesive style.

I guess I'm saying that we have to turn off all our modern "right now" tendencies and apply patience to be able to contribute to the ancient discussion of excellent art. When we think about the years of training and apprenticeship of the old masters it becomes obvious...but really accepting several years of training...that's the trick.

Making A Mark said...

Kimberley - it always seemed to me when I started blogging that one of the very real values of the Internet was that it enabled artists, often working on their own, to link up and behave much more like a peer group.

I've personally known a number of artists whose art came on in leaps and bounds because they had access to fellow artist/bloggers who would give them good quality feedback. Not always on their blog - sometimes by way of email correspondence.

Equally I've seen artists who have been stimulated to try more experiments because artists have shared their own experiments on the Internet

Maybe it's time to review again what a hugely valuable community the art bloggers are for each other - and how they can all work together for mutual benefit?

Thank you for great tips - all makes huge sense to me.

Making A Mark said...

Pattie - love the term "glow and grow"! Must remember that one

Making A Mark said...

Rose - you make an excellent point about themes and preferences emerging out of a body of work - and that you need time to be able to create that body of work.

There's something about society's preoccupation with instant results which seems to inhibit measured growth with feedback loops from peers and mentors plus time to make mistakes and time to learn from them.

So sad!

It strikes me that the prevailing "get rich quick mentality" of modern times may well lead people to start selling their work before they've even got a body of work together nevermind identified what it is about their work which makes them distinctive and unique?

How can we retrieve the idea that it takes time to make progress and to become good?

Do we need ways in which people can be online apprentices? Is that the way forward?

Unknown said...

Hi Katherine, I was sent a link to your blog by Tracy Hall, its been a real joy to go through a bit of it. Im sure Im going to learn alot from your posts:)

Rose Welty said...

How do you teach patience? :D Kearns is right - but perhaps in our modern hurry we applaud his conciseness and miss his point.

And, as far as instruction and a way forward - that goes back to the dreadful state of art instruction books. Telling people which pencils to use and in what order...Yes, if all people read is instruction like that, they will just copycat styles. They won't move on because they haven't practiced that difficult step of turning theory to practice. They've just mimicked your last step from theory to practice.

That's a larger problem then just art though - university students seem to be more interested in learning what to think rather than how to think.

kathrynlaw said...

Katherine, I am so thrilled to see yesterday's and today's posts on this topic. I began my blog in the spring of '05, thanks to inspiration from Duane. Three years out from my BFA, I was struggling to keep painting; this was a tonic. I was frequently in touch with him in the early days, and in 2007 asked him if he was upset that so many people were essentially copying his style and format. He replied that he was unhappy only if they were not embarking on their own journey, growing as painters, and that all too many were looking for shortcuts and painting only to sell. I have personally confronted bloggers when I see uncomfortable closeness between their imagery and Duane's original concepts. Now I can just point people toward your post.

Also, about the "happy clappy" comments: Yes! That is precisely why I turned off the comment function on my blog. It is not helpful, in fact it's detrimental, to always get the cheerleading even when the work is below par. Some people comment just to garner attention for themselves. Worse yet, there seems to be an unwritten rule in the blogosphere against constructive criticism. On my blog, I encourage people to write to me directly with feedback; by doing so, some meaningful dialog happens. I get honesty, and the commenter gets a more detailed reply. Win-win.

vivien said...

a good post Katherine :>)

It's something I feel very strongly about and have done a past post on it plus a follow up today

I explain from the very start with my students the importance of being true to themselves in their work.

And I think it's essential to look at a wide wide range of artists work - that's the way not to be too derivative. You take little bits of influence even from artists you aren't keen on - some element may trigger ideas that you take in a very different direction.

You could never study music without listening to other musicians or write without reading other authors.

what you don't like teaches you as much as what you do - avoiding pitfalls, making you consider how not to repeat what you see as their weak points.

Making A Mark said...

Thanks Kathryn - that's a good strategy with comments. Only those who really have something constructive to say are going to go to the trouble of finding your email address and writing separately. I'm fine about comments on my blog - but that's within the context of a dialogue about wider issues among peers.

I enjoyed taking a look at your work. :)

Making A Mark said...

@Vivien - excellent points as always.

I think it takes a bit of time for it to sink in why "being true to yourself" matters so much. Which is why I think we get wobbles and people feeling confused at the beginning.

You can't beat looking at lots of art and doing the work and experimenting. My own feeling was that in the end it all starts to slot into place without making a conscious effort - because you're doing what feels right for you.

Unknown said...

I have really enjoyed these last 2 posts - plagiarism then this on originality.

I think that by experimenting and picking subjects you enjoy in a way you feel comfortable with, without checking out how others have tackled the same subject, is the way to originality and finding your own style.

Unknown said...

Its been really interesting to read the comments on this. Its strange that when I first started painting there was nothing more I wanted than to be original. This was all I wanted, to paint in a way no one had. I tried so hard and experimented all the time with ideas that I thought were different so I could be successful. Only now that I feel anything that is forced isnt right-and it will show.
We are all individual and so if we all paint the things we LOVE then we should produce work that is unique. Styles develop over time, I think its just how we are confortable painting.
I wanted to share with you one of my favourite artists Leon Zanella. Hes a french artist and one of those painters that has a style of painting that is just so unique-his landscapes, particularly venice scenes are incredible. I have no idea if he is well known, but he should be. I think you will find his work interesting Katherine leonzanella dot com. Have a look:)

Sarah said...

Excellent post again Katherine some very thought provoking things. In one of my mini jobs I write a blog for a gallery, Beside The Wave, which involves visiting and interviewing artists in their studios. I have found that really genuine artists are like their paintings, in other words, their personality is in their work. It is a bit like the way people look like their dogs!! If the painting is fresh, open and genuine, so it seems is the artist or very layered and complex, a bit dark, even scarred or angst ridden and tortured etc. It is fascinating, I haven't worked out me yet but I am getting good at seeing everyone else!! So watch out, artists all, your true colours are literally spread out for all to see!

Casey Klahn said...

I read these posts and most of the numerous comments, and what a topic! It comes down to telling untruths and lies, I would say. I don't follow closely the artists in question, so I have to generalize the topic to apply it.

I love to copy masters, and have done many copies of van Gogh, Degas, and Wolf Kahn. I also have done a few others, and the process, I feel, jumps me forward in my own learning process. I encourage every artist to look hard at the masters, and at those who catch your attention enough to copy.

It is mortifying to see my work on a Google page under the query "Degas ballerina sketch." Google can be particularly dumb, and sometimes spectacularly so. Ouch. I have explored HTML code to help in this, but so far haven't found the magic pill to prevent it from happening.

My advice.

Use the words "after van Gogh" or thereabouts to disclose when your idea was sparked by the other artist significantly. That's a sliding scale, so I don't hold an artist's feet to the fire too much. Perhaps Duane is saying this, too. An orange is an orange, and BTW his peeled orange is superior.

Also, it is important I think to say "master copy," or something similar, when the composition is a direct take. I personally don't wish to sell an image done this way, but it is interesting to note that in the Nineteenth Century in France these artworks were commonly sold.

In the vein of pet peeves and copies, I am always disappointed with mills of copyists engaged in wholesale copying of masterworks for profit. There are whole cities engaged in this and the excuse, as I understand it, is that it is a different culture and so a different norm.

I have had college students show me their copies of my work, and I think every artist here present has had his work downloaded and somewhere copied. It is good to be aware of this.

Okay, sorry to wander, but it is a big topic and this was my response. Now, back to my big copy of Degas' "Woman wearing a Street Dress."

Prairie painter said...

Thanks for your posts on this topic Katherine. I also subscribe to Stapleton Kearns so this seems to be timely. It certainly is within one of the groups I paint with, where we have had to talk rather sternly about plagiarism. I am going to forward links to your items to the group for their edification.

Also, thank you for the idea re a portfolio. I haven't done that, but just your explanation made me think that I will likely find such a link as you did. My background is microbiology, and I love focusing in on details. Never consciously made the connection. Thanks for that. I will spend some time making a portfolio soon.

Karen Martin Sampson said...

I have been feeling a bit overwhelmed by painters and their lemons, oranges, grapes, and apples lately. I am a figurative painter - have been for over 40 years - and can never find an end to the possibilities of the human form - why would I want to copy somebody else? I have paintings in my head I'll never have time to get to!
(And I have done a few bowls of fruit paintings also:-)

Ilaria said...

A link to an online album of copies put together by Catherine Kehoe, showing how contemporary artists might look at the old masters.

Making A Mark said...

Nice! Thank you for the link Ilaria

Bridget Hunter said...

A bit late in commenting - but for me I have been working with making marks on paintings using anyt tool that seems to help me say what I want to say - but now I want to get back to pure brushwork - having recently seen the wonderful brushwork of David Donaldson in a retrospective. So I suppose he's influenced me onto another step. I used to think I had be totally original until I realised how closely the Impressionists worked together, bouncing ideas around yet each finding an individual voice. And how wonderful it is to see an exhibition and want to rush home to start a painting - not in the same style/subject but for the pure joy of the actual painting process. I've really enjoyed this post and look forward to you current thoughts on daily Painters.

Anonymous said...

In the beginning i was looking for a way to paint like the old masters, van Gogh, Picasso Dali etc
What i've learned during this road of copying is the way they used their materials and several methods of problem solving.
After a while copying just stopped and slowly my own style was crawling out of the material.
I've changed many times and experienced a lot.. Untill something strange happened. After some year of try outs everything stood still suddenly.. I still remember the day I took my brush, but nothing seems to come out anymore. This period of white canvas was like hell. The mind was filled with ideas, but nothing came out anymore. I decided to go to artskool, to find a solution and to solve this problem. At the artskool I learned a lot about perspective,composition and many classical theories.. But none of them seemed to be true for me.
After 6 months I stopped following classes. Depressed and misserable I started to write about my feelings in art.. I kept on searching the old wise google machine (How to be a good artist)
Untill one month ago, i was walking across some snowfields and suddenly everything was clear again. I just should do what I like to do, no matter what people say or think about my work as long as I can enjoy my own personal work. I realized that this block and black out was the result of forcing myself to make things other people would like, or which may be sold well.
Slowly I'm getting back on track I still look at other peoples art, they can inspire me by contents and technique, but I realize that I should never give up my own voice even when people are disagreed with my style, technique etc..
Sometimes people say, your painting like child..

But that's the way I Like and who I am truly..

2015 we just started a new year and I wish the best and goodluck to all of you..

let's make art again and do'nt waste to much time with feelings about fear, and expectations from other people watching us


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