what do you do well?

A painter I know asked me one simple question a few months ago that I couldn’t adequately answer. He asked me if I knew what I did well.

This was the first painting I did after circling back to reacquaint myself with the importance of values. I was consciously aware of separating my light and shadow families when I painted this.

It’s a great question and one that I’m still trying to answer for myself. Because I had come to work in a way that was largely intuitive, I couldn’t necessarily break down the parts, so to speak. I knew that sometimes a painting I did “worked,” and I may have had some idea why- but not to the extent that I wanted to.

evaluating my process

Trying to figure this out has been an interesting process. It lead me to evaluate my past and current processes and to identify what I am doing behind the scenes – especially the things that are working- so that I can be more deliberate during my painting process. That’s a key part of how I like to paint.

Previously I wrote about painting intuitively, but I’m afraid I didn’t spend enough time talking about the prerequisites for painting this way- a solid understanding of drawing, color, values and composition. If you want to paint in a way that’s at all representational, you can’t get away from these cornerstone requirements.

I used to spend a few minutes drawing thumbnail sketches before I painted, and I liked how it helped me cross into creative territory. It was a way in to what I was looking at – a way to start. I also did many value studies, and color charts and lots and lots of drawing.

mindful of each mark

I can’t say exactly why I stopped doing some of these things. I tend to be someone who focuses on one thing at a time, so it could just be that for a while, I was more interested in honing in on intuition. Or maybe I thought that once I “learned” these skills, they were firmly planted and I could focus on learning other things (because goodness knows there is so much to learn). For a while I painted quickly, jumping right in without any forethought or plan.

This isn’t to say that there’s anything wrong with working without a plan, and sometimes I still prefer it. But I believe there should be a reason for every mark that you make – that it should be to communicate something specific. It’s important to be mindful of marks you make and why.

back to formal elements

I am still largely an intuitive painter, but in order to allow my intuition to be fully supported, it needs an armature of formal elements to hold it together. And so I’ve been circling back to reacquaint myself with drawing, color, values and composition and fill in any gaps I have. I’ve been changing my palette- trying some different colors, and revisiting some old friends. This lead me to pull out some of my favorite instructional materials and acquaint myself with some new ones. More on this to come.

Rose of Sharon, 6×8″, oil on panel – available through auction.

For now, I am again doing thumbnail sketches and value studies, and I’ve restarted my regular drawing practice. There are no shortcuts or formulas, I’m afraid. Painting will always include changing and it will always be difficult. Returning to these fundamental practices is like an anchor that can help when I get lost along the way.

What do you do well? It’s a good question to think about.

Thank you for reading.

2 thoughts on “what do you do well?

  1. I love what you have articulated here. I am going back to basics in a workshop, trying to nail just 2 values, and massing values- sounds easy- umm, nope! Have you written ‘on more to come’ you mentioned yet?

    1. Hi Caroline,
      Thanks for stopping by and for your kind words. I am constantly going back to basics and I suppose at this point, I should think of it as part of good practice, rather than suggesting that it’s somehow remedial. Foundation skills are so important and are not at all easy, you’re right. I’m glad you reminded me of the promise of “more to come.” I had intended on writing a post about some of my favorite books and materials, but haven’t quite gotten there yet. I will do my best to write that post soon.

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