Back in the Studio: Always a Work in Progress

Trying a more Impressionistic technique with my newest painting of the Cape Ann, MA, coastline

Last month I finally returned to my weekly painting class after a summer hiatus. It’s really great to be back working in my teacher, Joan Reid’s, studio space at The Shirt Factory, in Glens Falls, NY, where three floors of a former industrial warehouse are now home to a specialty tea store, gourmet eateries, a yoga center, a gallery, and a variety of artist workshops, studios and retail spaces.

Surrounded by the energy of so much creativity, it’s hard not feel inspired returning to such a place.

I’ve painted a total of 8 paintings over the course of three years in Joan’s studio. Most of them have been close-ups of flowers like the Hellebore I just completed, a subject I really enjoy taking photographs of, as well. And since we primarily work from our photos to create paintings it’s a natural transition. I have also painted a couple of landscapes, a subject which I find myself returning to again in my latest painting.

I am trying to get a way from getting caught up in all the detail of a realistic painting style. I’d like to move in a faster, more Impressionistic direction, where the eye blends colors and shapes more, instead of my trying to paint them all so accurately.

I was really inspired by the latest portrait show on display in the Shirt Factory Gallery. Looking at all the faces the artist had portrayed, I discovered such a wide variety of colors used to create skin and hair. Not just browns and tans, but also blues, greens, reds and yellows, among others. Brush strokes were highly visible; nothing was really blended or smoothed out. Lines, shapes and colors implied pieces of the whole, and my eye was left to put the larger picture together as a whole, unified.

They are techniques, of course, I’ve seen countless times in other works of art, from great masterworks to local artists’ paintings. But I found myself really looking at the sort of artistic science used in the paintings in the gallery.

A faster, less blended approach is something that’s felt very hard for me to move towards, though in my mind that’s where I’ve imagining myself heading. I was both taught and have practiced drawing and painting realistically for many years. Students are most always taught to capture a still-life or a model accurately, or get the lines and perspective correct when drawing a building or a landscape.

I also just finished a previous painting, “November Surprise,” begun in June, of a Hellebore flower that bloomed in my garden late last fall. Much more detailed effort!

They are rules to follow, in general, for a good reason. For beginner’s they’re helpful. They teach you how to portray believably what you see, so that another human eye will believe it, too.

And even though I have more experience now, the rules still apply. But its becoming more and more tempting to want to bend them, break them, or even move beyond them. My skills are still limited though; I’m not the artist I’d like to be quite yet.

For example, there are things I still don’t want to try to paint, things I know I won’t be able to paint accurately, so I stay away from them. My teacher would love for me to do a self-portrait, which I’ve been avoiding for years. I don’t want to stare at myself in a mirror for hours attempting to capture an appearance that keeps on changing, like a sky or the sea. People are hard to draw or paint; I know because I’ve tried. And because I could never get a resemblance as close as I wanted to, I decided not to take on the subject anymore.

I think I’d feel like I was starting all over again with doing a portrait. I think I wouldn’t be happy with the results. Either it wouldn’t look like me at all, or it wouldn’t be as creative or sophisticated like the portraits I saw this week in the gallery.

So for now I guess it is enough for me to move into trying to portray more of what I feel in my paintings about the subject as much as trying to capture it accurately. The landscape I’ve started working on is from a trip I took to Cape Ann, MA, back in 2006. I decided to try this piece because it’s mostly about shapes and color, about lines and the use of space, and not about a lot of detail. I think it will allow me a bit of freedom to explore using individual brush strokes and color that I admired so much in the portrait show.

Though I’m happy with most of my previous paintings, with how far I’ve come in three years of working on them, like anything else you have to keep on evolving. Getting back into the studio to paint allows me to do that, to grow more as a person and an artist, exploring another aspect of my creativity I now wouldn’t know what to do without..


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