Tuesday was always going to be hard – it’s family visiting night, so I’m without my computer for the evening. I took my tablet, reckoning I could pull up a painting on my phone and work from that, reprising an old study of Bierstadt’s Sunset Over the Rockies. I reckoned without my phone’s power-saving mode dimming the screen and turning it off every five minutes. Next week I’m taking a book.
Today I was back home at my desk and decided to tackle a long-term art-crush, Frederick Edwin Church.
My colours are still too saturated but, on the plus side, I’m getting closer with my colour choices and picking out the underlying structure of the picture is getting easier. This time, I found that, unlike the other painters I’ve studied, Church uses fifths to divide the canvas. Interesting.
I didn’t have time for a post on Saturday, but I did get to the museum for my Saturday Study. Does that count as a 21 days entry? I think so, and it’s nice to do a study that I don’t think sucks at the end. Also, apparently I’m now a regular. I don’t have a problem with that.
Sunday’s study was Jeffrey Catherine Jones’ Tarzan Rescues the Moon. I’ve got to slow down when I measure; some of the early lines were almost but not entirely completely off and that just screwed me on later measurements that depended on those landmarks. Some areas (like the head and hand), I completely half-arsed, drawing what I thought I could knew rather than what I saw, as if I’ve learned nothing from my DRSB read-through. More haste, less speed.
The colours are still too aggressive (on the plus side, I could have a stunning career as a contemporary Fauvist), but the values are getting closer, but I need to be bolder with them.
Today was a painting by Greg Manchess. I can’t find a title for it, but it does involve another polar bear, so there’s that. I was five minutes in when I realised that it was starting to go pear-shaped. Remembering what Harold Speed about how fruitless it is to try to rescue a drawing that’s gone wrong from the outset, I junked it and restarted the whole thing. I could have done with those lost minutes at the end, but I’m pleased with the result (despite all the purple where the blue should be, again; what’s going on with that?).
I chose Manchess because I thought his his blocky brushstrokes would be easier to emulate (yeah, really). I’m starting to get a handle on what I need to do to get the colours down fast (blob it on, don’t bother blending, keep moving), and I think I’ll be more comfortable stepping down the level of detail in the under-drawing tomorrow.
Day two! Still don’t have a cue but I think I’m starting to get a better handle on things. Deliberately focussing on the human figure this time, and getting a better appreciation for Frazetta’s anatomy skills. The main technical issue I need to get sorted (besides colours, values, sighting…) is figuring how ArtRage’s brushes work. That’ll come with more practice, though it’ll have to be in my own time; painting under a time limit is stressful!
So what’s the plan? Well, you’re going to practice art.
No, really, you’re going to practice.
But (of course) there’s more to it. First of all, you’re going to do it for an hour a day for 21 days straight (no, you do not get weekends off, slacker). Every day. No breaks. No days off. No sick days. No cheat days. Nope. Also no sorta-kinda-practicing. This hour is for art and art only. This is not an hour for you to doodle on a piece of paper and call it practicing. Because that’s not practicing.
If you try to do this, you’re going to fail. You’d probably make it a few days if you’re disciplined. A week if you’re nuts. But if you want to do it the whole three weeks, you’re going to need to trick yourself.
So, having failed again to get to lifedrawing (last week was the new bus timetable, this week was utter exhaustion after a two-hour driving lesson), I figured I don’t really have any excuse not to get stuck in. With the instructions half-remembered, I picked a master to study, put some ambient music on and got on with it.
The first thing I’ve noticed is that I honed in on the bears pretty much straight away. It wouldn’t be news to anyone who knows me, but I was surprised by quite how much I worked them up before starting on the human figure. I spent just over half my time on the under-drawing, which I’m more comfortable with but still clearly needs refinement, but when it came to the drawing, my values aren’t what they could be and I seem to have decided that the picture contains more purple than none, so I need to focus on colours and values. I picked up on some of Frazetta’s scaffolding and chords as I worked, and I’m sure that the longer I do this the more I’ll see and understand.
The last thing of note is that Bradley’s original article includes instructions to set up a cue/reward trigger that I completely forgot. I’ll have to think on that for tomorrow.
Of the two qualities Speed recommends (movement and authenticity), I would argue that authenticity is by far the more important. Movement is a skill that can be learned, but slavish imitation of another artist’s style is far more damaging both to an artist’s development and to their motivation. Personal style is best developed organically, without a lot of striving and searching, by following personal inclination and experimenting – with materials and theme and whatever else appeals – with enthusiasm and sincerity.
“Originality is more concerned with sincerity than with peculiarly.”
Although originality is often sincerely sought after and the result of this search is a kind of vitality, it’s a shallow vitality that isn’t anchored to a solid foundation of vision or concept and is liable to change suddenly or abruptly as new fads take the artist’s fancy. For art to be a thing of substance, it must consist of more than novelty. Striving to do better will lead to originality and bring with it a solid foundation of authenticity on which to build great things.
“All [the artist] can do is to be sincere and try to find out the things that really move him and that he really likes.”
While originality should not be sought for its own sake, it is equally futile to attempt to recreate past successes – the moment, once passed, can never be recaptured. For Speed, this means that copying the style of the old masters is an exercise in futility; their style is inextricably linked to their era, culture and history.
“It is only by scrupulously sincere and truthful attitude of mind that the new and original circumstances in which we find ourselves can be taken advantage of for the production of original work and self-consciously seeking after peculiarly only stops the natural evolution and produces abortions.”
In some cases, conventions are necessary. Materials have physical limitations that the artist has to work within (or around!). Never lose sight of the medium you’re working with, Speed says, and confine yourself to the qualities best expressed by the medium at hand.