Monday, November 30, 2009

Is Being a Painter Irrelevant? - My answer.

I recently discovered a new blog to follow called Sheree Rensel - ART AND LIFE. She posted an entry that has been eating on the backside of my brain since I read it. Is Being a Painter Irrelevant? As the world is changing around us, has the craft become obsolete?

Her post comes at a very interesting time for me. I read it just before I went into the kitchen for a two day cook fest for Thanksgiving. When it comes to holidays, there are no short cuts. Everything is as "from scratch" as I can get it. Just shy of buying a cow for the milk and chickens for the eggs, I start with the most basic of ingredients and a lot of labor to make home made baked goods for the family. It is not really that hard. It is time consuming. My rolls take 2 days preparation time. Lucky for me I don't work. I am a Homemaker.

Homemaking has taken on a completely new identity from what I grew up believing. There was no label "Stay at home mom" when I was a little kid. There were "Moms" and "Moms that worked". Most "moms" made home made meals, mended clothing, did some kind of needlework and generally combined all those skills to support their families. Somehow the old mom was replaced by factory made food, clothes from Thailand, and an extra paycheck so the household could afford it. Homemaking, in the traditional sense, is obsolete in most of America. I feel like I am the last of my kind most of the time.

Is the same thing happening to painting? Am I perusing a craft that is no longer needed? Again? I sure hope not.

Digital technology has done to art what McDonalds has done to the restaurant business. It is fast, it is portable and it is conveniently located just about everywhere you go. The paintings that I paint nearly every day do not end up as paintings for most of the people that see them. They end up as digital media on a monitor. Why bother even painting them with a brush when the end result is digital? Digital media has made an incredible impact on our daily lives. Digital painting, digital photography, photo manipulation and digital reproductions have surrounded us in advertising, posters, fine art prints and of course, on our computer screens. We don't need to carry art around with us. We can show it on our lap tops, cell phones and even MP3 players.

We have become a society that expects instant results in enormous quantities for bargain prices. Art is no exception. Painters have adapted to this demand by doing smaller daily paintings such as those on Daily Painters. Once the painting is done, prints of their creations can be put on anything that will accept ink or glue. In the illustrators ring, many have learned to start on digital media so they can eliminate a step. As much as I want to argue that painting will never die, it is slowly being eliminated as a means for communicating an idea.

Painting is not even taught in some beginning art classes.

This brings me to my soap box issue. How can our younger generations be expected to appreciate the value of hard work if we do not expose them to the rewards that hard work brings? The phrase "hard work" is almost as dirty as "old age" in our society. We do everything we can to avoid both. Are we that terrible at communicating that it is the work that brings us joy, not the product? Do we actually believe that ourselves? We can measure the time we put into something. We can measure the costs of our supplies. When we add those up, do they accurately measure the joy? Not usually.

How many people are out there in miserable jobs that mean nothing to them but a paycheck. (Mind you, that is completely a frame of mind. If you decide to be content, it doesn't matter what you do.) How many times have you bought something and thought to yourself "The person that made this must love what they do, because they are really good at this!"

The very classes that teach our children to learn hands on skills are being slowly eliminated. Art, music, home economics, welding and shop are just a few. Those that remain are watered down versions meant to be an easy "A" so concentration can be placed on math, reading and classes that will help pass standardized tests. My daughter was forced to eliminate home economics from her schedule so she could take a class on bullying. Why teach a kid to cook when there are fast food restaurants on every corner and boxed food on all the shelves? What they really need is the ability to locate and use the authority figures and understand the legal system. Right? We are robbing them of the opportunity to discover that if they work at something really hard, they can accomplish something as intangible as joy. Instead we teach them to be test taking machines so they can go into the industrial world and be task oriented cogs so they can receive a paycheck. Sure we tell them to find their passion, but we teach them to crunch the numbers and go for the money with our actions and our advertising. "Buy and IPod like everyone else, but put the music YOU like on it." If there is nothing unique about them, then how can they appreciate the unique in the world around them? We are in the age of technological advance, but our human to human experience is in the dark ages. Humans have seen this pattern before.

I guess my hope goes back to the fast food industry. No one volunteers to go to McDonald's for Thanksgiving. The meal still means gathering together as a family and eating around the burned edges of whatever got overcooked. Thanksgiving starts out as being about food and ends up being about an experience. Painting delivers the same quality. Yes, there are other methods that are faster, more portable and easier to handle, but the experience lacks the 3-dimensional quality that paint provides. The camera will never really capture the richness of layered paint. A print will never capture the light on thick brush strokes like a real painting. The smell of ink on paper is just not the same as the smell of linseed oil. They seem like small differences, but added together, it is a completely different experience. As long as there is someone out there that recognizes that difference, there will be a need for painters. I can't begin to guess how long that will be. For now, painting is still relevant, so I guess I should be painting.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Discovering How My Imagination Works

This is a sketch for C.H.O.W. 180. My body reference is here. I also have a couple paintings bookmarked HERE and HERE that I want to use as color inspiration.

I hope to get this sketch to the point that I can put it on a panel I have lying around collecting dust and paint it before the week is done. I can't seem to decide what to do with the feet. I only have a few days, so I am going to have to make a decision and go with it so I can move on and make the deadline.

I am discovering a lot about how I learn by doing this project. Even if I don't get a single vote, the educational experience is worth every moment I put into it. Some things are coming into focus on this piece that have always been separated for me. I could either concentrate on skill or I could concentrate on imagination, but I could rarely do both.

The first part of working from imagination is building the artistic muscle.

I am going to reword something that is constantly being stated in the art circles, but I never truly understood until recently. This is paraphrased:

In order to draw from your imagination, you have to be constantly drawing from life so you can build a visual vocabulary from which to work from.

When I first read this, I went out and started drawing things around me. I started setting ordinary objects up and painting them. I worked from life hoping that one day I would be able to just sit down and as I imagined things, they would magically appear on my paper and voila! That didn't happen. What a disappointment. To make matters worse, I began having a very difficult time drawing anything that wasn't in front of my face. In my opinion, this was getting worse, not better.

An "Aha!" moment came when I started working on this little sketch. When I was playing with the costume ideas on this, I wasn't thinking about the form, the light or the lines. I was thinking about the fabric and depending upon what it was made out of how heavy or stiff it would be. I understand fabric because I sew. If it is knit, it is going to hang a different way than it would if it were woven. If it is heavy, it will droop farther, etc. I have experienced this enough that I can imagine it with no problem.

The key to me learning to draw from imagination is not simply drawing or painting from life. It is learning to experience things from life and taking notes in lines or paint about what I see. It is all about making connections and relationships. For example, when I paint an apple, I see a distinct highlight on the skin, but if it is peeled, it really doesn't have the same shiny effect. The surface is rough and doesn't reflect a lot of light. I know this because I peeled an apple and had to adjust my pile of paint to get the right look. The same thing happens on a stainless steel pot vs my cast iron dutch oven. I know this because I understood it on the apple. This causes me to really think about the way I approach my studies.

When working from life, it isn't enough to try to mimic what I see, but to ask myself why I see what I see. Using a scientific method to enhance my learning approach it would go something like this: How would what I see be different if I changed one thing? (light, surface, color or structure) Can I accurately predict the changes? Can I get close? If not, why was I wrong? How does what I know about this object apply to other objects?

Working from imagination would be the reverse. What have I experienced already that can help me represent what I want to display?

The second part of working from imagination is building my imagination muscle.

There is a difference between creativity and imagination. Through the years, I have remained creative by painting, sewing, cooking, etc. Creativity is something that I exercise daily. I cannot turn it off. It is a part of who I am as much as being female or knowing how to walk. I am creative, so I do creative things. My imagination is something I can and do turn off. (otherwise I would need some kind of drug treatment) At one time, I had such an active imagination I would genuinely feel sad when I wrote about sadness. (Back in my writing days) Imagination is what is responsible for the twinge I feel when someone else gets poked with a needle.

Before I started drawing, I was gaming heavily. I played Diablo, UO, EQ, DAOC, Starwars, WOW etc. Gaming for me was never about winning anything. I was never interested in the prizes. The prize was a daily dose of imagination execution. I was a role player. I had lots of objects and characters running in my mind without the drawing skills to represent them. It was frustrating. I did a lot of writing in those days to describe in words the world these characters lived in. I ended up giving up gaming to have time to learn how to draw. Now I have built some skills and no characters to use them on. My imagination muscle has grown weak.

Though I do like to play the occasional game with my kids, I don't see myself getting back into the gaming thing again. For me, it is kind of like drinking alcohol. Getting drunk every weekend was fun when I was young and had nothing better to do, but now that I am older and have all these other opportunities, I don't really have an urge to drink very often. I am not anti-drinking. I am not anti-gaming. I just don't have the interest level to pursue either as my primary hobby.

I can't say that I have lost my imagination. My motivation to use my imagination daily has decreased. This has caused me to get to the point that I do not have access to it as readily. I do not picture things in my head as detailed as I used to because I do not rely on my imagination as a primary source of information.

The third part of working from imagination is bringing the two parts together.

I listen to Zencast. Even though I am not Buddhist, the talks have been very educational and I have discovered an awful lot about myself by paying attention to what I am thinking (or that I am thinking) An incredible shift happened when I noticed that I am thinking all the time. It didn't matter what I was thinking. I didn't notice that I am rarely alone in my head until I noticed how much my thoughts are constantly with me. This shift caused me to take a step back from what I was thinking so I could notice that there are just some things that are ridiculous to think about as often as I was thinking about them.

I like still life. I like painting. I like what still life painting has done to improve my artistic skill level. I don't believe I have the competitive nature it takes to be an illustrator or concept artist, but I really enjoy putting my brain to work on the CHOW challenges. This is a lot closer to the motivation that started me on this artistic quest. It is very energizing. It is motivational. I don't exactly know where this thought process is going to take me, but I feel a shift happening that is similar to the experience I felt when I noticed that I think all the time. It is subtle and profound all at the same time.

Maybe this means I will start painting apples with leather skins or perhaps do drapery studies using tin foil. If only I knew what kind of artists I want to be when I grow up, this would be an easy answer. The trouble with being self taught is that your teacher is an idiot.