Friday, January 7, 2011

Good Advice

Line Drawing, Lucca
About drawing: When you can just plop down and get a drawing, there is a real sense of freedom. Had I gotten a quick photo, I would have missed a wonderful conversation with an elderly Italian woman, clad all in black, who had worked with the American Embassy in her younger years. While drawing, I can listen to conversations wash over me, smell the enticing food and observe all the activities surrounding me. I LOVE that. 
I found this quote on a daily calendar this past year. I keep it posted in the studio since it is such good advice for artists of all mediums as well as a guide for daily life.

"Be a first-rate version of yourself, not a second-rate version of someone else."
Judy Garland to her daughter, Liza Minelli

Several years ago I had a watercolor student who was painting quite well when she came to my beginning class. I found out why when she began to work through the exercises I presented. She had gotten into the habit of following the step-by-step photographs of paintings in books and became used to good results for each effort. She didn’t realize that all the decisions, which make painting a challenge and a joy, were made for her – subject, composition, color-scheme, value pattern, etc. etc. The only thing left to do was copy.

Please do not misunderstand. There is a valid reason to emulate the paintings of others. The trap is thinking that it is your own creativity working. Any painting taken from another should be signed with the copyist’s name followed by “after so and so.”  

Because she had gained competency, it was very hard to go back to the beginning. After I explained to her why she was feeling frustrated, she made the decision to go at it again, building her own foundation of skills. That was courageous on her part since she had many compliments on her work and she was giving paintings to friends and family. But they weren’t her paintings; rather they were a poor imitation of someone else’s work.

As in many aspects of our lives, short cuts aren’t always a good way to go. Building competency takes longer but the more you work at drawing, composition, and all the other aspects of painting, the better you will get. There is real progress in direct relation to effort and age is not a factor. I tell my beginning students that you don’t need “good knees” to draw and paint. And even arthritis was not allowed to stop Renoir…he simply taped the brush to his hand.

May 2011 bring out the very best of YOU!

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