I have doing some experiments with painting this past month.
It is possible to get into a rut, trying to create paintings for a specific show or trying to find the key to making a “saleable” work. Or feeling boxed into re-creating art that got a good response.
Although I am always checking out different art books and take one or two workshops each year to look at or try different techniques and to get different perspectives, it is hard to try something that is really different and outside my patterns and comfort zone.
So I created a series of experiments to try to force a different direction and to shake things up. Something interesting may develop from this. At the very least, I have gained some knowledge.
One of the first things I tried was using random colors.
The palette of colors being used for a painting is important and it is good to be consistent and limited in your choice of colors. Too often, I am not disciplined and end up with a painting that may be a little “off” from the use of too many colors or pigment choices that are in retrospect a bit jarring.
As I check out other artists, they often have their list of selected palettes and that makes me want to try those colors out. Eventually, I end up with more colors that I need and ones that I lack knowledge of from underuse.
The experiment is to randomly select paints from my extended collection of pigments. This creates a longer experience with some colors I don’t often use, and I can see which combinations work well together. Since I also limit the number chosen, this also forces mixing and perhaps finding exciting new combinations.
Using a random number generator, I produce 4 numbers from 1 to 40 (forty being the number of tubes of paint that I have). The colors are listed on a sheet numbered from 1 to 40. As a number comes up, that color is looked up and selected.
(I do allow myself an out. If too many of the colors are similar or I am doing a landscape say and there is no blue shade, I generate another number so I can have a more balanced range. )
I do these mainly on small studies in case the combo just does not work.
I record the palette list and evaluate its success.
This experiment may have backfired a bit, because I am liking other colors that I had put away. So now I have more colors to choose from! But when I go through all of the data, I am hoping that I end up with perhaps a couple of different full palettes that I can switch between.
As a way to get looser and more abstract with landscapes, I tried some imaginary landscapes that I call “Neverwhere”. This idea came from workshop I took with Bjorn Bernstrom. Using a lot of water and paint, I lay down some colors with broad strokes or even pouring the paint. Tilt the paper and let them flow and combine, maybe adding more paint or more water.
At some point, I see what kind of landscape seems to suggest itself out from the chaos. I create mountains, trees, ground, rivers, etc. as they appear to me. This kind of painting is very dynamic and intuitive.
The landscape changes greatly as I paint with new ideas and topography appearing. I am not trying to be too accurate (how can I with no source material?) and I am OK with the perspective being a little odd and the overall effect dreamy.
I showed one of these to a group of artists and a number of people insisted they knew where it was. Although the landscape did have the feel of that type of area, it really was from no place in particular.
Using old canvases
I wrote earlier about redoing some paintings. http://williamswatercolors.com/blog/the-do-over/. From paintings I have done on canvas and really did not like (although I may have actually varnished them), I totally covered them with gesso to erase the current paintings. I added watercolor ground so the surface could again accept watercolor. I also did this from artwork that I bought at second hand shops (mainly to get the frames).
In some cases, the result is a totally white canvas, in some cases, some of the color still bleeds though. In addition, some other artists’ work were painted with heavily applied acrylic and so they had texture that showed through the gesso. This texture gives a direction to the resulting painting.
I also applied watercolor ground to wood board panels (I have done this before).
I created a painting that was the same size as a board and glued the paper to board.
Watercolor on canvas, paper on board and directly on panels can be varnished and then framed without mats or glass. This avoids breakage, glare and additional work during the framing process.
I also played with different backgrounds instead of being true to the photo source. Backgrounds can be tricky. They often do not really add much to the artwork but a bad one will dominate or detract from the overall look.
I tried some incongruent backgrounds such as painting these two dolls (which were on a shelf) as though they were out in the countryside.
I also tried some fairly abstract backgrounds. Backgrounds are often hazy because there are further away and atmospheric but these attempts were to really deconstruct the background into shapes and colors. Hopefully this adds to the composition even while there is no identity to the background.
None of this is too radical and I don’t know that these may result in a permanent change. But it is good to experiment especially when feeling a little stagnant.
Do you have a favorite experiment? Something else to suggest for me to try?
[Article image from Young Frankenstein (1974)]