I've been working primarily in watercolor for 40 years, and I still cling to various crutches - devices that help keep the paintings "safe". Even in abstract work, for example, I tend to make shapes that mostly touch the edges of the frame. This provides a guaranteed structure, which is mostly a good thing, but it also seems limited. As I often say in class, "When you keep doing what you already know, you are not learning much."
Plus, forty years is just too damn long to keep holding on to the edges of the pool. I'd like to encourage everyone to dive into the deep end and see what happens, sooner, rather than later.
In the case of the still life set-up we worked from in class, we were asking when we could be carefree and when we would need to be careful. Will a later layer make sense of the one I'm making now, or do I need to make sure the shapes are meaningful right from the start?
If you can't quite see in advance when it's appropriate to give definition to the separate entities in your painting, the best way to find out is to let go.
First of all, this means letting go of the notion that this particular piece of paper should become a good painting. Be willing to fail. Then, you're ready to find out how far you can really go. That's the real goal.
Can you let go of the edges between shapes? Let go of outlines. Let go of the differences between things, and start by painting the similarities.
|Alfred Henry Maurer Abstract Still Life|
What did Maurer let go of? When did he give the shapes their identity?
This usually involves venturing outside of your comfort zone, but, really, what's at stake? How often, as adults, do we get to fall on our faces and get up, unharmed, and try it again?
If you discover that the darks or the middle values can't pull the whole mess together, you have used up one side of one piece of paper, but you've gained essential information. That's a net positive.
One of these pictures relies on accuracy for its appeal. The other is more approximate, and displays the fluidity of the medium more obviously. I have a preference, as you might guess.The pear study is more fun to look at, because it gives back some of the control to the paint (I could do without all those spatters, though).
Set up a still life for yourself, and paint a few versions. Stretch yourself. Write down somewhere what you were letting go of. Everyone is holding on to something. The pear painter, above, could have made his fruit blue, after all.