Saturday, January 30, 2010

Painting Like a Child

I was looking through a book I have had around for years, Encouraging the Artist in Your Child by Sally Warner. It is interesting to read through her advice and think about how it applies to adults who are artists. Picasso once said something like:
"It took me a few years to learn how to paint like an adult. It has taken me a lifetime to learn how to paint like a child."

That is a very loose paraphrase - but I think the sentiment is true. We spend so much time trying to be "good" at art that we forget the aspects of art that make it worthwhile. Here are some of the quotes by parents shared in Ms. Warner's book and my thoughts on them for adults.

"My three-year-old spends (only) a minute on a drawing."I wish I spent one minute every day drawing. Any time is worthwhile. I get stuck on needing at least two hours to feel like I have gotten something significant done. Some parts of an art piece do take time and it also takes time to get into the right state of mind. I try to have several pieces I am making at different stages of development. That way, if I am in a mindset to do detailed work or to do big "blocking in" work there is something for me to do without fighting myself. When that happens, a short amount of time can be very useful.

"But she scribbles."
Letting the mind wander is very helpful. I quickly tire of being on task. Usually, the paintings I start that I think are going to be really great and a nice continuation or summation of a body of work aren't nearly as good as the ones that seem to come out of nowhere. Scribbling - letting the muse take over - is necessary to progress in a manner that isn't predictable and boring.

"He draws fine, but still paints like a chimp."
How about this: "he paints wonderfully, but his art just doesn't grab me." We all have our weaknesses - we all are chimps at something. There is so much to know about art. Some people are great painters but lousy salesmen. Others are lousy painters but great salesmen. We need to give ourselves a break and do our best to take things one step of improvement at a time. Side note: I actually know an orangutan whose paintings sold for several hundreds of dollars (that's what happens when you work at a zoo).

"He sometimes makes things and smashes them."
I think this would be fitting for my tombstone. Hey, if you don't like it, get rid of it. If you don't like it, stop. Don't waste your time and money on something that isn't going to work -- that isn't capturing the spirit of your creativeness. This is when it becomes duty instead of art. Until you are happy with it, everything is on the chopping block.

With children, art is not about the finished product it is about process; about testing and experimenting how paint and clay and crayons work. As adult artists, we should continually be that exploratory also. But once we have figured out how to use the paint, the clay and the pastels, we should continue to explore what it is we want to express. If there is no exploration in the process, the art becomes predictable. It may be well crafted, but it won't have much to say.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Art Class Quizzes

I have been very busy pulling together information for art classes I will be offering soon. As part of these courses I have been making quizzes. See if you can answer the questions below correctly.

1. Contour line drawing is meant to...
a. capture the light as it falls across your subject
b. express atmosphere or mood
c. have as much information as possible
d. improve your ability to see your subject

2. Botanical art is different from floral art because...a. there really is no difference
b. botanical is watercolor and floral can be any medium
c. the creator is an artist and a scientist
d. it doesn't sell as much
e. it is concerned with botanical aspects of the plant

3. Making a drawing without looking at the paper is...a. a good party game
b. ridiculous
c. blind-contour
d. a good way to embarrass yourself

4. What is a thumbnail sketch?
a. The same as a blind-contour drawing, but drawn with graphite attached to your
b. Duh, a sketch of my thumbnail
c. a quick simple sketch of basic shapes in a composition
d. a line drawing with shading

5. Lines are...
a. formed where two shapes come together
b. full of information if they fully express shapes
c. long thin things that wrap around the world

1. c + d
2. e
3. c
4. c
5. a, b + c

How well did you do?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Art Lesson: Gesture Drawings of Plants

Capturing Gesture: Gesture Drawing is meant to quickly capture the essence of the subject; its movement, shape, weight, etc. Gesture is based in the act of seeing. It is a representation of basic elements quickly witnessed. Gesture gives your drawings life – gives your subject life. Often botanical drawings can seem stiff and lack life. This is because, in the course of drawing an accurate representation, the artist has lost sight of gesture. Since drawing gesture is directly connected to what you see, it obviously is also about improving your observation skills. The following exercise will help you to develop your observation of gesture.

Materials Needed:

  • 4B pencil
  • Newsprint pad
  • A plant with a stem, branches and leaves
  • Variety of plants - In this exercise you will need to have a few different plants available for drawing. These plants could be house plants or plants outdoors. Plants should have a variety of characteristics.
Place a plant at a comfortable distance from you in a place where there is enough light to draw and to see the plant. Gesture drawing is about capturing the energy and posture of your subject. With figure drawing, the first action is to find the spine of the model and use this as the central organizing unit for the drawing. Thankfully, when it comes to drawing the gesture of a plant there is a “spine” on most plants called a stem or trunk. This is the place to start.

Locate the stem of the plant. Quickly draw a line that captures the pose of the stem. Is it bending slightly one way or the other? Is it straight? Is it doubled over? The energy of the plant can easily be found in the manner in which it is growing, for that is how a plant’s energy is expressed. So, quickly draw an energetic line that captures the pose of the stem. From there, quickly draw lines that represent the branches coming off the stem. Be aware of the angle with which the branches come off the stem. Do the branches go up, straight out or hang down? Now, continue with the leaves, drawing lines that capture their angles and shapes. With groupings of leaves, drawing each individual leaf is not necessary. Look at the grouping of leaves as one big shape with a few edges in its interior. Continue on like this until you have completed drawing the plant.

Gesture drawings are meant to be done quickly and to have energy. If this is the first time you have ever made a gesture drawing, keep your pencil moving and try not to take it off the paper much. Try not to think much. Observe and draw. Observe and draw.

Now do this again with the same plant – but do it much faster. Then keep doing this for several more plants. Pick plants that are vertically growing, like grasses. Pick plants that branch out like geraniums or trees. Draw a plant and then turn its pot halfway around and draw it again. For gesture, feel free to draw dead plants, live plants – any plants at all. Create about 15 drawings of a variety of plants. Do them all quickly. Take no more than two minutes on any one drawing. Set an alarm clock if you have to. Fill the page of your sketch pad with each drawing. Draw big and use your whole arm to draw. Be loose!

What is the gesture of a thicket? Look for obvious stems and see the leaves as clumps or "drifts" instead of individual leaves.

Have fun making something beautiful!