May 25, 2017

Finding Your Artistic Voice

Finding your artistic voice is like walking a tightrope. On one side of the tightrope is the Chasm of Static Rendering. On the other side is the Abyss of Unbridled Creativity.

If you traverse the tightrope chanting “Paint what you see, paint what you see,” you can enter “Gotta-Get-This-Right Mode" and topple into the Chasm of Static Rendering. However, if you forget to "paint what you see" altogether, you can enter “There-Are-No-Rules-So-I Can-Do-Whatever-My-Creative-Whims-Tell-Me Mode.” Accuracy is lost, and you plummet into the Abyss of Unbridled Creativity!


How to Keep Your Balance

You need a balancing pole. One end of this pole is weighted with your creative vision. The other end is weighted with accuracy.

By "accuracy," I mean painting your subject faithfully, according to the 5 Fundamentals (See "5 Reasons Your Painting Doesn't Look Like Your Subject"). I consider these 5 Fundamentals to be the foundation upon which good representational art is built. So accuracy is important! But it's not everything. It is also important to allow your work to be influenced by your creative vision.

By "creative vision," I mean having a relatively clear mental image of how you want your painting to look. Developing your creative vision takes time, and that's OK—if painting weren't a journey, it wouldn't be exciting! Fortunately, there are practices that can help you develop your creative vision. Here are two that have helped me the most:

1. Study the work of great artists
to learn how they solved problems
  • Observe their work at museums and galleries.
  • Paint copies of their work (Doing this gave me some of my best growth as an artist).
  • Don't try to copy another artist's style. Instead, study their work to get ideas for how you might solve similar problems in your own work.
     
2. Ask yourself questions like these:
  • What subject(s) inspire me the most?
  • How can I make the best picture?
  • How do I want this to look?
  • "Do not ask yourself, 'What do I see?' Rather ask, 'What do I see?' " (Richard Schmid, Alla Prima: Everything I Know About Painting)
     

The First Step Toward
Finding Your Artistic Voice

The first step toward finding your artistic voice is simply venturing out onto that tightrope. At first, you'll feel a bit wobbly. Sometimes you'll fall—I do frequently! But eventually, as you take one step at a time, you'll pick up speed and the balancing will become easier.

Again, always balance yourself with accuracy and creative vision. The more you make decisions based on both accuracy and creative vision, the more your unique voice will develop.

Walking a tightrope is a frightening illustration (sorry about that). However, finding your artistic voice is nothing to worry about. It will develop naturally over time. And when it does, it cannot help but be unique to you. After all, each of us is specially hand-crafted by the Master Artist. Your voice is merely an extension of who you are—a beautifully unique person!

So venture out onto that tightrope—I can't wait to see what you'll paint!


I adapted this lesson from an article I wrote for Oil Painters of America's blog. To read the original (longer) article, go here.

The next lesson (two weeks from now) will start a series of lessons on our materials. You may already know that Andrea and I love using Rosemary & Co. brushes. But next time, I'll share specifically which brushes we use and why.

See you then!
—Adam

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May 10, 2017

31 Paintings to Jumpstart the Year

31 Days of Paintings

At the beginning of this year, a challenge was issued to artists around the world—Create a new artwork from life every day for 31 days and post it on social media.

The challenge was created by StradaEasel, an easel design system, to help artists begin the new year with a creative jolt. This year I knew I wanted to join in! On the first day of January, I completed painting #1 and quickly realized how difficult it would be to accomplish the full challenge. Nevertheless, I was determined to see it through!

At the end of the challenge, I had created 31 paintings, a greater appreciation for the simple beauty of everyday objects around our home, and the lessons I learned from the intense and focused study.

Now I'll just have to see if I can talk Adam into joining me for next year's challenge!

Below are all 31 paintings from the challenge. Several pieces are still available! If you spot one that would be perfect on your wall, please email us at contact@adamclague.com. We'll let you know if the piece is still available and how to purchase. Prices below include framing.

Enjoy!
––Andrea

Open Oven
Oil • 10"x8" • (NFS)
Adam's Brushes
Oil • 8"x5" • $400
Backyard Shed
Oil • 6"x8" • $320
Furnace
Oil • 8"x6" • (NFS)
French Press
Oil • 10"x8" • (NFS)
Red Onion
Oil • 5"x8" • $280
Cruet
Oil • 8"x5" • $280
 Snowy Drive
Oil • 5"x8" • $280
Stovetop
Oil • 8"x10" • $460
Window Seat
Oil • 8.5"x6.25" • $340
Apple
Oil • 5.5"x5.5" • (NFS)
Espresso Beans
Oil • 5.5"x5.5" • $250
Sargent Books
Oil • 9.5"x7.75" • $430
Spools
Oil • 10"x8" • $460
Copper Pitcher
Oil • 10"x8" • (sold)
Copper Kettle
Oil • 5.5"x5.5" • (sold)
Grapefruit
Oil • 4.5"x6" • (NFS)
Foggy Driveway
Oil • 8"x10" • $460
Roses
Oil • 10"x8" • $460

Snake Plant
Oil • 9"x7" • $380
Rose Under Warm Light
Oil • 9"x6" • $340
Honey Jar
Oil • 7"x5" • $260
Carrots
Oil • 5"x8" • $280
Garlic
Oil • 5"x7" • $260
Lemons
Oil • 5"x8" • $280
Box of Paint
Oil • 8"x6" • $320
Loveseat
Oil • 6"x8" • $320
Lightbulb
Oil • 3.5"x4" • $200
Bread
Oil • 6"x9" • $340
French Press #2
Oil • 6.5"x3" • (sold)
Horse
Oil • 10"x8" • $460


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May 4, 2017

How This Perfectionist Learned to Paint More Loosely

 

Left: An early student drawing of mine
Right: A more recent oil painting

I'll be transparent—I'm a perfectionist. I iron my jeans. I have a hard time focusing in a cluttered studio. I quintuple-check these lessons for typos (and kick myself when one gets past me). For years, my perfectionism was a huge hindrance to my painting—by the time I got everything just right, it was way too tight!

Now, please don't misunderstand me—there is nothing wrong with fully-rendered or "tight" paintings. Just look at the masterpieces of artists like William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Lawrence Alma-Tadema and Lord Frederic Leighton! Tight painting is only an issue if you want your paintings to look loose.

And man, did I want to paint loosely like Sargent and Schmid! My paintings may never be on a par with those masters, but my work finally developed the looseness I desired.

This perfectionist learned to paint more loosely by disciplining myself to adopt these 6 practices:


  • Stand up. Sitting will keep you from frequently backing away from your work—an essential habit, as problems are much more evident at a distance. If you're unable to stand while painting, sit in a chair with wheels.
     
  • (Following from the last point) Adopt the 10-Foot Rule: If it reads well from 10 feet away, it's good—don't touch it!
     

  • Envision your subject made up of shapes like mosaic tiles. As much as possible, try to paint these shapes with one stroke each. If you need to adjust a shape, do so with a separate, deliberate stroke instead of continuing to dab at it. Painting a shape with a single stroke often requires a generous amount of paint on your brush, which leads me to the next point…
     
  • Mix up large batches of paint on your palette with your palette knife. One of the biggest culprits of tight painting is not using enough paint—when your brush is hungry for paint, multiple strokes are needed to cover an area, and this can cause the surface to look overworked.  


  • Use a brush slightly too big for the job (I couldn't find what artist said this, but if you know, please remind me!).
     
  • Continuously ask yourself, "How do I want this to look?" Having at least a semi-clear vision for your brushwork can keep you from falling into the trap of slavishly copying your subject.

This last point is a key for beginning to find your personal style or "voice," and I'll talk more about that next time.

See you then!
—Adam

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Apr 20, 2017

4 Principles for Powerful Picture-Making


It's one thing to paint something to look like that something. It's another thing entirely to paint that something dynamically, in a way that draws your viewer's attention from across the room.

When you just can't make your painting of that apple look like the apple, be encouraged that there is a maximum of just 5 things that could be wrong—drawing, value, edge, temperature and/or color (See "5 Reasons Your Painting Doesn't Look Like Your Subject").

However, like I mentioned last time, there is another set of issues beyond these 5 that may keep your painting from being as strong as it could be. Does your picture lack "punch"? Do the elements in your picture seem lopsided? Is it unclear where the viewer should look? These are usually issues with composition.

To avoid composition problems, I remember "4 Principles for Powerful Picture-Making":

  1. Center of Interest or Focal Point
  2. Placement
  3. Value Pattern
  4. Line
Now, let's unpack these…

 

1. Center of Interest

 

Your center of interest (or "focal point") is the thing you want to convey the most. To decide what your center of interest should be, ask yourself, "what is the most important thing I want to communicate through this picture?" You can certainly communicate multiple things in the same painting. But when you do, it's a good idea to emphasize your most important statement and make your other statements subordinate. Otherwise, your viewer can feel visually overwhelmed and be confused as to where he is supposed to look.


In a room of shouting people, no single voice is heard.

The remaining 3 Principles for Powerful Picture-Making can be used to make your center of interest more powerful and compelling…


2. Placement

Do the elements in your pictures ever feel lopsided or otherwise awkward? Next time, plan the placement of elements beforehand by sketching small thumbnails in pencil. This allows you to move the elements around until they feel "right."

Good placement can be very subjective, but here are a few rules of thumb that can help (these are certainly not absolutes):
  • Avoid placing your center of interest exactly in the center.
     
  • Placing your center of interest higher than the canvas's center is often more appealing than placing it lower.
     
  • The further you place your center of interest from the center of your canvas, the more likely it will be that you'll need an opposing secondary element to balance it. This can help avoid lopsided pictures.
     

3. Value Pattern


Value pattern can give your picture that compelling "punch" to draw a viewer's attention from across the room. Value pattern is the arrangement of basic shapes of darks and lights. I often spend a great deal of time planning my value patterns by making thumbnail sketches like this:


If a value pattern is strong as a thumbnail, it will usually be strong in the final painting, too.

When I plan a value pattern, I consider these rules of thumb (again, these are not absolutes):
  • Allow the area of highest value contrast to be on or near your center of interest. This is one of the most powerful pulls to attract your viewer's eye.
     
  • Don't allow your dark shapes and light shapes to occupy the same amount of surface area. This can look static.
     
  • As much as possible, connect areas of similar value into one continuous shape. This almost always makes a composition stronger.
     

4. Line


Lines—both actual and implied—are powerful devices that can be used to lead your viewer on a fun journey through your painting and toward your center of interest.

In this painting, notice how the lines of the yarn, seat back, cushions, and other elements lead the eye through the piece. Although the lines take the viewer on a meandering stroll through the picture, they eventually lead back to the center of interest—the girl's face and hands.
 

Many people ask me how they can paint more loosely and have more interesting brushwork. Becoming a looser painter was a long journey for me, but next time, I'll share the practices that helped me do so.

See you then!
—Adam

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Apr 13, 2017

5 Reasons Your Painting Doesn't Look Like Your Subject

 
Isn't it frustrating when you paint and re-paint an area of your picture, only to step back and realize that something still looks "wrong"? Well, when I can't get my painting to look like my subject, it's encouraging to remember that there is a maximum of just 5 things that could possibly be wrong.

Now, there is actually a 6th thing that might be considered "wrong" with a painting. I'll mention it in a minute, but in this lesson, I want to focus on the following 5 (what I call "The 5 Fundamentals of Visual Art")–
  1. Drawing
  2. Value
  3. Edge
  4. Temperature
  5. Color
Now, I'll share how you can start diagnosing these types of problems in your work.



1. Drawing

 

"Drawing" is not only a noun; it is also a verb. As a verb, "drawing" is the act of placing the right marks in the right places. Even when I'm painting, I consider myself to also be drawing, because I am still endeavoring to place the right marks in the right places.

How to diagnose: If your painting looks out-of-proportion, "cartoony," leaning or tilted, etc., you have probably made some wrong marks. To learn how to avoid these pitfalls, read "The 4 Actions for Correct Proportions."


2. Value

 
"Value" is how dark or light a shape appears.

How to diagnose: Does your painting look "flat"? You have probably made a value error. Be sure to read "Making Your Flat Portraits Look 3-D."


3. Edge

 
Envision your subject made up of graphic shapes, like mosaic tiles. "Edge" describes the softness or sharpness of the boundary between two tiles.
How to diagnose: If the forms in your painting don't look rounded, or if things look "cut out," you probably have an edge problem. To learn how to paint edges accurately, read "Making Your Flat Portraits Look 3-D Part II."


4. Temperature


"Temperature" refers to how "warm" or "cool" a color appears.

How to diagnose: Do you struggle with "muddy" or "chalky" color? These are temperature issues. For help in understanding temperature, read "Avoiding Muddy & Chalky Skin Tones."


5. Color

 
I'll skip the difficult task of defining color—color is color!

How to diagnose: Color problems are sometimes painfully obvious—like when you can't get your mixture to match the color in your subject!* One of the biggest questions I'm asked by my workshop attendees is, "How do I mix that color?" If you struggle with mixing color, this lesson is for you: "A Better Approach to Mixing Realistic Skin Colors."
*Disclaimers: You may certainly choose to interpret
your subject non-literally (e.g., monochromatically or
with a limited palette). In cases like these, your mixtures
can deviate from the colors in your subject
without being considered wrong.
And even with literal interpretations, there
is "wiggle room," because color perception
has a degree of subjectivity.



Final Thoughts

When I can't figure out why my painting doesn't look like my subject, I'm always encouraged to remember that the problem is just 1 or more of these 5 things. I'm not saying that makes things easy, but at least it makes things manageable and learnable!

So what is that 6th thing that could be wrong with a painting?

Well, the 6th thing can be subjective, so it's often inappropriate to describe it as "correct" or "wrong," but #6 is composition. Even though composition can be subjective, there are principles that can help make a composition more dynamic. I'll share a few of my favorites next time in "Powerful Picture-Making Principles."

See you then!
Adam

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