Many Ask How They Can Loosen Up

Obviously. they are talking about how they can loosen up their art technique. Of course many of them are very uptight so they could be talking about other things. In general they want to be less realistic and more interpretive, but cannot give themselves permission to break the rules of art taught by teachers in their pasts and rewarded by judges who are sometimes smitten by realistic technique.

So why ask me?

My First Guitar (loosen up your painting)

Some History

My past training was to be a counselor; a masters degree from William and Mary which took 4 years. I was working around moving into a new home and 2 babies. But at the tail end of the program. when offered a part-time newspaper illustrator job, I jumped at it and it totally changed my career path.

Newspaper illustration is by necessity quite anchored in realism. You drew and added color to stories that, at least in the 1980’s, reflected the current world, nation, region, city as well as holidays, events and culture.

  • I did serious stories
  • mental illness,
  • the prison system,
  • relationship issues

that were interspersed with stories that could easily use a cartoon approach.

I was not a painter. That was an evolution. When I quit I went back to traditional watercolor. Even that medium has hard edges which were no longer satisfying. Defined foregrounds, focus area and background became predictable and tiresome. Since I never went to art school I didn’t know what rules I couldn’t break except, of course, the old traditional “leave the white of the paper” watercolor rule. I gradually pushed that envelop aside and created my own style. I say that with confidence because whether the work is good or not everyone insists they know it is mine.

So how do I answer that question?

I make suggestions. The most frequent suggestion being to take a painting you have worked hard on, but are not happy with and give yourself a challenge.

  • Put it aside.
  • Haul out canvas or paper and do it again but this time force yourself to change 25%.
  • Remove some edges.
  • Let the background bleed into the foreground or the most prominent shape.

You can’t ruin your painting because you are not messing with it.

  • Put it aside.
  • Do it a third time using painting number 2 as your guide and change 25% of that one.
  • Throw caution to the wind.
  • Throw on new color or create more or less contrast.
  • See how far you can kill your subject matter before you cannot “read” it anymore.
  • You will be surprised how little definition is required to read an object. Our brains fill in the blanks.
  • Look at it in a mirror or upside down. Have you made any interesting shapes? How would you feel about cropping it? No one is looking, judging.
  • At the very least you can force yourself to use bigger brushes and play with color. If color is too intimidating use black and white which will create grays. If paint is too scary use charcoal and a smudge stick or your fingers that you can dip in water. You can always tighten up afterwards.

Of course then you go back to same ole same ole. Doing the same thing over and over expecting a different conclusion. But some artists are more courageous than others and some just can’t shake the critics off their shoulders. Your choice.

I take my own advice and will revise art that I no longer find exciting or satisfying. In most cases they are pieces that I subconsciously am second guessing because of the critic on my shoulder.

If I ruin it I haul out the gesso, but most times I feel I have brought it back to life.

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