Thursday, January 7, 2010

Learning Art in a Vacuum

Happy New Year, everyone!  I'm sitting here in my studio, having just arrived home after a white-knuckle drive in the falling snow to deliver yet another one of our dogs to the veterinary surgeon.  Yep, we discovered that Dana has a CCL (Canine Cruciate Ligiment) injury, and she'll be having surgery today.  My personal belief is that the vet hospital should start a FSC (Frequent Surgery Club) so we could get a discount.  Some lucky veterinary surgeon will probably be vacationing in the south of France thanks to the fact that all of our dogs are reaching geriatric age at approximately the same time.  I could go on and on about this right now, but I prefer that this remains an art blog and not a blog about The Rants of a Newly Impoverished Dog Owner.

As I began prepping for the next painting challenge, I got to thinking about how I'm "teaching" myself to paint, and realized that my contact with other artists is, at least for now, purely on da Interwebs.  I'm not taking any art classes, I'm not part of an art league, I'm not going to galleries or existence is working full time, home and family, friends, cohorts, and dogs.  Then there's keeping up with this blog, squishing paint on canvas, looking for challenges, following and submitting to forums, and reading and commenting on other blogs. Jeez...who has time for anything else?

I have learned quite a bit from books, so much so that I am practically family to the staff of the local library.  ("Oh, hi Lisa.  I see you're checking out the book on composition again....")  Then I trudge out of the library under the weight of a half a ton of books ( feels that way), get home, sit down, and begin to assault my brain cells with artistic information.  I sometimes imagine my brain as a huge file room (no digital storage in my head), suddenly inundated with a tidal wave of new compositional knowledge, focal point data, and color mixing intelligence.  All of the Administrative Assistant Brain Cells are desperately trying to organize and file the vast array of incoming information, while the Head Of The Archives Brain Cell (sounding suspiciously like Scotty from Star Trek) is screaming "She can't take anymore, Cap'n!  She's gonna blow!"

Needless to say, not all of the information undergoes cerebral retention the first time around.  Or even the second.  Or third.  But...enough assorted bits and pieces stick to make for an interesting internal dialogue while I'm painting:
"Okay....warmer colors are supposed to advance, and cooler colors recede.  But this object in the front is blue, and the one in the back is yellow.  How am I supposed to make the blue thing advance?  Will greater detail trump the warm/cool thing?  I can make the blue thingy more intense, but then I have to do the same thing to the green thingamabob next to it, which will then make it stand out too much against the red doohickey.  Hey...where did this spot on the rug come from?  Darn dogs....."

That's where taking a class and having an instructor answer such queries could make things a bit easier.  Lacking the instructor, I'll just try the Shot In The Dark method: Try something, it doesn't work, paint over it.  Try it again, curse, paint over it again.  Try it again, pitch a fit, toss out the paper in frustration and start over.  Eventually the Administrative Assistant Brain Cells are able to access the necessary information, or at least some viable suggestions, and the blue thingy advances.  Ta-daaaaa!  One little lesson learned, and it only took twenty-seven tries!  On to the next problem thingy.

There are many, many, oh so many fantastic artists out there on da Interwebs, and from them I glean both inspiration and information.  Look how he uses color.  Look at the way she shapes objects with brushstrokes.  Look how he frames his work.  Little by little, bit by bit, iotas of information get filed away, each to (hopefully) be applied to future works.

There are times that I would like to have a syllabus for Everything I Need To Know About Painting.  Then at least I could try to learn things in somewhat of a logical order.  Instead, I'm at the whim of my Short Attention Span.  I'll try to work on a concept, then something catches my eye and I try that, then I wind up going off in a multitude of directions until I refocus.  That's where I think being surrounded by real, live, in-the-flesh artists could be a benefit.  I picture it like a large school of artistic anchovies, moving fluidly in unison toward a goal: "Okay everyone, we're all going to head that direction and learn about atmospheric perspective together.  Ready??? GO!!"  We would all experience and debate and learn the concept, and fluidly progress logically to the next.  But swimming alone I progress a bit, then flounder, then progress, then flounder.  Then it's time to reach for a cyber-lifeline, and I hop onto a blog or forum.  All of the artists I have been in touch with are a wonderfully helpful and supportive bunch, willing to pass on knowledge and provide helpful suggestions and gentle critiques. Their help has been immeasurable.

What's your experience?  Do you find that you work better solo, or do you like the support and inspiration of a group of artists?

And now that I'm thinking about this, if a group of lions is called a pride, what would you call a group of artists?  A palette?  A sketch?  An inspiration? Oooo, this could be fun!  We're an imaginitive bunch, send me some of your creative suggestions!

But I digress... 

Time to put an end to this post before I go off on a tangent again.  This is the next challenge, courtesy of the Acrylics forum on Wet Canvas:

What a great old car, I love this!  It needs to be cropped, but an obvious composition doesn't jump out at me.  I find myself drawn to the reflected color on the door of the car, and particularly to the audacious little flowering weed standing proudly in front of the shadow of the fender.  I think that's a great place to start this little lesson.  Maybe I'll learn an iota or two.

My Muse is running the Brain Cells through their warm-ups.  To unsociability, and beyond!


debwardart said...

Solo vs. Group?? When I began painting it was in a group class and I continued that for several years, painting by myself at home. At some point I decided no more classes or workshops, "just do it" as they say! I would get together with friends from time to time which evolved into a group who gets together weekly. It's good to bounce ideas off each other and the critiques are very helpful, but I still like to paint by myself sometimes! I've read through your blog and you are doing great! But it might be nice if you could find a group of real, live, in the flesh artists to meet with. And I can't wait to see the old car done in your style!

Leslie Hawes said...

Just had the TPLO (tibia plateau leveling osteotomy) done on my dog. I agree with the "vets-vacationing-in-south-of-France theory.
Could have had two big honkin' diamond necklaces. Will settle for one really funny dog.

I have always worked solo. When I hit a dry patch, I would head to the library. I don't read the art books...just look at the pictures.

And it says in this post that you have gone from sardine to flounder. That's a good thing, right? :)

Lisa Walsh said...

Hi Deb! I like the idea of just getting together with a bunch of artist friends. Not a class, not a workshop, but more of a casual gathering. A sketch group, maybe. Like you said, just to bounce ideas off each other. First step is to find some artist friends in my area!

Lisa Walsh said...

Hi Leslie! I know what you mean about the diamond necklaces, but I really don't look good in diamonds. :-P Yeah, I'd rather have my dogs healthy.

What art books would you look at? Who inspires you?

I didn't realize I was putting so many fishy references in this post. Must have been just a "stream" of consciousness thang. :-)