WEEKLY QUESTION No. 1 - The voyage or the destination

edited December 2021 in General Discussion
I've very much enjoyed @Richard_P's Daily Inspiration thread and last week I mentioned that it might be interesting to also have a weekly question for discussion. Something not so much to do with technique but more philosophical questions about painting or about one's approach to painting. So this week's question is:

Is a new painting a voyage of discovery for you, or is your destination always known and entails only the rigorous technical execution of a well thought out plan? Or is it a combination of both? Which approach do you prefer?



  • GTOGTO -
    edited November 2021
    My approach is fairly well planned out, but still open to change things as I go.  The composition can change if I don’t think it is working.  I also make adjustments to color and value, especially value if I think it needs to be changed.  Some parts of a painting may be painted and wiped and repainted if I don’t think it works.  Other parts practically paint themselves with little need to check values or color.  I think that’s because I have followed Marks methods enough times that it is becoming natural to hit the value and color more easily.
    The hardest part for me is choosing the subject matter.
  • Ooh I like this question.

    Most of the time, I have 'found' my delight, meaning, inspiration, discovery, etc., BEFORE I have painted it, when I find the reference photo or still life.  As in my Tuscany painting, the Rudy painting, etc.  There is usually a distinct, PRE-FOUND reason for why I'm painting what I'm painting.  In fact, that has been the case for every painting up till now.

    The one I'm working on currently is a discovery journey.  I did like the reference photo, so of course that's why I chose to paint it in the first place, but I'm definitely in expectation WAITING to see what will come from it and how I will connect to it.

    Interesting topic.  Thank you :)

  • Creativity is a space inside me, and if I try to paint (or other creative pursuits) outside of that, it's always much harder and likely that I'm fiddling around the edges. For a new painting I start to feel it long before I even necessarily know the subject. I will do some research but mostly feel my way with a basic sense of the approach I will take - navigating through some of several options I've used successfully.
    I was well-grounded in tonal technique, and this gave me confidence because it allows you to get control of the painting very quickly. The core elements are there quickly and then you can work towards finish.
    My personality is not plan in infinite detail. It's big picture, a rough or fairly strong mental map of direction and responsive to when I need to amend or dig in to understand something.
    This came completely unstuck with my latest. I put more planning in because it was so important, but also tried too many new things, with the confidence to jump in and figure it out. Instead I hit a series of significant setbacks. I think these setbacks taught me a lot I was unaware of around technical details about materials/techniques, glazing, approaches to architectural details... So this all goes into a toolkit that has more options. Like woodwork, when you learn new techniques, you have multiple ways to approach something.
  • GTO said:
    The hardest part for me is choosing the subject matter.
    I'm sure we can all relate to that. Ian Roberts quoted a famous photographer who says about one out of a hundred images is good enough and that he himself has the same rate in terms of photos that are good enough to paint. I relate to that - although I think 1 in 100 would be improvement for me.
  • For me painting is discovery and the enjoyment of the execution. I’ve had to discipline myself to have a plan and not hurry through the execution. To slow down and smell the flowers so to speak. 
    Through the years I had mainly used art as a much needed “brain shift” to put my worries behind me and move forward. 
    But now I have allowed myself the time to waste paint 🎨 and to explore the process. I originally learned oils as a teen and since then I have tried several mediums that fit my budget & time & space limitations. But now I’m back to oils and love it. 
    So if I have to pick a preference… I pick the execution, the nose to canvas and brush in my hand 👍🏻.
  • Thanks, @GTO, @allforChrist, @Abstraction and @joydeschenes. :)

    I've enjoyed reading these really thoughtful and well written responses. I'll respond to the question myself at some point.  :)
  • edited November 2021
    I think it may be a bit of all for me, I may have the intentions of the destination but that could change a little on route. I tend to get my idea of what I want to paint impulsively. Then I can take time getting my drawing right, thats if I am doing a pre drawing as sometimes I will just start with the paint.

    As each painting can bring different learning experience I dont think being too rigorous would help me, so there can be a certain looseness within what may be a well thought out and planned idea. Letting the painting take me were it is going and teaching me along the way.

    I certainly dont have a well thought/laid out palette. I know it would probably be helpful to me to do pre mixed strings of the colours but I tend to mix on the fly as I go. I have a rather chaotic looking one.

    Having decide on an idea of what to paint, I often think `oh this isnt going to be easy`. I like it when I feel that because if I am not going to be challenged how am I going to grow learn and improve. 

    The piece I am working on a the moment I spent a good deal of time (a day and a half) getting the set up and lighting to the point were I was happy with it.

    Great idea this post @tassieguy

  • Thanks, @MichaelD. It's a bit of both for me, too. I can relate very much to the chaotic looking pallet. Mine starts out all nicely laid out with strings of colour steps but sure doesn't end up that way.  :)
  • For me the voyage and discovery are almost all in the creative legwork and planning.  The paint itself I save for final execution. but i’m a newbie so “improvising” on the fly with expensive paint just might not be in my wheelhouse, or I’m too cheap with my resources… I do enjoy all the experimenting I want at the creative planning stage (digital tools can really help at this stage) so why waste paint later? - The cheap newbie thinks to himself.
  • edited November 2021
    Thanks, @CBG. Yes, the longer I paint the more I realize that a lot of the experimental stuff can be done on the computer. Much of the 'art' happens before I even get a canvas ready. I guess this was why, in the past, many great artists would do multiple drawings and painted studies to solve problems before the those problems arose in the major painting itself. We have it easy - we have tools the old masters couldn't have dreamt of. On the other hand, in doing those drawings and painted studies, they honed their skills to a very fine point and I wonder if I'd have the energy or time to acquire their skills in the old fashioned way. Are we too reliant on technology?
  • CBGCBG -
    edited November 2021

    “We” is almost always an overly broad and problematic term.  As I always say, “People are the Worst!… and… People are the Best!… and believe me, I mean it”

    I think a person’s particular personality, motivation, values, level of conscientiousness all have a part to play.  “Reliance” on technology will have different flavours based on the personality of the painter.  A painter who understands her goals, level of skill, and conscientiously wants to be better can set herself to tasks which put her closer to her goals and improves her skill … in some cases “relying” on technology to help her practice or train. others less conscientious perhaps even more superficial, might rely on technology as a crutch or a shortcut, efficiently producing pieces but shortchanging practice and development of skills….

    I really think a person uses technology in ways which reflect the content of their character.

    As long as one remains fully conscious, rational, and true to oneself, one’s goals and values, I do not think technology in the craft of painting is anything to fear.
  • Yes, I think that's right, @CBG. It's just a tool. If it helps achieve one's artistic vision then why not? I'm sure the old masters would have used computers had they been available. And they did use what technology was available to them. The camera obscura for example. They weren't Luddites. Is Vermeer any less admirable for having used that technology? I don't think so. 
  • Almost always a discovery, because i start with a vague idea  or image to begin with. A lot of unexpected and unforeseen things happen along the way, lot of failures too, but can't imagine I can stop painting. :)
    thanks for posting this @tassieguy, it made me think about changing the process :)
  • Thanks, @ArtGal. Yes, I think it depends a lot on one's personality. Some people are comfortable with not having everything mapped out whereas others are are risk averse and need to know exactly where they're going and how they are going to get there.  But I guess failures can happen even with the best laid plans. I really believe that the risk of failure is what makes painting exciting for some. It does for me.  :) 
  • tassieguy said:
     I really believe that the risk of failure is what makes painting exciting for some. It does for me.  :) 
    This is so true. :)
  • For me, initially when i started to paint, i could not think much beyond my reference. In those days color matching helped a lot to achieve a decent output... but the process though successful was becoming tedious gradually.

    But after i stopped color matching from my reference, before I start to paint,  i mentally make some decisions of which parts to simplify into a single value, how many steps (of values), which parts to enhance more than the reference... and then try to follow through on these decisions to portray a simplified but wholesome-enough vision of my reference. Many of the decisions, change while painting just like everyone else here said, but this process is much more fun. Though it was the earlier color-matching-phase that helped me be sensitive to all the variations in colors and also the ability to mix and get the right colors easily. Every lesson learnt plays its part for the present and future.

    Thank you for the thoughtful question :)
  • Thanks, @anwesha. I'd say your experience is true for a lot of us. We start out trying to follow Mark's instructions to the letter and then, as we gain knowledge, skill and confidence, we can start to take shortcuts and experiment a bit. I think this makes painting less tedious and more interesting.  :)
  • @anwesha I agree with you.  Over time I do less color/value checking and modify what I observe.  But as you clearly pointed out that would not be possible without going through those steps in many paintings beforehand.  
  • I honestly prefer the rigorous technical execution of a thought out plan to begin, this is the stuff that most often others very rarely get to see. This process then frees me up to be creative, take risks, to be spontaneous and intuitive in my oil painting style, this is the fun part. Then again, I'm handicapped, my eyes see in 3D naturally already, I sort it out for drawing and painting in 3D on my surface of choice through rigorous technical execution of a thought out plan. Sculpting used to be a very cool experience for me. I enjoy expressing my passion through honest hard work. Btw, learning to play music was the same way for me, hard work knowing and practicing before officially playing ready for performance, this was best for me.
  • edited December 2021
    Thanks, @Forgiveness. I like the analogy with music. Musicians differ , too.  Take professional pianists. They've all done the hard yards with rigorous practice. However, some like to sit down and ad lib and go where their feelings take them - jazz pianists are marvelous at this - whereas others will perform a piece strictly in accord with the musical score, adhering to every note and all the dynamics the composer (perhaps they themselves) stipulated. I think it's the same with painting. Some feel their way, others know the way already.    :)
  • edited December 2021
    @tassieguy , I feel my way yes. Much of my experience comes from drum circle environment, much feeling goes on there. But I always needed my studies and practice sessions with jazz riffs and phrases, and blues riffs, and meditation music beforehand to be at my best and be effective with the drum group and audience.
     "Others know the way already" yes they do, I could never understand nor catch on with them, such a wonder for me. I wish I had that! Damn! Hahaha! They make it look so easy.
     But at the same time, I played from my heart most often, and not many can do that. And this is what the greatest teachers try to invoke in students, "play from your heart" and forget about everything else (after all of that sweat from such hard work in rigorous technical execution of a thought out plan, prior, haha!).
     Whatever it is you do in the arts, do it from your heart.
  • Well, I guess I should have a go at addressing the question, too.

    Unfortunately, the responses so far have covered pretty much everything I could have said. No one was 100% one way or the other - most people say they have a plan but are open to changing it along the way. Also, people have said that when they first started painting realism they tended to stick pretty closely to Mark's method but then, as they got more knowledge and experience, were able to "wing it" a bit. And that's more or less where I am at, too.

    Before I start painting  I try to work everything out in sketches and on the computer. But sometimes, once the painting is underway, I see that it's not going to work quite as planned and so I have to make changes - maybe tweak the composition or colour. And I've found that, with 5 years of experience, I'm able to forego the mixing of long strings of steps before I start a painting. Instead, I'll mix some basic colours/values for the sky and rocks and vegetation and tweak these on the fly where needed. I know by heart now how to mix most of the colours I see in landscapes and mixing is much quicker than when I started out. 

    Thanks again everyone for your responses. The question will remain open for anyone else who wants to respond. 

    A new question will be posted each Sunday. 

    Rob :)
  • @tassieguy

    I suggest you start a new thread, something like "Weekly Question: 02" or whatever ordinal or numeral you wish to use!
  • edited December 2021
    Thanks, @CBG. I was wondering about that. I could just keep this thread going, but then there'd be no sense of closure and it would be difficult to alert people to the new question. So I think your suggestion is a good one. I'll start a new thread called Weekly Question No. 2 on Sunday and each Sunday thereafter a new weekly question will be posted in a new thread.

    Thanks for your suggestion CBG.  :)
  • Mine is mostly exploratory in nature. I do have a plan but sometimes the painting goes beyond the plan. I feel that after making the spontaneous changes to certain elements the painting takes a more dynamic appearance. I look for 'something extra' in my works. 
  • edited December 2021
    Thanks for your response, @kaustavM.  You seem similar to most others who have responded - you have a plan but the painting takes you outside/beyond the plan.  :)
  • @tassieguy yes, you can say that it's mostly about moving beyond Mark's stricter method and then going towards Stefan Baumann's way, which is more free and dynamic.
  • Thanks, @oilpainter1950. Your approach is pretty much in line with most others who have responded.  :)
  • Good question!

    I might have ideas for the painting and how to approach certain parts, but I'm more visual so like to manipulate the source photo(s) to get what I want to paint. If I try to do this when I'm painting I find I'm too focused on small area painting to deal with the larger picture.

    That doesn't mean I try to copy everything with the same level of detail. I will simplify some areas when painting and let 'happy accidents' stay if I like them. But I need to have a very clear image of what I am trying to achieve. :)
  • Thanks, @Richard_P. Yes, "happy accidents" sometimes happen. It's good to keep them. I guess one needs to be not so focused on a plan that they are not recognized or are not seen as "happy".  :)
  • tassieguy said:
    Thanks, @Richard_P. Yes, "happy accidents" sometimes happen. It's good to keep them. I guess one needs to be not so focused on a plan that they are not recognized or are not seen as "happy".  :)
    @tassieguy when one is painting on a big picture that has some commercial value to it then there's no way one can wait for 'something extra'. Only in this situation I differ from my own way of painting. 
  • edited December 2021
    Yes, @KaustavM. But one doesn't wait around for happy accidents. They happen if and when they happen. Sometimes, just an inadvertent flick of the brush can result in a pleasing mark and we decide to keep it. It's serendipitous. 
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