Recently I joked about receiving a “license to create” from Cheap Joe’s Art Stuff. I have this sticker posted on a mirror close to where I do most of my painting. It’s a great visual reminder of the joy that comes from being creative.
I’ve always been creative — I think everyone has creative ability — and throughout my life I’ve been involved in music, dancing, writing, photography, design, perfume-making, soap-making, and now, yes, art. I’m happily drawing and painting with watercolors. I’m learning scratchboard techniques, and soon I’m going to try acrylic paints.
I guess I don’t need a license for all my creative activities, but at the same time, I wish this little sticker could truly give me the artistic license I need.
Confused? Let me explain.
To me, artistic license is a special sort of freedom. It means knowing when and how to bend — or break — rules for better effect. It means having a vision and following through on it. It means changing perspectives or rearranging elements to create stronger compositions. With visual arts, it means seeing the world through an artist’s eyes, and I haven’t yet developed this ability.
I see the beginnings of it now and them. At times, a face will catch my attention. “I want to draw that face,” I think to myself. Or as we’re driving along, I’ll be struck by the beauty of a scene. “Oh, that would be beautiful to paint,” I say.
I’m glad I’m starting to see the world from an artist’s point of view. But there’s so much more to it!
Over the past few months, I’ve seen a lot of “art challenges” posted in various Facebook groups. A reference photo is provided, and artists are invited to share their paintings based on the photo. A simple concept. The results are always astounding to me because of the wide range of differences in the paintings submitted.
My thinking is along the lines of “Oh, I never realized we could paint part of the scene,” or “Oh, I didn’t know we could use different colors,” or “Well, you mean it’s all right to add something else to the picture?”
These variations — and dozens more — are part of what I call artistic license, that sense of freedom true artists have, the ability to see possibilities that aren’t obvious, and the instinctive knowledge of knowing how to create one’s vision.
My vision as an artist is still very limited. I’m basically at a “see it and draw it” stage, although I’ve learned to remove elements at times in the interest of simplifying a scene — not to strengthen the composition but to make it easier for me to complete. That’s not quite the same as taking artistic license.
What I hope to develop is an awareness of interest in composition. What I mean is understanding how to create strong points of interest for the viewer, how to view a scene or reference photo and “zero in” on finding the right focal point for the art I create. I also want more awareness of different styles and their effect. I know I’m not explaining myself very well, but that’s the thing about artistic license. It’s something that defies explanation. It’s something natural artists have, and something that struggling artists — like me — have to develop through time and practice.
At least, I hope it develops through experience. Even though I’m thrilled with the drawing skills I’ve learned, I don’t want to remain “stuck” at a level where drawing mostly means copying what I see or imitating another artist’s choices and style. I want to look at a scene and see it not as it actually is, but as I want to create it.
As artists, we have so many choices! We can create with stark black marks from charcoal, or fill a canvas with bold, unapologetic colors. We can work lightly and loosely, splattering drops of paint to create the illusion of an image, or we can meticulously create hyper-realistic drawings that leave viewers in disbelief. We can work large-scale or create tiny drawings. We can even choose to express feelings in abstract form, splashes of colors, or simple geometric shapes.
But when and how do we develop these abilities? At what point do we break free of the “learning process” and give ourselves permission to truly create?
These are questions I’m asking now as I seek my own “artistic license”. Although I’m grateful to “Cheap Joe” Miller for the sticker, I realize that what I’m seeking can’t be found outwardly. I’ll only find it deep within myself.