Painting with Intent

Earlier this morning — I’ve been up since about 3:30 AM — I put the finishing touches on a new painting. It’s been sitting on my easel for several days. I liked the original composition and my initial drawings, but I didn’t like the way the work was progressing. In the end, I’m not completely satisfied with it — do we ever reach a point of being completely happy with something we’ve painted? All in all though, while I’m not satisfied with this painting, I’m pleased to have finished it, and I’m pleased to find things I do like about it.

Looking Ahead
Looking Ahead – 12 x 16 Oil on Stretched Canvas by Judith Kraus

What I like most about this painting is that it’s been a valuable learning experience for me. Throughout the painting process I have been intentionally painting — that is, I have been thinking about what I am doing and why I’m doing it. I have been looking at the painting — and the process itself — with a more critical eye, and giving thought to what I want to express through my art. What is it I want to create?

While I wasn’t able to bring my vision to life in this painting, I was able to reach an understanding of where I’m going with my landscape art. Upon finishing this painting, I titled it Looking Ahead because the rocky pathway symbolizes a new journey for me as an artist.

For me, a big part of learning any skill is in figuring out what not to do. I guess it’s a bit like painting negative space: see what’s supposed to be there, and then paint out what’s not supposed to be there. I’m not sure I’m making a lot of sense, but we can give shape to things in art by focusing on what’s not there. In a similar manner, I can improve my painting by eliminating weaknesses.

In looking over my growing collection of paintings recently, one thing became very clear. I really, really need to work more on colors — mixing colors, choosing colors, understanding colors. So much of this is “Basic Art 101” and yet I’ve neglected to use the knowledge I’ve learned through my art studies. In the future, I will be taking more time to plan my paintings, to consider the palette I’ll be using, and to mix my colors with more care.

Since I started oil painting, I have bounced around a bit in my head in trying to find my style. I feel I’m still a long way from developing a real style of my own — and there are so many questions about what having a style actually means — but as a starting point I’m looking at what I would like to see in my work. I’ve come up with the term artistic realism to describe what I want to create. I’m not sure if my definition coincides with what others consider realism in landscape painting, but to me it means a work of art that is obviously a painting but which has well-defined details as opposed to mere suggestions.

In other words, I don’t want to paint blobs that might look like rocks. I want to paint rocks. I don’t want to merely brush clouds into my skies. I want to paint real clouds with all their lights and shadows. And trees! Oh, how I love trees. I don’t want to merely suggest that trees are there. I want to paint trees with bark and texture and sunlight playing through the leaves.

Yes, I want to paint realistic rocks and mountains, sea spray and ocean waves. I want to paint rivers that roll through the landscape, and quiet lakes that reflect the beauty from above.

Although you don’t see such details in the painting I finished this morning, I can see, at least, the thought of a rocky path, and for me, that path is one I intend to follow. I’ve gradually developed an approach to painting that works for me, somewhat of a “step by step” process that leads from idea to finished painting.

I begin by toning a canvas. I make a brief sketch of the scene I want to paint, and I use that sketch as a guideline to lightly paint in the basic lines and shapes. Next I work to block in colors, and finally I strive to refine the scene and create realistic details. In the past I haven’t done this very well, but as I come to better understand what I’m trying to accomplish, I can — hopefully — find ways to create those details. I am learning a lot, and I think the results will soon become visible in my paintings.

I am looking forward now to using colors better, creating more harmonious color palettes, and using color, too, to add mood and atmosphere to my landscapes. I am excited to follow this pathway toward more artistic realism in my work.

My recent studies have focused on the essentials of oil painting: shapes and lines, values, colors, and brushstrokes. I have learned a lot about each, and every day brings new awareness of these elements of art and how they work together. I am identifying my weaknesses and working to overcome them.

This morning I received a newsletter from artist Bill Inman. The message was exactly what I needed to hear:

“Slow down. Take plenty of time to think about what you want to achieve with each piece before you touch brush to paint.”

In the past, painting was a “take-a-deep-breath-and-hope-for-the-best” pursuit. My new pathway, however, is calling in a different direction. It’s a more thoughtful approach, a more considered approach. It’s all about figuring out what I want to do, why I need to do it, and how I can do it. It’s having a plan. It’s painting with intention.






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