Going Impressionist

Art has become fun again in recent days. For a while, you see, I’d been struggling with my oil painting. I was beginning to feel that I was a real failure. Fortunately, I intuitively understood the cause of my distress. I’ve been in a transitional place with my art, learning new techniques, discovering new ways to approach each canvas, finding new methods for applying my paints, and along with all of that, I’ve been developing new aspects of my own reflective style of landscape painting. And while gaining new knowledge is a wondrous thing, there’s always a gap for me between getting information into my head and seeing it produce the results I want. It’s not enough to know what to do. It takes lots of practice for me to turn that knowledge into something useful.

I’ve been learning about intuitive art, about self-expression, about groping my way through darkness — as I did throughout Inktober — and a lot about meandering through an image, allowing my imagination to come more fully into play, and letting the paint itself become a part of the creative process.

All of that is a long-winded way of saying that I’m learning to paint more loosely.

For me, it’s a process of developing artistic vision. Maybe others are born with it. I wasn’t. It’s been difficult to teach myself how to see beyond the realities of things  — trees, lakes, hills, rocks — to get to a more imaginative vision composed of many different shapes and colors, lights and shadows.

Here is one recently completed painting — Woodland Reverie — where I feel I succeeded in sharing an artistic vision.

Woodland Reverie Final

I wanted to show a dream-like quality about these woods, and I wanted an almost surreal feel to the earth itself. I wanted the painting to feel a bit fluid, as though the scene might change if you turned away then looked back a moment later.

One thing that has helped me greatly, I think, is that I’m seriously playing piano again. Now this might seem a bit off-topic, but hear me out. I spend hours each day practicing — everything from Bach to Bartok with lots of Beethoven in between. As with art, it is the impressionist composers whose works I most enjoy, yet all of music is a useful adjunct to visual art, I think. Music allows me to feel, to imagine, to trust my own interpretations. Much of this then carries over into my painting.

Visual art shares many common elements with music, and I tried to incorporate a few within this Woodland Reverie. Even the title of my painting comes directly from my love of music. One of my favorite piano pieces to perform is Debussy’s Reverie

Within my painting I have places of legato phrasing — long smooth strokes — along with short staccato notes to add a bit of tonal contrast. I think my painting also has rhythm and balance.

What the painting lacks, however, is more contrast between light and dark. That’s an area I continue to work on. I tried to add more contrast, but each time I placed a black or white (or nearly so) pigment, something within me rebelled. I didn’t want those stark differences. As a result, I have a painting composed of middle values. I suppose that’s much like confining a melody to a single octave on the piano, or playing a piece without adding any dynamics of piano — soft — and forte — loud. I wanted dreamlike — the meaning of reverie — but maybe all I got was boring. 

I question, too, whether or not the painting has a real focal point. Landscape paintings, I’ve been told, don’t have to have a specific focal point, and maybe so. But am I using that knowledge as a way out? Could I have improved this painting by creating a more definite point of interest?

Please share your thoughts about this painting and my move toward a more impressionistic style of landscape art. I’m intrigued by the new pathways I’m following, and I’m excited to see where my artistic wanderings will lead me.

 

 

17 Comments

  1. I think the painting is beautiful, as is the way you write about your art. As far as lights and darks, you might try softer alternatives to black; with colored pencil, dark umber and indigo blue combine to create a softer, more realistic black. I would try experimenting with color combinations that bring out darker tones that are less harsh than what you feared putting onto the page.

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    1. Thank you, Anna. Your suggestions are marvelous! I will definitely experiment more with “softer” shades of black. I’m planning to do a lot of practice with lights and darks. I think part of my problem is that I have to learn to step back and see the lights and darks as part of the whole, not as randomly-placed lights and darks — if that makes any sense. When I’m close to my easel the dark and lights can look jarring. I definitely need to step away more to see the whole.

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  2. I love this post, your journey. I see the expression in your painting. Sometimes you have to go with expression and your intuition will ( hopefully) guide you to find that focal area if there is one. I went through a spell of forcing or searching too hard for my style, the more I pushed, the more difficult it became. When I relaxed and let go of that push, my style was allowed to be revealed. No one is born with it, I’m home. It is definitely a journey. There is an artist who wrote several books on this subject. Her name is Jeanne Carbonetti, I may have mentioned her to you. Her books I have benefited the most from. Judith, keep at it ❤️

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    1. Thanks, Margaret. I will definitely check out Jeanne Carbonetti. Maybe you have mentioned her before, but I don’t recall seeing her work. You have me quite intrigued now.

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      1. She explains the creative intuitive process that really connected with me. She has a video on YouTube that is really interesting, a good introduction to her approach. It is only 4 or ,5 minutes long but you’ll see her art.

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  3. Just forget about focal points ! I love this painting ! It’s got that quality that’s uniquely yours which draws me in to those paintings of yours that make me gasp in wonder! Often , you confess dissatisfaction with those paintings I love most, so I’m so delighted you like this one! So glad you’re doing music , too.

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  4. Your contrast predicament is why I love computer screens. Just by tilting my laptop monitor one way or another I can instantly run through every variation in contrast from totally light to way too dark. It’s kind of fun! The traditional way of judging values (contrast) is to grab a piece of red cellophane or plastic (or even a candy wrapper) and look through it at your painting. If it all seems like indistinct mush then you know you need to lighten and darken some areas. Since you are the artist, you get to decide which areas those will be. If you absolutely cannot commit, another technique is to keep some clear colorless acrylic sheets (thin, flexible–not like for framing…they come in tablet form) and tape one over your painting. Make your changes on the sheet, and if they look good through your red cellophane, remove the acrylic sheet and paint like that on your original painting. Squinting works well instead of red cellophane for some people, but not all. Above all, don’t overthink it. My mentor had a mantra that he repeated to us constantly: Don’t think, just do!

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    1. Oh, thank you so much for the good advice! Squinting has never worked too well for me, but red cellophane… yes, that would be perfect! I like your mentor’s mantra, too. Thanks for sharing it.

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  5. This is inspiring for someone like me who has not touched oil paints for the fear of failing. It is still on my list. May be I will try and do some work now. Thank you so much. I wish you a happy Sunday!

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    1. When I started learning to draw three years ago, I knew I wanted to try oil painting — someday. It seemed so intimidating! I was so afraid to try. Finally about 2 years ago, I got up my courage, bought a cheap set of oil paints at Wal-Mart, grabbed a few canvas panels and decided to try. Even after I bought the paints and panels, they sat untouched for a couple weeks. I was still so afraid of even trying oil painting. One day I figured I might as well at least give it a try since I’d bought the supplies. So, I did. I loved it! It was so much easier than I expected it to be. I soon learned that it’s possible to wipe away mistakes, to make changes, and I discovered how much fun oil painting can be. I am so very glad I worked up the nerve to do it. 🙂 And when I recently got a “Judge’s Merit” award for a painting, I was over the moon. Oil painting is an awesome experience. I hope you come to enjoy it as much as I do.

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      1. Congratulations on your award! I am so sorry, REALLY late replying you. But, I just could not just “like” the comment and go on. Thank you so much once again for huge inspiration.

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      2. Thanks. Getting that “merit award” is definitely a high point in my life. It came at a time, too, when I really needed a little encouragement. I do love oil painting, and I’m glad I finally had courage enough to try it!

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  6. When I look at a blank sheet of paper or canvas it strikes me by applying paint, will it improve? I always hope it will but still suffer with apprehension every time.

    Wish you all the best with the painting as it is looking just fine.

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    1. Thanks so much for the kind words, Brian. Blank pages can often be intimidating and so can a blank canvas. I don’t know that anything I paint will be an improvement, but I do know that it will reflect something of who I am. Good, bad, or ugly, I like that thought. 🙂

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