Art, in many ways, is a habit. Those of us who pursue it in any of its myriad forms — drawing, painting, music-making, or other expressions — are often counseled to make it a daily habit. Some do; some don’t. Most of us, I think, tend to go from one extreme to the other, sometimes practicing our art religiously, other times letting it go for days, weeks, or in my case, as long as several months at a time.
As 2019 draws to a close, it’s a good time to look back at where we’ve been during the year. For me, any way I look at it, it’s been a very good year for me as an artist. I received 4 awards for my oil painting, including a first-place prize and a third-place ribbon. I also became a member of a third art association, and I’ve had the opportunity to become acquainted with many more artists in the community.
Yet even so, I’ve found myself a bit disappointed in what I’ve achieved in 2019. Those paintings that won awards were ones I’d painted earlier. Although I’ve started — and finished — new paintings this year, I wasn’t able to complete any I felt were good enough to enter into competition.
While I feel I’ve made great strides in my drawing abilities, I feel as if I’ve regressed a bit with my oil painting. That’s partly because I’m now setting higher standards for myself. I expect more. I also have a better idea, I think, of my personal style, so I’m working toward creating a greater sense of consistency in my art.
I stepped away from drawing and painting for quite some time this year. When I returned, I focused primarily on process, studying academic ideas of art — composition, color theory, techniques — and I did mostly various studies and practice pieces at my easel.
Another huge change I made was switching from traditional oil-based paints to water-soluble oils. There’s a definite learning curve there, and I haven’t yet surmounted it. Sometimes I think about switching back; sometimes I’m very happy I’ve made the change.
The year has been an erratic one with long absences from art followed by days of dedicated drawing. I’ve tried new things along the way, and I’ve encountered more frustrations and failures than successes, at least where oil painting is concerned.
Why? Because of my habits. Even though I’ve only been oil painting for three years (November 26 marked my official 3rd anniversary of painting) I’ve developed a lifetime worth of bad habits.
- I don’t keep my brushes clean
- I use too much medium and end up with muddy colors
- I get frustrated and wipe away entire paintings
- I go from one process to another, trying different methods and mastering none
- I don’t paint often enough
I’m now working to correct a lot of those bad habits, replacing them with more positive rules and guidelines. Call them early resolutions if you like.
- I’m resolving — again — to take better care of my brushes
- I’m resolving to control my medium better — meaning more color and less mud
- I’m resolving to never wipe away a painting no matter how awful it may be
- I’m resolving to be more instinctual in painting, to develop and follow my own personal process
- I’m resolving to paint often, not necessarily every day, but at least several times a week
On Sunday I shared a painting here — a landscape I recently completed. I shared the painting as well in a Facebook painting group. Another artist commented on how much he liked my style. The painting, he said, had atmosphere.
Oh, what music to my ears! After three years of looking for something to call my style, I’m beginning to find it and to love it. I’ve always wanted a style that encompassed mood and atmosphere, and I feel those qualities are beginning to show in my landscapes.
So it was with great pleasure that I recently completed this oil painting.
Although I didn’t plan every element of the painting, I did begin with specific intentions. I knew I wanted to create a woodland scene. I wanted to focus on orange, gold, and browns for the color palette. I wanted to practice softness, learning to create a misty sense about the scene. I wanted to work, too, on placing objects in the foreground in front of other objects.
I succeeded in some regards; I failed in others. While I’m not completely happy with the outcome, I am satisfied with the painting because I had a chance to work on specific techniques, because I was able to create a sense of light and atmosphere, and most of all because even though I was discouraged at various points, I resisted the urge to grab a rag and wipe it all away. That, for me, was a victory, indeed.
I have lots more bad habits to work on — like taking more time to carefully mix the hues I want, and along the same line, mixing enough paint for what I need. I still need to give thought to focal points and how to lead the viewer through my paintings.
All in good time, I suppose.
I’m hoping for a very good year in 2020, so I’m getting a jump start now. I hope to have many more of my atmospheric landscape paintings to share as I continue developing my own process, working with those soft, subtle color combinations I love, and discovering ways to make my art speak to those who view it.