I hope you're having a happy week, and getting as much creative time in as you want!
Or do you sometimes find yourself distracted by a multiplicity of possibilities? Maybe it's not sure what kind of media you want to work in, because there are so many things you'd like to try. Or maybe the broad range of subject matter you're thinking about feels a little overwhelming. Or could it be that all of those colors in the paint tubes laid out before you give you so many possibilities you just don't know what to choose?
One thing you might consider is how you can simplify things. It's so easy to get distracted by shiny objects, and sometimes, when it comes to art materials and new colors, we may find ourselves with a confusing array of possibilities.
That's not to say don't try stuff! Trying new things and experimentation is what leads to discovery! And discovery may take us in wonderful new directions that we would never have thought of exploring, had we not just given ourselves permission to experiment.
As creative people, we are often very comfortable with being all over the place. Hey, that's what creativity is all about! It's seeing how different things can come together in new ways, whether in a visual art form like painting, any other kind of art form, or inventiveness of any kind.
But every now and then it's good to simplify, to see what you can do with less. One way of doing that with your art making is to see what you can do with fewer colors. If you've taken my classes, you know how I teach the virtues of a limited palette. But you may want to experiment, just for the heck of it, with even fewer colors.
Last Friday, the folks in class decided they wanted to take on a two color challenge. Only two colors, you say, shocked! Yes — the idea is to try a lighter warm color and a cooler dark color, plus white, and see what you can make of it. Your options are restricted, but the simplicity of the palette has gifts for you too.
Sometimes, when you are less distracted by the excitement of many colors, you can particularly appreciate values. And learning about values makes a lot of difference in all your painting, whether you continue painting with two colors and white, or expand back out.
So… are you finding yourself distracted by a multiplicity of options? Whether you're choosing between many colors, or media, or anything else, consider simplifying, even a little bit. You may be pleasantly surprised at the gifts simplicity has to offer you!
Have you ever wondered where to look for subject matter inspiration, whether for drawing or painting? Here's a suggestion: look around you.
It's easy for us to overlook the simple things around us, and take them for granted. But truthfully, they can give us so much to make art about. And learning to recognize the beauty all around us is a very good thing — because there really is beauty all around us. We just sometimes need to learn to see it!
So what might you draw or paint?
How about that cup of coffee or tea you enjoy in the morning? Or the cup itself? Or, take a look in the refrigerator, and see what you find. A strawberry? A banana? An unopened wedge of Brie in an interesting package? An onion? A pepper? A pear?
Look around the house. Do you have a salt-and-pepper shaker? A pitcher? A book? A stack of books? An alarm clock? A candlestick? A chair? A shoe? A purse?
Think of all the things you love in your immediate environment. You don't even have to step outside to find inspiration and subject matter.
And if you do want a little more challenge without stepping outside, consider drawing or painting your dog or cat sleeping. In the video above, you can watch me draw my adorable dog Zoe (who's unfortunately no longer with us) as she was sleeping, from a photo I took of her a long time ago.
And when you do step outside, I hope you'll take a good look and appreciate the beauty just outside your door, too. Just think, how lucky are we to have cameras in the phones we carry with us? It makes taking a photo for posterity — and future references for drawing and painting — as easy as pie.
Oh, pie! Now, there's another potential subject.... 🙂
Have you ever considered creating your paintings in a series? It can be a really effective way of focusing your learning. It can also be a great way to pull together an art show, either your own or a group show with your friends or fellow students.
So, what are some of the possibilities? What kind of series are we talking about? How might you approach it? Here are five ideas for series of paintings you can create.
1. Choose one subject, and explore it in multiple ways (such as a simple still life — one pear, or one apple).
2. Choose one subject, and explore it in the style of a different painter in each painting.
3. Create one composition, and paint each one in the same size, using a different palette in each painting.
4. Choose a theme, and create a series of paintings that fit your theme.
Landscapes of Napa Valley? Pears? 2020 — a Year We Will All Remember? Springtime Flowers? My Favorite Dogs? The Most Adorable Cats You've Ever Seen? (We don't want any cats to feel left out or overlooked, right?) Jazz Musicians? Portraits of Costumed Models?
You get the idea....
5. Choose a theme, and create a series of paintings fitting the theme, all in one color palette (it unifies everything, doesn't it?)
Then, explore your series! What can each painting teach you as you move through the series? What can you learn from each new painting that you hadn't learned yet? Yes, paintings can be our teachers. And working in a series is a good way to explore, to discover, and to learn and grow as a painter.
I hope this finds you happy and healthy and getting in some good creative time!
I’ve been finding myself thinking a good bit lately about the positive and negative. There’s positive and negative when it comes to attitudes (I’ll take extra helpings of the former, thank you, and don’t have the time or inclination for the latter) — and then there’s positive and negative space, an essential understanding when you make art.
In that case, it’s not like one is good and the other is something you want to avoid — it’s more like yin and yang. When it comes to the visual representation of space, each defines the other.
Generally, in life, when we think about something in particular, let’s say, a tree (okay, you know I love trees!), we think about the tree. We don’t think about the air around it, the sky, the wind, the bird song wafting from its branches… but all of those are a total part of the experience of the tree.
When you put it into a two-dimensional space — such as in a painting — it’s easier to see how it works. So there’s Tree (Positive Space) and Not-Tree (Negative Space). Negative space just means everything that is Not-Tree.
And learning about Not-Tree (or Not-Flower, or Not-Bicycle, or Not-Chair, or Not-DogBuddy, or whatever you happen to be looking at) is essential for painting that Tree (or whatever). When you paint, that which is Not-Tree helps define Tree. It takes both to make the painting work.
Who knew something negative could be so helpful? Making art can be mind-bending sometimes, can’t it? 🙂
I hope this finds your week going well, and that this finds you creatively inspired and coming up with ways to bring much-needed beauty into the world. I just had my first vaccination today, and now, after a little nap, I feel ready to paint again!
When you make art or get into pretty much any kind of creative mode, it’s helpful to stay in a playful, experimental state of mind. If you can keep it exploratory, and think of it as a discovery process, you will help keep your inner critic at bay, and perhaps make some new discoveries that could open up wonderful new art-making possibilities.
And when you keep it playful, you actually do learn more, because you’re open to it!
As you may have noticed, I’ve been painting using a bunch of different styles and methods lately. I get to use teaching as my excuse — because it’s so much more interesting and educational for folks in classes to see different approaches and find the ones they relate to the best, than to only see one (and in time-lapse demonstration videos, it's easy to see the whole process quickly).
Last night I finished an 11” x 14” primarily-palette-knife painting — not a method I generally use, unless it’s a demonstration painting. But it is so fun to explore! It's the one you see above — I’m calling it Sunset in the Carneros, at least for now. (No, it’s not fire.)
Last summer I painted two other paintings, in different styles with different approaches and different palettes, of the same scene, albeit taken a little further down the road, so the perspective and the composition’s a little bit different….
Each is definitely something completely different….
Have you ever tried that? Taken one subject, and explored painting it in several different ways? One of my painting teachers in college, Maurice Lapp at Santa Rosa Junior College, had his students do that. Then, I did, I think, five different kinds of paintings of an apple. The last one was inspired by Wayne Thiebaud, and decades later I rediscovered it, and realized just how much it foretold much in the work I generally do now (just in a slightly different, but limited, palette).
If you haven’t tried something like this before, and want a little creative push, or an opportunity to play, you might give it a try.
Do you usually draw your composition in? You might try massing in the colors of the big shapes first, and refining them later. Do you usually use a particular kind of brush? You might try using one or two brushes that are very different, or try palette knives (you can get inexpensive sets of plastic ones in different shapes at art supply stores).
Or…? Is there anything you’ve seen or thought of lately, that you might enjoy discovering? So… what are you waiting for? 😊
Happy Spring! While the mustard flowers may be past their prime, the California poppies are still blooming, and things may finally be looking up for the world. Spring affects us all — are you seeing it reflected in your artwork in any way?
I’ve been creating demonstration paintings, as I’ve shared, and making my time lapse demonstration videos, of subjects including the California poppies. They felt so timely and appropriate! I still have mustard photos ready for more flower paintings later, and today I was photographing more poppies.
But in the last couple of weeks I’ve been creating different kinds of paintings, to exemplify different approaches to abstract landscape painting. It's all for my Abstract Landscape Painting online class, to add to the demonstration paintings I'd already done. More flower paintings will come, just not quite yet, after all!
One of the things I love about teaching is that I can be all over the place in my painting, in ways that might be considered inconsistent if I were focused on working on a body of work for a show.
It lets me be playful in new ways, because I’m demonstrating things I may not usually do. It allows me to push my boundaries and continually learn and expand my creative practice. And it is important for any creative person to keep learning, keep exploring, keep expanding, keep blossoming (oh, how spring-appropriate!).
Have you noticed if spring is affecting your artwork? Is it getting brighter? Lighter? More colorful? Are new subjects calling to you? Are you feeling more playful about it? It’s all good! As more light comes onto our side of the planet, and we head towards warmer weather, you can give yourself permission to take your art wherever your inspiration may lead you. You never know what you may discover….
And, in the meantime, keep blooming!
(NOTE: This is from last week's email to my students.)
I hope this finds you happy and healthy, and having a great week. If you have gotten out and about, you probably haven't missed nature’s celebration of springtime, in the form of flowers in the fields. The mustard is amazing, and the poppies are delightful. Did you ever think of painting them?
One of the things I enjoy about teaching is that it pushes me, or gives me permission, to paint in ways, or using colors, or of subjects that I might not otherwise, or to approach them using methods I wouldn't ordinarily, for the purposes of demonstration. (Everything, these days, becomes a time-lapse demonstration video.)
And that allows me to play! Have you given yourself permission to play with your painting lately? To try something new? To experiment? It is a lot of fun, especially when you give yourself plenty of latitude and forgiveness, and send your inner critic out for a long walk to enjoy the flowers. (Send a camera along with it!)
I’m just getting started with the California poppies. The mustard paintings are next!
By the way, these are currently being offered at auction in March by my Napa gallery, Jessel Gallery, which helps Jessel keep the doors open during the pandemic, too. Here's the link (up though the end of March), if you'd like to take a look — and also see some of the other abstract landscape demonstration paintings I've been creating lately: https://www.jesselgallery.com/
You may know that I had the wonderful gift of meeting Tom Seaver in 2015, as I was in the process of taking down an art show. We talked for 20-25 minutes about art (he loved art). He was such a wise soul — I wrote down our conversation as soon as I got home, so I wouldn't forget anything. By the way, he introduced himself as Tom, without his last name, and in the course of the conversation, told me he "was a ball player." What a humble guy!
I was reminded of it this week by a friendly email I received about him, and about how he told me was “always looking,” referring not only to art, but also to everything around him — looking, seeing, and taking it in.
It occurs to me that that’s not how most folks operate. We get into habits of thinking and speaking, and it’s so easy to not really look at what’s around us. That’s where making art can help us get out of those habits, and learn to truly see the things and people and animals and earth all around us.
I’ve been talking about drawing a lot with my students lately, because it’s a truly wonderful way to strengthen those skills. It’s not only about the hand-eye coordination; it’s also about truly seeing what’s in front of us — about seeing it with new eyes, in new ways — so that we’re taking it all in, not defining it in terms of what we already know.
Gesture drawing, which you see here, is about just that. If you have a minute or less, can you capture the essence of someone's stance? Their action? Their gesture? It's all about really "looking," as Tom Seaver put it, about really seeing what's in front of you.
When we paint, it’s easy to fall into the trap of painting what we know something looks like, instead of what it really looks like. We think about it (and name it), instead of seeing it. Thinking about something and really seeing it are two entirely different states of mind — and we need to really see things, if we want to make art.
That’s why turning things upside down helps. It takes us out of the rational mind that says, “Oh, yeah. Those are trees, with branches, and leaves, and twigs.” It burrows right down to the tiny details, missing the sight of the forest for all the little twigs. Or that says, looking at a person, "Oh, look at those eyebrows,” or perhaps the details of strands of hair, and misses how a person is standing, or turning, or moving.
Quick sketching helps us practice how to see — and sketching starting with the big shapes, the gestures, how things relate to each other. When you’ve truly seen all those things, seen how they relate to each other — when you've got their essence — then you might add twigs. But only if you really, really need them, to bring your vision to life.
And, if you're here in Calistoga, I hope you were able to see the poetry postings around town in February, as part of the Calistoga Art Center's Poetry Walk. If you’re always looking, and taking everything in, like Tom Seaver, you won’t miss things like poems — or who knows what wonderful surprises — that just might be somewhere along your walking route. What a wonderful way to practice seeing!
(Here's part of the email I sent to my students on 2-11-2021.)
Well, it’s been quite a week, hasn’t it? Perhaps you, like me, have been watching the impeachment trial. That made it hard for me to make art, at first, because I wanted to watch and listen, and not get focused on something else. But after the first day, I felt horrified, depressed, and exhausted, and needed to do something. So the next day I wound up doodling with colored markers, making a kind of semi-distracted pattern of shapes and hearts, which helped me feel a little less of the above, if possible, as I watched the trial.
At the end of the day today, though, I was soooo ready to make art! Finally! I started working on drawings for the demonstration video(s) for class — we’ve been looking at drawing, which is such an important foundation for painting — and it felt like a longed-for release.
By the way, here’s what it looks like when I’m putting together a demonstration video, if you were wondering what it looks like behind-the-scenes. The one above is from one about drawing faces. The one below is a little sample from the demo video I put together about a helpful approach to drawing the mouth. It’s a short video, with the video sequences put in time lapse (that what the tiny rabbit icon you might be able to see down below represents).
One of the nice things about having class online is that, because of the time lapse option for the videos, it doesn’t take as long for you to watch a demonstration, and you get an unobstructed view. There actually are some good things about this way of working… who knew? (It’s always good to look on the bright side!)
I wish you lots of creative mark-making of whatever kind works for you right now. Whether it's painting, drawing, writing, doodling, making videos, or whatever you feel called to do — it's all a part of exercising your creative muscles. And creativity, in all its forms, is a wonderful way to get through challenging times.
Artists create beauty — so let's do it! Don't let the critics get you down. Know that what you do MATTERS.
Well, it’s been quite a month, hasn’t it? I hope you’ve been able to find some creative time in the middle of the tumult, whether to paint, to draw, to do collage or mixed media, to write, or any combination of each of these.
We live in historic times, and whether the art we’re making reflects the times we’re in, responds to these times, or creates a refuge from them, art making matters.
In the middle of all of this, we had a debate about a proposed mural here in Calistoga. Comments got a bit heated on NextDoor. You know how it is sometimes — everyone’s a critic, and everyone will have their own idea about what artists should do. Some of those people will know a lot about art, and some won’t.
Some of my comments to the Planning Commission were quoted in the Calistoga Tribune (I did get choked up a bit when I read those comments to the commission, because I think it matters to us all, as artists).
Perhaps you’ll agree with me that people who want to tell artists what to do (unless we’re creating a commercial or commission piece specifically for them) ought to pick up some art materials, take a class, and make art themselves. You and I know they’ll discover it’s not as easy as they might think, right?
Fortunately, the artist in question said he has a thick skin (and the mural was approved). My remarks included this, some of which was quoted in the Tribune article:
Everyone will have their own opinion. Everyone likes different things, different styles. Art takes many forms, and that’s what creativity is about — not conforming to other people’s tastes and trends. Artists create beauty — let us do it!
I added, Right now, when we look up at the hills, we see burnt and blackened trees and fields. We need color, to bring a smile to our faces.
We need art in the world right now, for so many reasons! So… remember, if your own inner critic starts bossing you around, send it somewhere else (a walk to CalMart to get chocolate? A nice, long hike up the Oat Hill Mine Trail?). Maybe we can hand outer critics a pen, pencil, or paintbrush, and say, “Here. Give it a try.”
Remember that the art you make does not need to conform to anyone else’s tastes or trends. It can serve different purposes — it can be highly personal, just for you; it can be work you want to share and show. But the main thing is, it is yours. And it matters.
Karen Lynn Ingalls
I am a working artist in Napa and Sonoma Counties, in northern California. I paint colorist landscapes of rural California, teach art classes, workshops, and private lessons, and live in Calistoga, California.