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Sunday, January 11, 2015

A Tip for Choosing a Painting Subject

'Just Over the Ridge'           8x10          pastel           ©Karen Margulis
painting available on Etsy $150
Did you ever have nothing you want to paint?  Or worse did you ever have so much you wanted to paint that you couldn't decide? Either is debilitating to an artist. It can cause us to freeze or loose our motivation.

I have over 30,000 reference photos on my computer and sometimes I don't feel inspired by any of them. Other times I have too many that are speaking to me all at once. Just the other day was one of those times. I just didn't know what I was in the mood to paint. It went on for a couple of days. I'd go through my piles of photos and nothing grabbed me and then everything grabbed me. I had too many choices and couldn't seem to pick one thing. I was indecisive and so I painted nothing.

It was time for a break from painting. It was time to prepare for the next great burst of energy.

My papers and reference photos waiting for me

Instead of fretting over my indecisive mood and getting nothing done I decided to spend a day getting ready for when the mood broke. I went back to the stack of photos that were calling to me and chose a few. I then thought about the size and type of paper that would suit each subject. I cut the papers and got them taped to my boards along with each reference photo. I also went thrifting, always a good thing.

I spent a day doing this prep work but now I am ready to go when I come down to the studio ready to paint. I have several choices lined up ready to paint.

Today the mood lifted and I was raring to go. It was easy to get started because my choices and papers were already prepared.  I picked one and now can't wait to get to the others!

TIP:  Next time you aren't feeling particularly inspired take time off to just prepare for when inspiration does hit. Go though your reference material and select the ones that cause you to pause. You don't need to pick only one. Pick a few and get them all ready to go. If you only have one drawing board, cut your paper and clip the reference photo to the paper and start a pile of papers called  'To Be Painted'

detail of trees
Painting notes: Today's painting is on my own prepared surface of gatorboard covered with purple tinted pumice and gesso mix


Catherine Selinger said...

You hit the nail on the head Karen. My problem is the second one. So many painting ideas that I get confused and overwhelmed. I just want to do them all right NOW! (Impossible, of course!)
So what do I end up doing? Mostly cleaning up my little art studio - a second bedroom which is always in chaos because it is small and I juggle between watercolour and pastel and the respective supplies. The cleaning up process seems to quiet the mind and by the end I am much more focused and aware of what I really want to do. But also tired! Problem! Sometimes the next day I may forget about what I thought was the perfect plan or I get caught up in yet ANOTHER idea. So I think your blog post idea of planning and setting up a few paintings is perfect for me. Thank you once again Karen!

mi fasola said...

thanks so much for all the tips and ideas you've given me over the last couple of years that I've followed your work and technique. I know that I can trust your judgement all the time.

robertsloan2art said...

Great article! Great timing too.

A couple of days ago I was getting frustrated at subjects choices, lots of choices possible but nothing really standing out and not many of them big cats. So I painted a snake but I surfed reference photos shared by other artists to find big cats in action poses. I have a bunch of good black bird photos and people liked my black bird paintings but I wanted to do a wild cat.

I wound up planning a painting with a bobcat looking up at a cheeky blackbird that's out of its reach. It'll be a little tricky setting it up for depth and tree branch to show the story - that the cat really can't jump high enough or climb the tree fast enough that the bird couldn't just fly away before it got there. That's the idea for it and I'm sketching it now, will probably build that one up to a full layered painting instead of one of my quick sketch paintings on unsanded paper.

I sometimes find sorting my materials and cleaning my pastels gets me interested. Especially my Unisons set, the 120 half sticks get really messy when I'm working and take a while to clean off. The whole tray will look a bit grayish and hard to tell hue and value. But if I get to cleaning them I fall in love with the colors again and by then I'll decide on a subject because I want to use the violets or the blue-grays or the warm reds - and tehn think of something where that color would predmoinate and go through y references and sketches.

Lately I've also been treating my sketch wall and sketchbooks like a photo reference album. I have lots of my own photos from visiting the clinic garden every two weeks, mostly good florals, trees and SF city scenes, occasional birds and my cat at home. Beyond that though, I have tons of sketches I did from references that reminded me of places I've been that I didn't own a camera at the time or experiences when I tried to paint plein air and failed.

Paintings I wanted to do years ago when I saw the places come back to me when I look at those shared references. So I try them again and now I have the skills to render them in truth. What's so strange is that the more I do this, the sharper my visual memory of my own experiences is. Just attempting to draw or paint plein air helps fix a scene in your mind and its light comes back the more I learn about painting light.

One thing I'm working on now is trying to get skilled enough to do some of these memory paintings cold, just familiar with the types of subjects well enough to reconstruct the plein air paintings I'd have done in my late twenties or thirties if I knew how.

Jason shwartz said...

It can definitely be hard being able to decide what kind of subject that you would like to paint. As a painter myself, I always am having different ideas running through my head everyday. I really like the tips that you mentioned on where to find the best inspiration for certain pieces. Thank you for taking the time to share. http://ccspainting.com