Posts Tagged “growth”

Since I’ve been on this whole book thing for a while … thought I’d pass along some stories that might inspire others.

Recently, Don B (who has probably been wondering when I’d post this!) wrote me about taking the initiative to study works by a deceased artist:

I’ve been reading Carlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting again. There’s a gallery here that specializes in antique regional art. I’m well acquainted with the owner and gallery manager, so I asked if they’d let me study everything at once. In a miraculous moment, they agreed. So, last week I was able to sit in a back room, all alone with a bunch of his works to study, pick up and handle, or whatever I wanted to do. They even let me take some detail photos. Of course, these are mostly plein air pieces that he did while he was heading up the Broadmoor Academy, back in the early 1900s.

Now how cool is that??

I recall chatting with Tim Shinabarger a few years ago about a stop he made at the Glenbow Museum in Canada (the one that has more Rungius works than anywhere else in the world). When he told them he was a sculptor and wanted to see what other Rungius work was in their archives, they ushered him into a room and laid out loads of drawings, etchings, and studies for him to handle and study. Awesome, eh?

Never hurts to ask – the worst they can do is say “no”.


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One of the best ways – if not THE best way – to learn to draw is by doing it from life. I can hear my hapless workshop participants groaning right now, since I have so much fun getting out the cattle-prod and making everyone do gesture sketches from a constantly-moving cougar or raccoon kit or whatever.

If you ask my opinion (not that anyone did), a lack of drawing ability prohibits many artists from realizing their vision effectively and fully. Once you know how to draw, and know the anatomy of a given critter, you know what liberties you can take, and to what effect. Bob Kuhn said that he would tweak aspects of his subject to make it look like what we think it ought to look like.

Or consider Picasso. The work he painted in his teen years was beautifully represented; the man knew how to draw…and then spent the rest of his life going beyond just representing his subjects – he got inside of them, took them apart, twisted them around, to get at other aspects of them.

But back to our topic. This sketch is of my German Shepherd girl, Suka, sleeping on the couch next to me. When a critter is awake and moving, the best I can do is gesture sketches; repose offers a better chance to observe details and proportions. So I have a LOT of drawings of Suka sleeping. I once watched Bob Kuhn sketching a lynx from life; the cat was not moving much, but it certainly wasn’t holding still. Bob developed one particular pose, adding to it when he could as the cat moved about; meanwhile, I was scribbling away doing 40 zillion bits of gesture. Bob’s was a helluva lot nicer. Duh.

So this is everyone’s challenge in the next week: get a sketchbook, a charcoal, and a critter, and go to it. I’ll be flogging my summer workshop with the same thing. We’ll all suffer together.

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It’s not very creative if you keep tilling the same field over and over. That makes you an art farmer, not a creative artist. (Gordon Matheson)

Since several recent posts referenced Thomas Kinkade, this seemed a good time to touch on the subject of ‘retilling ground’.

I revisit subject matter – any artist does – but, given my very low tolerance for repetition and equally low threshold for boredom, each painting needs to be different enough from anything else I’ve ever painted to keep me excited. I’ve painted several bronc-riding images, and no doubt will paint many more – the attitudes, positions, light, color, my own interpretations of composition – all should serve to expand my horizons on the topic in some way. The same holds true for bison, bears, or barrel-racers.

In fact, this need to explore probably nudged me out of the I-only-paint-wildlife category. I love animals, obviously…but wild animals, 99% of the time, are standing around or eating or lying down, or some combination of the above. The other 1% of the time they’re mating, or trying to kill / avoid being killed. This means that my chances of seeing them in a state of high excitement and action are very low. Once you’ve painted three or ten images of bison mostly standing around, you’re looking for something else to do. Rodeo, on the other hand, is guaranteed nonstop action, excitement, and color for two hours or more. The variations of position, color, and light are almost infinite.

The real point here is about artistic growth. There are plenty of artists who become known for something and render it well…and then coast along there, not really pushing or growing. How much more interesting to continue in a quest to say something wonderful and original! I plan to paint until I drop dead at my easel, and if I’m to stay engaged for the next 4+ decades, I’d better be pushing all the while.


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Since my last few posts have dealt with artist angst and what to do when stuff ain’t working, I’ll post one more in this vein. It’s a quote. Well, only sort of a quote. I don’t remember who said it, or exactly what the wording is, or where I read this. Now that I’ve sold you on how great this quote is, here it is:


The difference between a good artist and a great artist is the size of their wastebaskets.

Which I take to mean that the great artist is more critical of her work and throws more of it away…although I suppose it could be argued that this really means the great artist is so good that he doesn’t have to discard much.

BTW, I don’t think I’m brave enough to post images of any of my rejects here. Sorry, not interested in sharing failure with the world. Rejects are in a ‘destined to burn’ pile in the basement. One small consolation: the work in my reject pile is getting better…not that I’ll pop the champagne cork on that, thank you anyway.


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