The Laws of Nature

Monday, January 4, 2010

Holding the Big Picture

We've arrived at the sixteenth and final principle in Ian Roberts' book Creative Authenticity. Yay! and Whew! This principle is entitled "Holding the Big Picture" and is the author's final piece of advice about process and product. He begins by noting that artists at all levels frequently fail to keep the "whole" picture in mind when painting the individual parts of it, which leads to troublesome inconsistencies.

Roberts' process is to begin with an inspiration (whatever moves him to paint), thumbnail sketches to simplify and to compose (dimensions of the thumbnail sketch must be in direct proportion to those of the canvas or the design won't work), and painting a grisaille (grayscale underpainting) before moving onto the final coats of paint. My process is very similar to this one.

But, Roberts notes, artists frequently become sidetracked as they paint and fail to keep the "whole" painting or inspiration in mind when concentrating on specific smaller areas of the work. So, he gives us some remedies like:
  • sit away from the canvas for awhile and think about it to rediscover the idea that was initially intended.
  • evaluate the three contrasts of painting: value, hue and intensity; if one particular area isn't working, put your hand over it for an overview of the rest of the painting to will reveal what the incorrect area should be like.

  • examine how the eye is led through the painting to see if you created a path through and around the entire surface.

  • as you paint, continually step back and evaluate the painting from a distance; hold it in front of a mirror as well as in different orientations; anything that isn't working will become more apparent.

Roberts also exhorts the reader to visit museums and select a few paintings to study and draw. He writes: Doing this exercise of drawing a painting, studying the shapes and proportions, engages us far longer in the learning process than when we just look at it passively. How true! These suggestions have always worked for me, along with other "tricks." However, Roberts warns us that his process may be too "up-tight" for many painters who prefer a spontaneous loose approach. So, I guess we must do whatever works since there are no hard and fast rules that govern process.

And so, the book ends.

I'll quickly sum-up my opinion of this book. It contains some gems, but also some biases that too narrowly restrict the meaning and definition of "art." To me, that's contradictory to what it means to be "creatively authentic." However, much of the advice is helpful and worth pondering. Roberts' writing style is comfortable for the reader, although he tends to ramble on (like me!). Nevertheless, I would recommend Creative Authenticity to beginning artists.

A special THANK YOU to those of you who have commented throughout these postings. I'm indebted to you for making this a shared enlightening and meaningful experience!

BTW - the image above is my special place to meditate. This is the Clark Island shoreline located a short walk from my home in Maine. It's a lovely remote place to sit and think, and on occasion , to see my grown son speeding by in his boat far off in the distance looking for lobsters.

Your opinions?

14 comments:

hwfarber said...

I will miss the book so I'll have to buy a copy.

I actually use most of the bullet points above--except one. I have never been able to find "the path" through a painting. I find paths but never know for sure how I should be viewing.

And I have a question. From your Nov. 11 blog--Balance: L to R--"Most people read pics L to R; i.e. a rider from L to R. If a rider is moving R to L, a viewer must overcome resistance & invest more effort to read the painting--it slows down the viewer." Q. Should the artist strive to slow the viewer down?

Beautiful meditation spot. Thank you for sharing so much information.

Kathy said...

Hi Hallie - good question! My "gut" tells me that we should slow down the viewer. What do the rest of you think?

layers said...

movement through the painting is a biggie for me--- something I stress in my workshops--- thank you for sharing this book with us-- I feel like I don't need to read it now :-)
just a joke-- looks like a great book and have added it to my wish list

Four Seasons in a Life said...

Greetings Katharine,

I concur that the book offers good advice but of the 16 lessons, I did not agree with every one. It has been more than a year since I read it first and cannot say which ones I agreed with or not, yet the book was one of the better ones on the subject.

Though I tried keeping up with your posts over the last several weeks, i am very grateful for all your guidance and sharing your personal experience with us.

Every post of yours has enriched me on one level or another.

Warmest regards
Egmont

Four Seasons in a Life said...

Greetings Katharine,

I concur that the book offers good advice but of the 16 lessons, I did not agree with every one. It has been more than a year since I read it first and cannot say which ones I agreed with or not, yet the book was one of the better ones on the subject.

Though I tried keeping up with your posts over the last several weeks, i am very grateful for all your guidance and sharing your personal experience with us.

Every post of yours has enriched me on one level or another.

Warmest regards
Egmont

Kathy said...

Hi Donna - it would be wonderful to be a student in one of your workshops! You have a lot of experience and wisdom to share. Thank you for commenting.

Hi Egmont - Yes, there were several chapters in this book that I didn't agree with, but the rest was OK. Thank you for your kind and generous comments!

Peggy Stermer-Cox said...

Hi Kathy,

One of the particularly nice things about your postings is that it gives me something to think about. Your meditation spot looks like a great place to be...and just be!

Two things my Dad had me think about were movement and the big picture. He encouraged me to link shapes with line and edge, look for rhythms, and work the entire painting. And, step back to see the entire piece. I think his encouragement was in line with this final chapter.

Mark Sheeky said...

I'm not sure if the book makes a distinction between holding the whole idea/feeling/message or just holding the look together. To me I think staying true to the message is the most important, and that's not too hard if you can note it down somehow before you start painting; something you can refer to, like a thumbnail sketch, or even words, notes, studies, or any other way.

Changing the look and shifting, improving visual bits is different I think. I'm unsually hesitant at it when painting, because it might interfere with the idea! Perhaps in that respect I'm too much like Delacriox in Pam's Blog there!

Hallie made an great point about handedness too! gnitirW sdrawkcab dlouw wols nwod a redaer tub ton ylirassecen pleh gnidnatsrednu..?

hwfarber said...

Thanks, Mark. I've been reading and writing backwards and upside-down since I was in first grade.

Maybe that's why I can't determine the correct path.

PAMO said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kathy said...

Hi Peggy - your work clearly reflects that you've taken your father's sage advice! I love studying your drawings.

Hi Mark - you make an important distinction, and I, too, write down my idea and refer to it as I work. Thanks for offering this insight!
Funny about handedness :))

Hi Pam - like you, I get a gain a great deal from reading everyone's comments. Isn't it wonderful that everyone shares so much ??

Mary Paquet said...

Kathy, thanks so much for taking us through the thought process. I just spent some time catching up on your last three posts and everyone's comments. I can't seem to stay current!

You have given us much to think about in your thoughtful dissection of Robert's book. I especially liked your previous post about finding your voice. I believe I have finally reached the point where I have developed some technical expertise and can now focus on finding my voice. I am experimenting a lot these days to achieve that goal. I know, though, that I will change somewhat over time. The voice will get refined, modified, honed, and transformed by life experiences.

-Don said...

Kathy, your beautiful meditative spot takes me back to my youth. I climbed over rocks just like these near Rockland, ME as a child. A smell memory occurred when I looked at the photo which put a smile on my face for the whole day. (Yes, I read this posting this morning and thought about it all day as I worked).

I usually have my compositions worked out to the nth degree before I start painting. I can always tell when I don't. Sometimes I get lucky when I don't, but usually not.

My message is sometimes decided before I start. Other times I develop my composition first and let the message come to me through the process. And every now and then the message ends up being totally different than the one I intended at the beginning.

As I read what I just wrote I realize it sounds a bit counterintuitive, but it works for me. So often what I'm doing is more about the opportunity to create instead of any message I may be trying to convey. But then, sometimes it's all about the message.

I hope my ramblings made sense.

Thank you so much for sharing your journey thru this book. It's been thought provoking and has generated some excellent dialogue from which I have gathered several valuable nuggets...

-Don

Kathy said...

Hi Mary - you made an important comment: finding our voice is a life-long process, although there is a point where we become more aligned with our inner voice than before. Thanks for reading and commenting!

Hi Don - Rockland is only seven miles from my home, and is the place where I get my groceries and supplies. I'm glad you found a pleasurable memory in this photograph. And, I know what you mean about your process. Thanks so much for commenting!