The Laws of Nature

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Follow Something Along

Before I return to the next principle in Ian Roberts' book Creative Authenticity, I'd like to acknowledge all of you who've turned this blog into a substantive continuous discussion about art and what it means to be an artist. When I began this blog, I had no idea that there would develop a committed group who would bond over this intellectual exercise. I had no idea that a genuine comradery would develop and that you would become a source of encouragement and strength. Thank you!

And, I'd also like to wish you all HAPPY HOLIDAYS and BEST WISHES FOR THE NEW YEAR! May 2010 be a year filled with peace, joy, good health, and prosperity.

This will be my last post until after the holidays. At that time, I'll continue Roberts' book, and have a special treat for you after that!

The ninth principle in Roberts' book is Follow Something Along. So far, this is my favorite chapter because it reflects how I work. He writes: If we are to say something authentic, we need to stick with an idea for awhile. We need to gnaw at it, mine it, obsess over it. This is sage advice. As he points out, we don't need a LOT of ideas, we just need a few that we can really sink our teeth into and develop. This, of course, means working in a series. Over the past five years, I've created over fifty eggshell paintings in watercolor, oil, and acrylic. I haven't run out of ideas and am constantly surprised at how much more there is to say. I also work on other series, often two or more at a time. Each series takes years to complete, and some may never end. Take a look at:

Don Michael Jr's mask series

Peggy Stermer-Cox's MsKitty and ToyPony series

Casey Klahn's River series

Margaret Ryall's garden series

And, consider Diebenkorn's Ocean Park series, or Bonnard, Cezanne, Monet, Vermeer, Wyeth. They all created series works.

The other side of this coin is to continually jump from one concept or style to another. This can prevent you from developing a distinguishable style, achieving technical mastery, and creating unique and meaningful art. No one will be able to figure out who you are from your paintings. By contrast, I can spot a Wyeth painting from a mile away.

As Roberts puts it, this is a path of discovery. And, it's a path that should keep you marching forward rather than retracing your steps. I really like the example he provides of Alexander the Great arriving by boat with his troops to conquer the Persians. After his troops disembarked, he ordered his generals to burn all the boats. This was a wise decision because if his troops felt that they could retreat to the relative safety of their boats and go home, they might not fight as hard. We artists need to adopt the same attitude. Once we're on a path we must commit to staying on it. Fight hard to advance your work and believe that you'll win! Sure, there will be days when you won't feel like it, but just hang on and keep going. Roberts concludes: consistently take steps in the direction that holds us, and trusting those steps, will build momentum. That momentum will build a career.

This could be a great New Year's resolution!

And now, your thoughts??


Lee Ann said...

Intellectually, I understand the concept of refinig your work and your style through multiple works in the same vein. Practically....well, that's a horse of another color.

During this past year I had decided to commit to a series. I had the idea for the first 3 in mind before beginning. And midway through the first piece I got bogged down. I found that I couldn't settle down and work on the piece. I knew that the satisfaction and release of completion was going to be postponed, because even when the first one was finished, I wouldn't 'feel' finished. I wrote about it in this blog entry:

Perhaps it was only because I had successive ones planned already. Or maybe I'm just too flighty by nature. Suggestions?

Casey Klahn said...
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Casey Klahn said...

Katherine, the display of your egg series is wonderful - very illuminating to see in these photos!

I think that you may have turned a light on for me, here. I am struggling with my next series, which has begun, but needs to be anchored somehow.

Time to burn the boats...

Lee Ann said...

So Casey, I couldn't get to your blog through the link. I went to your home page by typing in the address, and so I'm not sure I ended up in the right place. With your river series, did you use the music to inspire each piece in the series? Or were the songs connected to the pieces as you worked on them, seeming to fit together? or maybe afterwards?

Casey Klahn said...

river series

Maybe that works better. I decided to link one post instead of the series, since this is Katherine's blog!

The music videos, which weren't a success, really, in my posts, were only part of the blogging process. The series was done on art content ideas - forms, values, etc.

Four Seasons in a Life said...

Dear Katharine,

This reply is short and sweet.

Now comes the time in which we focus our attention not on work but those around us. Holding close our family and even closer those who cannot be with us.

It has been my greatest pleasure to have come across your blog by chance. You have given so much of yourself and I for one am truly thankful.

Wishing you and your family all the very best this holiday season and may 2010 be a better beginning then the previous decade.

Warmest regards

M said...

When I began to work in a series I feel my art really took off. I was amazed at all the ideas that came when I focused on one topic.

To begin a series I often brainstorm every connection to the idea and then sort the brainstormed words and phrases in categories. You'd be surprised what's lurking in your mind that you didn't know was there. While I'm working on a series I continue to read about the topic and look at other art that has been created based on that topic.

My most recent series is "Reading a Garden. I'm continuing with it well into the coming year and hopefully will have a solo exhibition. If I feel myself getting bored I take time away from the topic and then return to it when I'm revitalized. If you want to see my recent work check out Reading a Garden on my website

Mary Paquet said...

Katherine, thank you for your thought-provoking series on art. I am amazed at the content and the intellectual discussions that result.

I agree with you that working in a series will help you develop as an artist. I need to commit!

I love Peggy Stermer-Cox's work and the emotional content that she invests in her art. Beautiful!

May you and my fellow followers have a wonderful holiday season!

Unknown said...

Hi Lee Ann - Yes, I have a suggestion! Please take my workshop. I know how to "fix" this :)

Hi Casey - I'm so sorry ... I wasn't aware of your River series, and encourage my readers to see your blog as well. I know you'll find a good solution for your new series and I'm pleased to know that this post may have helped. I'm into boat burning, too!

Hi Egmont - well stated! It's been a great pleasure getting to know you as well. Happy Holidays.

Hi Margaret - great comment about how you brainstorm for a series. I do the same. And, I must encourage my readers to see your garden series as well. Sorry for the oversight!

Hi Mary - many thanks! Happy Holidays.

Sharon said...

I was mermerized by your brilliant painting at the San Deigo Watercolor Society's International Show last fall and have been following your posts ever since. Thank you for your stimulating and directed "discussions"...we artists savour them!
Merry Everything,

Unknown said...

Hi Sharon - thank you very much for commenting on my work! You have a wonderful show out there every year, and it's an honor to be included. Happy Holidays!

Mark Sheeky said...

Hmm, you seem to be saying that a series is a superior art form to a single work; partly because the style is recognisable? I'm not sure I agree that jumping from one style to another prevents the creation of unique and meaningful art.

I'm not sure if the point even matters. It seems that all humans begin by exploring and trying everything, with the wonder of a child. As artists, how many media have we tried? At the start? Most artists I know have tried everything, but we gradually settle down into the style we want, and eventually subjects we want, then gradually master those, that concept or metaphor or theme, and the result is a "series". To me that is more a sign of how the brain aligns itself than proof that superior art is art that is refined into a style or series. Hmmm.

Unknown said...

Hi Mark, I don't think it's a question of "superior" or "inferior" art. Rather, painting in a series is a quick way of getting to that place you mentioned over many many years. I have no problem at all with experimentation, and do it all the time. However, when I'm developing a body of work for an exhibition or to show to a gallery director, it's important that my work appears masterful, unique, and cohesive. Working in a series is a good way to create a strong portfolio.

Anonymous said...
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hw (hallie) farber said...

I've not really worked in a series and never thought about it. So, of course, I have a question.

If an artist's work develops or improves while working on a series, would you want to buy early pieces or later pieces?

About five years ago I saw a painting that I really liked and considered buying--it reminded me of a slice of the earth. Since then I have seen many more of the same type by the same artist. After seeing so many I lost interest--I would have a hard time making a choice because a better one might show up later. Does this happen to other people or is it just my inability to make decisions? (I am thinking like a buyer here-not an artist.)

Carolyn Abrams said...

I was one for jumping around with ideas, concepts, experimenting, doing different things and learning a lot. But then i began to feel stuck. Nothing seemed exciting or grabbed my interest. I knew i needed to get to another level but didn't know how. That is when i started working with Kathy and her workshop concepts of working in a series and developing works and wow! what a difference it is making. I am so excited about what i am working on i avoid all chores and run to the studio every moment i get so while it may not make a difference to anyone else, it is making a huge difference to me!

Thanks Kathy for your great topics and everyone for all your great comments.

I hope you all have a Merry Christmas and a peaceful New Year!

-Don said...

Kathy, Thank you for the nod. What a nice Christmas gift.

The best thing that happened to me as an artist was committing to my series on masks. I must admit there was little forethought on choosing this direction. I loved masks and I needed something to paint. Voila! I started a series...

What I've done with the series, though, has taken a lot of forethought and consideration. I hate treading over ground I've already explored... BORING!... So, I try to find ways to keep what I do fresh and fun, while striving to improve my skill set. So far, it seems to be working.

OK, my boats have been burned, I've chosen a path I want to follow and I'm wielding my palette knife and brushes like a man possessed. Shall I advance or shall I fall? Only time will tell...

Merry Christmas, my friend...


Unknown said...

Hi Pam - Thank you for your encouragement and wonderful comments. It's great that you've set attainable goals that will advance your work in 2010 and I KNOW we'll see great things from you! Happy holidays!

Hi Hallie - good question! My deceased Father-in-law was an art collector. He valued works of art by the same artists from all periods of their careers, early to late. I guess it depends on WHY you want to buy a work of art. Is it for personal enjoyment or an investment? Also, some artist's best work is earlier in their career, or mid-way. So, I don't know if there's one correct answer to your question. Maybe others have some sage advice for you. Thanks for commenting!

Hi Carolyn - thank you for the wonderful testimony! I've truly enjoyed working with you and you're amazingling dedicated and gifted as an artist. (Carolyn meets with me once a week). Merry Christmas! See you next week :)

Don - You will ADVANCE!! Thank you for chiming-in. Great comments as always. Happy holidays!

Ann Buckner said...

Wishing you a most happy Holiday Season, Katharine. It has been a pleasure to read your blog.

Celeste Bergin said...

You are tireless Kathy! My great dream is to get all my holiday work done and behind me so that I can devote time to this book (and your synopsis/analysis). Merry Christmas to you and yours. Thanks for making us think! In the words of my Mom (RIP) "anything worth doing is worth doing right"---I think you are the epitome of that!

Unknown said...

Hi Ann - Thank you, and Happy Holidays!

Hi Celeste - oh, the holidays are both wonderful and draining! I hope you manage to get some rest with all the things you do. Your mother was very wise. The trick is in prioritizing. Once you determine what's important, do your utmost to do it "right." Happy Holidays!

Anonymous said...

Hi Kathy,
Thank you for mentioning my series! I have found working in multiples helpful. One painting leads to another and I learn from them.

Sometimes, though, I do feel the urge to do something else. I'm doing multiple series to help with the urge.

Thanks for the insight and friendship!