I subscribe to a newsletter for artists which comes to my inbox twice a week. The Canadian landscape painter Robert Genn puts forth some thought-provoking idea, then has a clickback with responses from readers. (robertgenn.com) I generally wait to read the letter when it has the responses because the reader comments add so much to the discussion. Sometimes I copy, paste and edit information from these newsletters into a word document, which I print out for my ideas and inspirations notebook.
Here are excerpts from a recent letter and the reader responses. Robert Genn wrote: Stepping into an environment with an open mind and no plan is possible. Such a serendipitous attitude can surprise with joy and unforeseen opportunities. But you can also be caught unprepared and blind to both potential and problems; you need to know how to find what you’re looking for. Go out with a list. This list from a recent mountain sortie suggests looking for: + Foreground design that echoes background design. + Large patterns of complexity and arbitrary abstraction. + Contrast of light and weather for potential drama. + Opportunities for neutralized and gradated grays. + Opportunities for high color in counterpoint. + Authentic form, inside knowledge and specific detail. Some artists may not find it necessary to write this sort of thing down and keep referring to the items while shifting the easel. Beginning artists, particularly, should write them down. For advanced and focused artists, list items can be more automatic and burned into the creative psyche. For all of us, self-briefing before going out or starting a project sharpens artistic wit.
Jeri Lynn Ing of Red Deer, AB, Canada responded: I must admit list making does not come easily to me. After reading your letter I gave some thought to my process and I made a list.
2. Color relationships and light source
4. Be Fearless
5. You cannot have light without dark
7. Brush marks and edges
8. Be Fearless
I see this List as advice from my mind to the heart and back to the mind and it follows a quote I read recently from Richard Diebenkorn’s own pre-painting list: “Don’t be a Pollyanna!” My artwork has become stronger and more joyful recently and making a list of my process showed me why and how I have changed for the better.
Alan Soffer of Wallingford, PA, USA responded: As an abstract expressionist painter my list is usually quite brief, but all the same very important.
In our ART INCUBATOR workshops we refer to it as “concept.” How can you expect to convey something of value if you have no concept? So whether doing a landscape, still life, nude, or abstract, a point of view is essential. When I am plumbing the depths of my subconscious I always start with a few things in mind, though I don’t have to write them down at this point. I think writing ideas is powerful when beginning the process. I might be thinking about working in a minimalist, reductive way. Perhaps focusing on soft colors rather than vibrant colors on a particular piece. Thinking about line vs mass, and so on. Taking this a step further, I might be thinking about some personal issues or some issues in the universe. Ultimately, this approach can lead to something that speaks to people rather than simply a nice little painting.
Maureen Brouilette of Dallas, Texas, USA said: I really like this letter because it focuses on something I think is a very important issue with artists. And that is focusing on the left brain, analytical side of things. I have always been a list maker, planner and thinker about what I want to do with my art and my life in general. I even make a list every night about what I want to accomplish the next day. Art, art business, laundry, groceries, etc. Whatever does not get done, goes on the next day’s list. When I’m planning a new series, I have a large drawer in my studio where I store materials and ideas for future work. Most of the ideas come to me when I least expect them. That is my intuitive side. Many times while I’m reading, taking a shower, doing the dishes or watering the yard, an interesting idea will come to me. I quickly write these “insights” on sticky notes and throw them in the drawer. By the time I am finally ready to start the new series, I have reams of material to work with. I am usually surprised and happy by the notes I have left myself that I had totally forgotten about! I also make lists of changes for work I am still doing. I work in acrylic both transparently, and opaquely and on WC paper and canvas, so I have a lot of options. More contrast at the center of interest? Softer edges going off the space? A warmer dominance? Fewer shapes? More quiet areas? Way more DARKS! Whatever.
Robin d’Arcy Shillcock, from the Netherlands added: Making a list is good for beginners. I used to keep a sketchbook with lists of ideas, of dreams that needed to become real, and notes on the hours spent on work, on what worked and what didn’t on work under hand. But in the end keeping notes became a drag, so I abandoned that idea. I wonder, perhaps it is better to make notes afterwards? To evaluate what you have done. I guess I prefer going to the chopping block with a sharp axe and an open mind, and hope I won’t lose my head in the process. You state that such an attitude can lead to missed opportunities, but the same could be said of making lists beforehand. Because I am a “generalist” sort of painter, with interests in the landscape, the people, wild and domestic animals and plants that inhabit it, and traces of man’s presence, like a footpath, shacks, rusted machinery and even old power line pylons, I feel I don’t need a list to be open to all possibilities. Hiking up the mountain, as I did recently in the French High Alps, offers all kind of opportunities, from foreground details to vast panoramic views. The gear I cart along, however, limits the possibilities to a certain extent. Leaving my spotting scope in the valley frustrates the opportunity of painting wildlife. Having only a small sketching box limits capturing vast panoramas, but everything in between is still possible, and a joy to do!