Thursday, November 6, 2008

Choosing a theme

I've been bedevilled by indecision for months now on the major project for my current level 3 Painting course at the Open College of the Arts. The task is a series of six paintings on a theme. It doesn't sound so difficult, so what's been the problem?

First, I had immense difficulty choosing the theme. Once you get to thinking about it, there's no such thing as an easy theme. Like an essay in an English course, a series needs a point of view. I think I'm an intuitive painter by nature, and in a way, the idea of painting a series is anti-intuitive. A series needs advance planning and may involve some repetition. But back some months ago I wasn't thinking along those lines. It was more a question of whether to choose something from the list of suggestions offered in the course book and just blaze away, or whether to devise something of my own, or what.

I did try something from the list. One of the options was "Flowers". I paint still life quite often so that would seem to be just the thing, but I didn't feel enthusiastic about it and it fizzled out. No point of view, I thought, or none that I was aware of. I might think diferently about that in future.

Eventually I did come up with a theme, provisionally called "Transitions" that I thought would be exciting to do and would stretch me as a painter. It would focus on different things that had
influenced me over the years. I worked on this for months, and produced a lot of stuff, including numerous experimental studies and a couple of attempts at finished pieces. But somehow, whenever I tried to map out how it would go overall, a sort of visual outline, I had trouble getting past four pieces.

One of the problems which I became aware of only gradually was that the "Transitions" idea, while it might be exciting, doesn't play to my strengths, which are drawing and painting from life. This is why "Flowers" or the "Park" might have been a better bet after all, and would be more in line with where I want my so-far non-existent style to go.

However, having put so much into the "Transitions" idea, I was reluctant to drop it altogether without resolution. I wanted to carry it through and see where it would take me. So I had another battle with the dreaded visual outline. I finally got one done, and looking at it objectively, along with research on famous themes such as Monet's Haystacks and Van Gogh's Sunflowers, it became clear that the project as conceived was much too broad and diverse and it lacked cohesion.

So, I narrowed it down and tightened it up, and it changed into more of a "Childhood" theme, which, surprise, surprise, is in the list. It still doesn't play to my strengths, because I live thousands of miles from where I grew up and have to work from family photos and memory. But it's more coherent as a series now, and once I got to this point, making a visual outline of the six pieces went more smoothly.

One of the things I've learned so far is that it's better not to go against one's nature if at all possible. But I'm still glad to be doing this project, however it turns out, because I need to get it out of my system.

I've also learned that, for a series, the visual outline should be done early rather than late. If it's not working out, something may be wrong with the concept.

I'm planning in the next few days or weeks to post one of the pieces in progress at different stages -- good, bad or awful.

1 comment:

michelle tappin said...

I think that it might be a good idea if you work out your ideas as thumbnails. also, ask yourself this:"Do i want to grow?" If the answer is yes,then you might try coming out of your comfort zone.I'm sure you've realized that the assignment gives rise to introspection and self- analysis. Therefore,the compositions will most likely be conceptual.the greatest lesson that you would have learnt from life drawing is HOW TO SEE. Therefore, transfer this ability to your compositions.