Saturday, May 17, 2014

Five Ways to Keep the Art-Fire Glowing

 In the Machine Room (detail).

[This is a re-post from a year ago. Sorry, but on the eve of teaching a workshop, I found myself re-visiting an old subject--this one--in my head. So many blog posts I read have such angry, strident comments about art methodology--you would think people were arguing religion or politics. Art, like life, is an amazing gift if we are open to the surprise. Tomorrow I'll go into the workshop with a purposely open mind, and I bet I will learn more than I teach .]

Does any one method of learning work for artists? You'd think so, listening to some arguments, or hearing what college admissions counselors tell prospective art students. Usually, the most strident voices are the ones saying "Draw and paint from life--it's the only way! Real artists draw what they see!"
But I don't believe there's only one answer, one method, one technique--for anything.

I ran across an interesting paragraph about the great illustrator, Howard Pyle in which he criticized art programs for emphasizing drawing from life, rather than from the imagination:
"Students were expected to draw from a model who posed stiffly before them in a position that could be held for long, tedious hours of class. The results produced by the students tended to be as inert as the model."

Pyle believed that painters could become great by building upon the student's latent imaginary powers, not by slavish technical skill-building. While I don't entirely understand what his philosophy and teaching methods entailed, they fostered the growth of many tremendous artists including NC Wyeth, Jessie Willcox Smith, Frank Schoonover, and Harvey Dunn.
A Ride for Life. By Howard Pyle, from his Otto of the Silver Hand.

As I found life drawing classes incredibly boring, I wish I could have attended Pyle's classes! But like many of my contemporaries, I've had to discover many types of teachers, and many pathways toward learning what I need to keep the art-fire glowing.

What works best for me?  A variety of methods:

1. Some drawing and painting from life:
 Grand Mesa. Watercolor, private collection.

2. Lots of drawing and painting from my imagination (seemingly looked down on by most art programs in today's universities):
 Skeptical Cat. Acrylic on wood, private collection.

 3. Much experimentation with media and subject matter:
 Untitled. Mixed media on cloth. Collection the artist.

 4. A bit of teaching.
 Me, keeping them riveted to their seats, at a "Saints" workshop.

5. Lots of practice copying works (in this case, hands) by artists I admire.
Doing all five fits my personality, and has kept alive the freshness and excitement for making art. The way I see it, we are lucky we've so many ideas and philosophies from which to choose. Why argue about it?

Next post: A Feet and Shoes Resource File.

Thanks for reading!


  1. Thanks for sharing your processes. Everyone develops their own, I think, but it's nice to hear how others do it. We all need help in keeping the creative fire glowing.

    1. I like hearing about other artist's ways too because I'm pretty greedy for info. There are so many great methods out there--I like getting to grab what I want :) Best wishes Joy!


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