What to Paint and Keeping it Simple
There is hardly a more vexing question for artists than "what shall I paint next?"
Unresolved, it can be a question that can last for days, weeks or even longer! I don't think there is an artist alive that hasn't wasted time in deciding what to paint, but I believe the issue becomes less urgent as the experience of time kicks-in.
Oddly enough, artists just starting out want to paint hard stuff - you know, busy complex scenes, ones that would cross the eyes of an experienced artist! What's more, they want to do it in the most difficult of mediums - namely, watercolour where there aren't many second chances.
Art is like music, you have to do the simple stuff and do it well, then you will have the confidence to move to more complex pieces. It's no use starting off learning music by trying to play Mozart, it's a sure recipe for depression and defeat.
Let me tell you something, painting is a confidence game like most skills. In other words the confidence we build by painting the simple things will translate into confidence in the bigger more challenging works - it's just how it is.
I know there are different reasons why people want to paint and mainly it is as a form of enjoyment and relaxation. It is also a marvellous social outlet with people of like mind. There are those who want to get seriously better at it and those who want to make some kind of a living from it. All these reasons are valid, but everyone's enjoyment of painting is enhanced when they increase their ability to produce good work - just like playing music.
So, why not paint pleasant, simple things? I remember starting off doing hundreds of small, very simple seascapes and selling them on eBay. It was a training ground that had me growing in confidence which expanded into other subject matter. In the beginning repetition is good, it builds skill, confidence and enjoyment.
It's a good habit to carry a camera everywhere you go. Phone cameras are perfect. It is easy to build up your own bank of photos that you can paint from and because you have taken the photo, the painting will have special meaning.
Not every great photo is going to translate into a great painting though. Some subjects are just better as photos. Blazing sunsets make a great photographs, but are often real duds in a painting, yet we all seem to want a go at it. Green landscapes can similarly look enchanting in photography, but there are so few that can do green paintings well. I confess to avoiding them as much as possible! I often wonder why artists flock to Europe and the UK to paint, only to be confronted by green and more green! Artists in Australia are so lucky to live in the world's most paintable country.
Two or three apples on a white table cloth with a directed light upon them is a great fallback if you can't think of anything to paint. Shine up the apples so they are reflective and make a study of all the shadows, the light, the reflected light and reflected colour off the table cloth and adjacent apples. There is so much to observe and paint, yet the subject itself is so simple. Getting the apples right will have you searching for other subject matter with renewed confidence!
Photo: Three Shiney Grannies, acrylic on canvas - Mike Barr 2008