Like many artists, I find that the way that I paint--dancing back and forth between various approaches--is complex and hard to explain. My work includes pure abstraction and also hints of landscape...spontaneity as well as careful editing...definitive mark-making along with color fields and very subtle textures. I find energy and inspiration in this mix, but it is also difficult to describe--and this makes teaching a real challenge. I'm now at the tail end of a month of workshops and endless talking about my work and other people's work...things have gone very well, and I'm happy and satisfied, but acknowledging the difficulty of what I want to get across when I teach. It's not just technique, but technique as inseparable from conceptual aspects of the work and process. Each class is different and brings a new challenge in explaining and demonstrating what I want to say.
One thing I try to do is dispel the idea that an exploratory, process-oriented approach to painting relies heavily on happy accidents and random occurrences. The techniques I present, when practiced over time, become tools to be used with foresight and decisiveness. There is plenty of thought involved in finding the direction of the work, its structure, and the many choices and decisions that shape the final piece.
At the same time, I believe that preconceived ideas and reliance on photographs (even those of abstract subjects) are inhibiting, at least with the approach that I teach. The goal in my process is not to render something in paint, but to allow the paint and wax to suggest a path through the work as it develops. The artist remains in charge of what to keep and what to discard, and how to structure and organize the image.
Many artists in my classes understand all of this at a gut level and already use this basic approach in their work. But for at least an equal number, it requires a lot of effort to understand, and in some cases a huge shift in perception. So, it's a challenge to work through these ideas, often one small step at a time--and it's very rewarding when the ideas do take hold and there is an "ah-ha" moment for the student.
When that understanding happens, it seems to open up a great deal more patience with the process--one of building up rich color and texture over time, rather than leading directly and quickly to a finished painting. (As an aside--I see patience as an extremely valuable quality for any artist, no matter what personal style evolves--and I do encourage personal direction, always. Even in approaches that lead to faster results, such as plein air or very gestural abstraction, patience plays a role in the big picture of perfecting one's work.)
The painting above is Chronology #2
, 20"x16", oil and wax on panel.