Monday, June 11, 2012

How you work tells a lot about your personality

"Window on Pine Island" 16x20 on wrapped canvas

I took a portrait painting class in oils. The technique was classic. Using a live model, we first coated the canvas with a film of oil and burnt umber. Then we proceeded to wipe out form and light.

Before I knew it, I had “wiped out” a head, a body, arms, and the light areas on the model’s skirt. It was a marvelous experience except for one thing. The teacher used her own method for getting inspired and to ramp up her energy.

"Wipe Out" of model

I don’t know about the other students, but I found it difficult to focus on this new and difficult experience. The teacher’s loud, blaring music distracted me and made it hard to concentrate. What I learned that day is that one person’s method of working is another one’s madness.

On day two, another problem occurred. We came back to finish our portraits, but other people had used the same classroom, and our easel’s had been moved. Only one student had thoughtfully marked the place and the angle of her easel with blue painter’s tape. The rest of us fought to find and duplicate our same vantage point.

Model on first day                                      Model on second day

The live model was also in a new position and the lighting had changed. As a result, we had to start over wiping out afresh and delaying the process of our work. The only thing that hadn’t changed when we came back was the music. My irritation turned into anger as the music ragged on my already raw nerves. The only thing I had to show for the class was an unfinished painting that never got finished, and a complete distaste for trying the wipe out method again.

We all have our own unique ways of working. Some artists enjoy listening to classical music while they work; others like jazz or soft rock. I turn on talk radio which turns into “white noise” as I lose myself in the painting. For me, classical music which I love is to absorbing and interesting and forces me to listen to it instead of painting.

"Winston" 12x16 oil on canvas

One artist likes to paint in the nude. She finds it freeing, leaving her unencumbered; there are no spotted paint clothes; no need to sweat or have a sleeve mess up a fresh brushstroke. Creative work is tedious and personal. The more you recognize what “turns you on” or what unleashes your wild muse the better.

Choosing the right approach or piece of music that fits the painting adds to its authenticity. Does the painting require a soft touch and a delicate balance? Background music that influences these emotions and feelings could make a difference in the outcome. Does the painting demand looseness and bold energetic brushwork? Listening to a Russian composer may give you the push you need.

Find out what works for you, and once you’ve found it, stick to it; whether it’s listening to the blues, the news, or working in unadorned silence.

"Raccoons at Sunrise" 16x20 acrylic