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Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Tracing Debate

One of the hottest controversies in the painting world revolves around tracing projected photos onto the painting surface versus setting up a preliminary drawing free hand.  Many painting teachers actually teach students to trace projections rather than showing them how to do a preliminary drawing.  Students follow the practice innocently without realizing the limitations tracing puts on their work as well as their artistic growth.

 

Here are my thoughts about this practice: 
  1. Tracing projections deceives the artist into thinking he/she is a more accomplished artist than they really are.  
  2. Tracing denies the artist the exhilaration of making visual discoveries during the process of setting up the preliminary drawing as well as during the painting process.. 
  3. Tracing deceives the viewer into thinking the artist actually shaped the images.
  4. Tracing blocks opportunity for growth.  It creates a dependency.  
  5. Tracing inhibits making open-ended composing decisions.
  6. Tracing creates a fear of learning to draw.
  7.  And most important, I think:  tracing blocks individual expression.
I know of nothing more freeing than feeling confident about drawing.  I suspect, though, that the practice of tracing began because of shaky drawing skills or at least an insecurity about drawing.  But five decades of teaching drawing have proven to me that anybody who wants to can learn to draw. I've seen it happen again and again.  And with the right teacher, it can be easy to learn and a joyful experience.  

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Creating Your Style

(Note:  Henceforth, content from each Composing & Drawing Tip Newsletter will appear here each Saturday morning.  If you are subscribed to both, feel free to unsubscribe from one of them to prevent duplicates arriving via email.)

During the twenty-four years of our private art school, we held a student show at the end of each twelve-week session.  Amid these, responses to student work that delighted me most were people asking how many teachers we had.  Folks couldn't believe that the diversity of styles had emerged under the same teacher.  Even the first quarter drawing students' work was already showing a unique style.

 

What I have noticed among all performers, whether artists or athletes, is that those who excel and reach greatness have a unique style, unlike any other.  An example is evident in baseball pitchers.  Craig Kimbrell, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz each have baffled one hitter after another, yet each stance and pitch is totally different from the other.

 

There are three kinds of styles:  the imitated style, the evolved style and the hybrid style.  The imitated style comes from the performer's intentional adapting a style of someone else.  The evolved style is often called "self-taught" because it is one that comes naturally to a person without any conscious influence.  The hybrid style mixes all that comes naturally mixed with influences by what one sees in or is taught by others.  What we notice is that the style of our greatest performers is most often hybrid.

To the question of how does one find one's style, the real answer is by not trying.  Those who do try eventually lose their natural expression to mechanical imitation, but those who focus their attention of developing the skills required for masterful performance will evolve their unique style without trying. 

We are not to worry about whether our style gets influenced because whatever we identify with in another's skill set is inherently ours to begin with, otherwise we would not recognize it nor desire it. A skill is universal, it is how something gets done.  It is not a talent, but an ability.  In the long run, when our focus is on developing and practicing our skills, each of them will become our own.  We will grow our own signature use of it.  And out of that our style emerges.  

Monday, March 14, 2016

An Inner Reveal

Today I'm sharing with you glimpse of my private world, the life of my sketchbooks.  Over the seven decades of being an artist and teacher of art, I have filled dozens.  Not all have survived.  Two of my favorites were stolen, but none of that matters today.  What's important is that these thousands of pages reflect moments of presence, moments when I explored with drawing, painting and writing reflections of my inner world.

A lot of the time, it's within the sketchbook that I work out ideas for a painting...

 

...or for teaching a lesson.

 

At other times, I explore with notans  scenes I see around me.  (You can sit in one spot and find dozens of paintings!)

Or I write notes to myself or find solutions to some dilemma.  I often hide poetry within these pages.

I  love baseball, so often I'll do gesture drawing of the players while I'm watching a game.

And I do many, many quick studies.

My sketchbooks are my home.  They are where I live the most intimate moments of my art.  While with them, there is no censorship, rather only the most authentic moments of my artistic life.