THOUGHTS ON 'RULES' IN ART.
am aware that art should be free, and that the visual image
should be something more than just a mechanical reproduction
of some thought process... it was Henry James
who said that 'art is the soul of a Nation...' We
all know that one gets art from artists, but just pictures
the same token, in order to create the artwork, a lot of
practical and often highly technical things have to be done
on the paper or canvas. A work of art
is therefore the product of two elements:
CONTENT (THE IDEA OF
THE ARTIST), and
TECHNIQUE (HOW THE ARTIST
there is inadequate content, then we have a mere technical
exercise as a result, and if the technique is deficient,
then the expression of the idea will be lacking.
Both of these factors are necessary in a good work of art.
it is very difficult to assist an aspirant artist with the
idea, although one can give participants
guidelines and encouragement to assist stimulation, subject
analysis, discipline and related spheres which can help
them to create with more spirituality, enjoyment and and
motivation. Hopefully quality ideas will
flow therefrom, and the artist will grow in stature....
On our courses we assist the participants in this 'right-brain'
realm by providing facilities to make them comfortable and
relaxed, by sharing our peaceful and tranquil studio setting,
by spoiling them with fine food and beverage, by providing
an eclectic music programme, and by giving them access to
hundreds of collected photographic, video and graphic images
as stimuli. In addition to this, I try
to bring a greater awareness of the 'big picture' in world
art into the course, and all along the way we have the particular
beauty of Leisure Isle around us... But
I still know that the really good ideas will come out when
they are in their own environments, surrounded by their
own loved ones and when they can start to plot an art direction
in their own creative world.
is different. Technique is mainly from
the other side of the brain. We have more
medical folk than any other profession attending our courses,
and I always endeavour to explore the left brain / right
brain hemisphere influence theory with them.
Whilst it would appear to have certain grey areas (sorry!),
there seems to be definite consensus in the concept that
there are cerebral areas that control different disciplines
in our brain. The most-quoted and formulated is the theory
that the right brain is the side that has to do with the
'big picture', and is holistic in its nature, whilst the
left brain is more technical and analytical. Teaching
technique in painting would therefore probably fall more
under the left brain influence.
started out in this section by suggesting that art should,
as far as possible, be 'rules-free'. Indeed
most of the books and videos of artists that I have collected
over the years suggest this desire, and then the artists
go on to do their artwork following the guidelines of a
series of obscure rules that they have created for themselves!
have always been one to try and make my job easier, and
when we teamed-up with the Gatehouse Production House in
Johannesburg to make my first two videos on oils and watercolours,
both the production team and I decided to ensure that
my steps in painting were set out in detail to assist
those who followed the demo paintings in the videos. After
all, we realised, if you go on a learning workshop for golf,
or cooking, or fly-fishing or any other discipline, you
will be given a structure of ground-rules.
Why should the technical side of painting be any different?
We have sold hundreds of the videos over the past decade,
and confidence from this broad acceptance has led to the
processing of this computer programme.
THE PAINTING PROCESS
the years, since my first lesson in oils with my late father
Leslie Elliott when I was at school in 1961, I have been
analysing the painting process.
Almost by default I inherited the role as a painting facilitator
on the established Mont aux Sources painting holiday programme
in the 80's, and since then I have actively watched how
folk paint, how they cleverly streamline the process, how
they employ devices and techniques to make their job easier
and how they utilise their equipment to their best advantage.
One very important thing I have noticed:
once the artist establishes a basic set of rules to paint
with, he or she sticks with that structure forever. Obviously
the artist will always tweak the framework as his technique
becomes more proficient, but the basics will remain the
same. It is therefore, with respect, very
important to have a tried-and-tested, versatile and uncomplicated
set of 'rules' to start off with.
have developed a set of 5 basic steps in watercolour which
I have introduced to hundreds of creative folk. These steps
are very straight-forward, and it is easy to see how most
of the accomplished watercolourists followed similar steps.
Here they are:
1 - Plan your picture
is the most important step, and one which is usually
not given the necessary attention. Planning can
include: quiet contemplation; reference to aids
( like sketches, photos, real life objects or scenes,
any other stimuli etc.); basic layout of your thoughts
on a scrap sheet; analysis of your goal/intention/reward,
and an analysis of the tools and rules you will
use to get there. This step will also include the
drawing of your basic image outlines (2b-4b pencil)
on the paper on which you will be painting. Planning
should be methodical, and never rushed. Enjoy your
planning, and explore multiple possibilities to
achieve your aim!
2 - Select the areas where you wish to keep the white
paper showing. i.e. 'Preserve White Areas'
in oils one basically works from dark to light, in watercolours
we preserve the luminosity of our crisp white paper
surface as far as possible, and we work from light to
dark. Once you have lost your white, you
will usually battle to retain interest or freshness
in your painting. Masking fluid is often used to achieve
the preservation of white areas.
3 - Cover the rest of the surface with initial/light colour
you have determined what must remain white, it is
obvious that the rest of the surface must be covered
by washes of various colours. These are the initial,
usually fairly light, colour washes - determined
by the dictates of the subject matter.
4 - Where necessary, apply further/full tones thereover
watercolour paper can only take two or three washes
on top of one another, before the paper surrenders and
becomes 'overworked'. Be like the golfer
and get to the hole with as few strokes as possible!
Many washes from step 3 will be able to stand on their
own (eg sky washes, some water surfaces, general light
areas in your subject etc.), but many will need strengthening-up
in tone and colour, to give the necessary fullness to
the image. This further application will usually consist
of a richer mix of the relevant compatible colour. On
occasion even further washes may be layered on - but
at your peril!
5 - Apply darkest darks and final highlights
watercolours fail because of the timidity of the artist
to commit himself/herself to full darks in the picture.
Look in front of yourself right now, and seek out the
totally dark areas in the image in front of you. On
analysis you will see just how many darks there are...
so put them in your picture! Practise
mixing a committed dark without using black (a dead
colour). I use a thick mixture of
Winsor blue and indian red - a nice dark mixture
which can be mixed up both cool (more blue in it) or
warm (more indian red) - and one can add most dark greens
to it to give that deep dark shade green of foliage.