This article is by Keith Bond, Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.
My thoughts today are prompted by a painting that I recently saw.
The artist was certainly a skilled painter. The colors were good. The brushwork was confident and interesting. The artist was a good draftsman. The motif was interesting and appealing. Overall the composition was fairly strong.
But there was one area of weakness in the painting – and it was fairly obvious.
The artist was a slave…to the reference material.
It was obvious that certain things were put into the painting because they were in the photo. Those elements didn’t add to the painting. In fact, some of them were a distraction. One element in particular was awkward and looked unnatural. But it was there, so the artist painted it.
Before I go on, I should add that I have been there myself. And I probably still am to some degree. We all are. Just like we need to work to improve other aspects of our work, this too is an area that takes a lifetime to master.
Having said that, all too often I see this as an area that some artists neglect altogether. Don’t be one of those artists.
If a tree would better serve the composition by moving it elsewhere on the canvas, by all means, move it.
If the tree has an awkward bend, change it.
If the river flows off the canvas in a certain direction, and the distant mountain mirrors that same directional line – or worse – is parallel to that directional line – it is okay to divert the river or change the contours of the mountain.
If each bale of hay is evenly spaced in the field (or boat in the marina, or row of poplars, etc.), rearrange them to create interest. Think of musical notes in a song. If every note was identical and evenly spaced, the song would be mundane and boring.
If a branch from a tree looks like horns growing from your model’s head – remove the branch. This may sound obvious, but I’ve seen it.
The list is endless, but I think you get the point.
Just because something is in the photo (or is in front of you when painting from life), that does not mean it needs to be in your painting.
Your job as an artist is to edit. Determine what is essential and what isn’t. You need to know when to keep something, when to modify it, or when to eliminate it. This takes practice.
Being a slave to your reference hinders creativity. Slavishly regurgitating what you see is not creating. It does not show me anything more than your ability to copy. I want to see your voice. I want to see your thoughts and ideas. I want to see your creativity.
PS (Shameless self promotion) – this topic is one of the major areas of focus in my upcoming workshop in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. The workshop begins in one week, so hurry! Only a few spots left. Learn more here.
Oh, one more thing. Steamboat Springs is one of the most beautiful areas of Colorado, and this time of year is perfect. There will be plenty to inspire your creativity. And on your way back to catch your flight in Denver, you can stop by the OPA show in Evergreen. We will end early enough on Friday afternoon to have time to make it to the reception. Or avoid the crowds (and get some rest) and see the show on Saturday.