Monday, March 19, 2012

When Influence Becomes Imitation

The Lyman House, 8x10, acrylic, Jan Blencowe, copyright 2012

The first true plein air painting of the year! Aside from sketching, I have not been outside to paint until this past week-end.  Snow is lovely to paint, but your toes get really, really cold. Other than snow the winter in Connecticut is pretty dull to paint and hardly worth the effort of dragging all your gear outside.

But a lovely, sunny, 70 degree Sunday in March was too good to pass up.  The landscape itself is still bare and dull but architecture, boats, and other structural elements, like bridges and barns make great early spring subjects, particularly if one side of the building is catching some good strong light.

Architecture is not my favorite subject but I knew it was a good choice for the day. I learned from artists who really love painting buildings and structures that spending the time up front getting the drawing done is very helpful. I still have a few wobbly walls in this but it's pretty much correct.  The only unfortunate thing for me is that if I do spend a lot of time getting a pencil drawing done, it tends to tighten up my painting.Which is exactly what happened in this piece. I would have liked it more painterly and loose.

Some years ago I took a few workshops with the late Charles Sovek. He had such a knack for loosely painting buildings, without doing any drawing first, yet the buildings always seemed perfectly believable.

Here's an example of Charles Sovek's work...

"Cottage Street, Provincetown" Charles Sovek
11 x 14 inches         acrylic/board              Private Collection

Wonderfully done, fresh, loose and capturing all the essentials perfectly. After a few workshops I transformed my painting style and switched to acrylics. This was before the slow dry acrylics existed. Here are a few examples of my paintings from that time which was probably 2006 or 2007.

 Ed's Place, 9x12, acrylic, Jan Blencowe

 Scully's, 9x12, acrylic, Jan Blencowe

It's easy to see the influence!  Ultimately, this very bright, chromatic, loose way of painitng was not exactly what I wanted to say. But I still retain some of this influence even today, particularly when I paint outdoors.  Take a look at two from last year's trip to Maine.

 Blueberry Hill I, 6x16, acrylic, Jan Blencowe

Blueberry Hill II, 6x16, acrylic, Jan Blencowe

Also take a look at this small garden scene from last summer....

Arts Center of Tolland garden, 6x8, acrylic, SOLD, Jan Blencowe

I'm sharing all this because I think it's important to know that you should never, ever, be a copy of someone else. It should never be your goal when studying with someone to paint exactly like them. Listen, learn, practice their methods, take it all in and glean as much as you possibly can from them. In the end you will have to throw out some of the things you learned, keep others and add to it all, your own discoveries, ways of working and vision. 

I see way too many copy-cat artists out there today. One look at their work and I can tell you exactly who they studied with and who they are emulating. Nothing will kill your unique originality faster than trying too hard to paint another artist's way of seeing the world and handling their tools and materials.

In fact I often think that the most important things you will learn from a teacher (and the things they should truly be trying to pass on) are not recipes for mixing colors, brushwork techniques or strategies for composition or lighting but rather ideas and ideals about what it means to be an artist, to nurture the art spirit and encouragement to develop a work ethic and standard of excellence for yourself.

Influence but not imitation. Be yourself, everyone else is already taken. ~Oscar Wilde

1 comment:

Vikki Bouffard said...

So well put, Jan, and love the Oscar Wilde quote.