Stretching contains a duality that is both painful and rewarding. If done well it can be strengthening and if done poorly can be damaging. It can be a contradictory, unpredictable and sometimes a confusing experience. But I think if you stretch a little bit at a time and then a lot when you are feeling brave and resilient, the payoffs can be BIG.One thing I have learned as an artist and in life in general is that to grow you must stretch yourself.
My strategy is always to do what I can, what feels good and natural for me to do every single day. In other words EASE into it. Just because it feels easy or natural does not mean that it is not beneficial or productive. However, I do think if this is your mode of operation all the time then you will stagnate and your work will become dull. This daily action really builds up and gives me the courage and quite frankly the kind of routine boredom that will push me to try new things and take on new challenges.
Goethe said it best, "Action has magic, grace and power in it."
A place to start is identifying things that are easy for you to do. This way you have a list of "go-to" actions when you're just not .....in the mood. ( Never fall for that in the mood bullshit. Your thoughts and emotions can easily be convinced to get in the mood just by doing. )
Here's my list of things that are easy for me to do:
- Hop in the car and paint a sunrise or go out and do a plein air painting.
- Doing paintings on demands for crowds. (nothing will get you over your fear quicker than the demand to help others)
- Doing any kind of quick sketch or simple painting that I know will require less than 6 hours to complete.
- Learning from other artists in workshops. This is super enjoyable for me and really recharges my batteries. I am not just meant to be a giver, but also a receiver. I LOVE being a student!
Here is a 60 minute demonstration outdoor landscape painting I did for a workshop.
Just being outside and painting brings me so much joy. I love the spontaneity of the moment, connection to nature and making quick thoughtful painting solutions.
A recent "90 minute Quick Draw" painting done for the Weekend in The West Show in Evergreen, Colorado. This really gets the adrenaline pumping and the desire to satisfy all parties involved prompts me to really focus and push for the best result under pressure.
In a workshop with the great David Leffel in Los Angeles. Love watching this man paint.
Things that stretch me are:
- Working on portrait or figurative work.
- Turning those small sketches or plein air paintings into larger works... or doing larger plein air works.
- Taking my work into photoshop and comparing it to a master work to analyze where I can improve.
- Changing my approach and finding ways to improve the outcome of my plein air paintings. For example, using a limited palette or purposefully trying out specific compositions suggested in how to books.
This painting started as a plein air sunrise, but I made some changes to it later in the studio after rigorously comparing one of my paintings to a Dwight Tryon piece and taking notes on things I could improve.
"Malibu Morning", 30"x40", oil on linen
This was enlarged from a plein air study I did last year. Luckily I had taken a video of the scene which I played often while painting to give me a stronger connection again to the place.
"Farm Land" , 10"x30", oil on linen
This is a spot I found after weeks of driving around looking for new painting spots here in Oklahoma. I always love these types of scenes, they just feel like home. I did a couple of smaller plein sketches in different directions of this place. On this day I decided this extreme panoramic format would really capture that wide open, big sky feeling.
"At Her Dressing Table", 30"x24", was my first studio figurative piece. I have done tons of failed figure paintings in open studio and art class sessions over the last 8 years. There was a lot of thought and trial and error that went into this and many moments where I thought it wasn't going to make it. One thing I did do to make the stretching a little less difficult for me, was to set her up like one of my still life paintings. So I kind of just saw her as a large vase in a still life. Sounds crazy, but it really helped me not to get to caught up in the attachment to painting a person (which my mind identifies as really really hard!).
Happy to say this piece received an Honorable Mention Award at the Oil Painters of America National Show recently in Dallas, TX.
Hint : Seeeeee....big pay offs for stretching.
The second category are all things that take more effort on my part and perhaps feel a bit uncomfortable, but it is the combination of these two ingredients: Natural + Stretch that really have improved my work year after year. Maybe it will work for you too.
So I encourage you to not avoid the difficult tasks, but also have some patience and wisdom to know when and how much to do them. The main thing is you don't want to get so discouraged or overwhelmed that you sink into a week or even more of not creating.
Pace yourself and celebrate your victories!