14 October 2015

Post Workshop Blues

Day 3 Long Pose - 11x14" - Oil on panel

I was away for a week attending a workshop by one of my painting idols, Ingrid Christensen. I think Ingrid is one of the best painters in Canada right now; and also one of the most under-rated. I had been looking forward to this workshop for a long time.

It was a figurative painting workshop. I never intend to become a figurative painter, but am looking to understand Ingrid's painting methods. Specifically her use of colour and brushstrokes.

When looking at workshops, it is helpful to identify what skills you want to learn or improve on in your own painting, and then go looking for the instructor(s) who can help you with that. It is easy to get carried away with taking workshops, especially if you are lucky enough to live in an area that has easy access to art workshops, and take everything and anything that's offered. I am not fortunate enough to live in such a place and must always travel to take workshops - sometimes far, sometimes not so far.

The disadvantage of taking everything and anything, is that you may never develop any particular style. Every painter has a different style, so when you learn from many artists, you may end up incorporating all these different styles into your work instead of developing a strong sense of individual style. When you know where you want to go and have identified instructors painting in that style, it becomes easier to develop that style (in theory).

This was my third workshop with Ingrid. At home I am always trying to practice and refine my use of colour and brushstrokes, and I thought after this four day intensive I'd come home with a better understanding and ability to implement these techniques.

The workshop itself was intense. The first day was multiple quick studies to help us learn specific techniques and loosen up. Not being a figurative painter, and being a real rookie at working with a live model, I was tense and unsure. Ingrid's mantra throughout the workshop was "better to be strong and wrong, then tentative and right" - meaning a bold brushstroke, even if not quite right, was better than a correctly placed but weak stroke. Such a simple concept, but really hard to do and not end up with a dogs breakfast!

The next 3 days consisted of a 20 minute short pose, and then the remainder of the day was a long pose. A sample of some of the workshop paintings are shown below. The top left was the first long pose, the top right was Ingrid's demo from the first day (she makes it look oh so easy), 2 short poses are below, and then the day 4 long pose, which I really struggled with.  Day 5 was a finishing up day, but I had to miss it as I needed to get back home for the holidays.

Workshop paintings
Once back home, I was so eager to get to the studio to practice and play. I was sure I'd be able to nail this once in the comfort of my own studio, without being crowded or struggling to overcome poor lighting (note to self: take my LED light to workshops!). Not so. 

I've tried to paint boldly without caring if the finished works are garbage or not, but it's been a struggle. It seems like I learned nothing at all and although the theory is there the implementation isn't happening. Ingrid makes it look so easy and effortless, and I expect myself to be able to do it. Maybe not as effortlessly, but with an equally satisfying end result. 

The Naked Truth - 11x14" - Oil on canvas panel
I was not able to be as bold as Ingrid with my brushstrokes no matter how hard I tried. During the painting above, I took a break and was trying to analyze what was going wrong. I hadn't used enough paint. The marks were timid. I went back and tried to layer in more paint and be bolder in my marks, but it still wasn't enough. I was getting frustrated and thinking I'd never get anywhere. One thought I did have was I was trying to practice these techniques on a subject I'm still not really comfortable with. 

My figurative drawing skills are not as strong as they should be, and so when trying to be bold, there's an underlying fear of losing the drawing and not being able to recover it. My "aha" moment hit. I have to practice these techniques with subjects I'm more comfortable drawing. So I tried painting a robin. Still not there, but maybe a bit bolder than before. I'm still frustrated but at least I have a plan of attack to reinforce the lessons learned. 

Ode To Summer - 8x10" - Oil on linen

To expect to master any particular technique in a week is a totally unrealistic expectation. The years an instructor has spent at the canvas, and individual style can never be learned in a week. With dedicated study and practice, and as many years under my belt, maybe my work will become as satisfying to me. But no matter how many workshops I take or years of practice, my work will never be a substitute for the instructors and that's a good thing. So I need to kick my expectations out the window, and just put some miles on the brushes.