October is Challenge month at HowToPastel. In the 31 days available this month, participants attempt to pastel every single day (posting in the HowToPastel Facebook group). One of the things I decided to do during the challenge was to work in a series. There are some subjects I’ve yearned to paint and the Challenge is an opportunity to dig into a couple of these themes. One of these is laundry on a clothesline.
In Croatia and Venice last month, I often saw and photographed views of laundry hanging out to dry. What a joy to be able to spend days painting these scenes so soon after seeing them. (By the way, all these 31-in-31pieces are for sale at a very reduced price during October and the first two weeks in November and can be seen on my gailsibley.com website.)
Since starting to work in a series, I’ve learnt a few things and I’d like to share those lessons and the laundry pieces (nine so far) with you. I also want to share some other big news with you that also ties into the idea of work in a series.
But first, here’s my Day 1 painting:
Work in a series can be either about the content, and/or it can be form. This can be a technique or a colour palette for instance. For me, I worked with both content and form – content being laundry on a clothesline and form being a limited palette of Unison pastels (either their 36-piece starter set used for most of these pieces, or their 16-piece half-stick set).
Why a limited palette for the challenge? Well as you probably know, I promote the use of a limited palette as a way to enhance your creativity (check out this blog about this idea), and to allow you to start working with top-quality soft pastels on a budget.
And why specifically Unison pastels?
Well this ties in with my big news!! Recently I was invited to be an Associate Artist with Unison Colour! Such an honour! Their soft pastels have always been a favourite of mine and I chose to use them solely in my work for the DK book, Artists Drawing Techniques (read a blog about that here). The Unison Colour website is being updated and when the new version appears, it will have a page with my bio and art. Being an Associate Artist also means I can create my own selection of pastels so I’m very much looking forward to doing that! I’ll keep you posted about the new website and the collection.
So, back to the artwork and lessons learnt as I created work in a series.
1. You don’t have to wonder what to do next when you work in a series
When you have a theme to work on, that feeling of, what am I going to paint next?! disappears. The question is more about ‘how am I going to paint that’ rather than ‘what am I going to paint’? This simplifies and makes things so much easier. I wake in the morning knowing I’m going to paint laundry! This means less time pondering what to paint and more time actually painting.
2. The restriction of creating work in a series compels exploration
You might think that being restricted might bore you because of the repetition and focus on one theme. Instead, it offers you freedom to look at the subject from a variety of perspectives. A specific theme allows and encourages you to explore different options in how to portray it: how am I going to interpret this? how am I going to compose it? what colours will I use to say what I want to say? For example, in the laundry series I looked at different compositional formats.
3. Limiting your options means looking at ways to work with what you have on hand
This is along the lines of the lesson above but there’s more to it. When we have the ‘freedom’ to create anything, it’s not necessary to make do with what we have. Making do with what we have initiates deeper and more concentrated effort. Out of this kind of constriction can evolve work that you may not have made without being in this uncomfortable position. What’s that saying? – Necessity is the mother of invention. This holds true in art-making as much as it does with other areas of life.
In my case, working with a limited palette (and in the last couple of days, a severely limited palette!), has pushed me to be inventive with colours and layering. I needed to let go of wanting to recreate the actual colours I saw and loved – for example the most delicate of pinks – and paint an approximation of the colours in the right values using the selection at hand. (For an example of what I painted with the severely restricted palette, see “And Life Goes On” below.)
4. Work on a series means a deeper look
When you work on one motif through a series, you find that by painting something over and over, you begin to get to know it in a deeper way than you do when you only paint it once. Not only do you examine the content of it from various angles – ie how to paint in – you also find yourself asking why you’re painting it. When you paint a subject once, you may have been attracted by the colour, the light pattern, the details. When you paint, with delight and enthusiasm, a subject a number of times, you start to ask yourself, What’s the attraction? Why do I want to paint this again and again? And these questions go deeper than the more superficial physical attraction.
For instance, as I painted laundry lines over and over, I began to wonder what it was that drew me to this subject. I hadn’t questioned this desire before. As long as I can remember, I’ve been attracted to painting laundry on a clothesline. I knew visually they can create some dynamic shapes either full of colour or with the purity of whites. But as I worked and shared and talked about the pastel pieces I’d created with others, I realized that on a deeper level I was attracted to painting this motif on an emotional level too. It speaks of home and childhood and the comfort that comes with the thoughts and memories of those. I would not have necessarily discovered this reason if I hadn’t committed to work in a series.
5. Work in a series acts as a springboard to other ideas
The more you work on a series, the more other ideas spring forth. You can identify more and more ways to delve into the theme. In this way the same theme can be carried further than you initially imagined. You start thinking, how can I do this painting again with a different colour palette, or a different value structure, or a more abstract look, or a more detailed look, or?
6. Motivation to get into the studio
Also, as you discover the benefits of working in a series, the more you want to work in a series with another motif. This, along with #5 above, brings an intense desire to get in the studio every day. Passion and excitement about the possibilities motivates movement to the studio. To heck with distractions and procrastination!
7. Closer connection to your audience
As I posted images of the series on social media, I realized that viewers were starting to look forward to seeing the next piece in the series. There was a sense of excitement building that I hadn’t anticipated. With this interest has come more comments and conversation about the work. Viewers were going on this journey with me as I created the work in a series. They want to know where it’s going as much as I do. They’re just as involved and committed to the process and the series as I am. It’s as if we’re all involved in some experience bigger and more meaningful than each individual piece of art itself.
8. Power in numbers
When you begin to gather all the work in a series together, you realize that the whole collection is somehow bigger than the pieces that comprise it. Yes, you look at each work separately but each piece in a series informs the other and so adds more meaning to it. Multiple works of art from a series speak in a louder voice when viewed together. They create a unified body of work that contain power and allure. Basically what you have is strength in numbers – another unforeseen benefit to work in a series. Together the pieces reveal the commitment, discipline and focus of an artist. This helps when you want a gallery to show your work and it also enhances your own inventory (as does working on a 31-in-31 challenge!).
I think that’s it! I’d love to know if you ever work in a series and if so, do any of these lessons learnt ring true for you?
Next week, I have another fantastic guest blogger for you!
Until next time,
PS. There was some other good news I wanted to share about Unison Colour. As much as I have loved Unison pastels, I did find them expensive to buy here in Canada. Now though, the company no longer goes through a North American distributer. Instead, the pastels are sold directly to retail outlets. This means a significant drop in price and probably greater availability since now smaller art stores can afford to carry them. Yay!!
PPS. Remember these 31-in-31 day pieces are available at less than half price over on gailsibley.com!!