Thursday, April 18, 2013

"You can't be afraid to suck..."

Three Jonquils, 2013
Peter Cholewinski
Oil pastel on paper, 22.9 x 30.5 cm
For the first time in a while, I spent some time drawing. It was mainly to preserve some sense that I'm trying to keep at my work with oil pastels. I did a few contour drawings of some jonquils Jim had picked from the garden and put in a vase, and then I tried my hand at an oil pastel. The result is posted here, and I'm not at all happy with it.

So why am I posting it?

Mainly because it's less important that I did something good than that I did something. Drawing is like building your biceps; you gotta work at it. I'm quite 'out of shape' as an artist, and a crummy workout is always better than no workout at all. So I'm glad I pushed myself. Yay me!

The other reason comes from some advice I got from my friend Gretchen, who is a real artist (and a videographer to boot). Back in 1999, I enrolled in studio painting and began working with oils for the first time. I didn't have any idea what I was doing, and it was exciting. After my first dozen pieces, I remember being very frustrated and complaining to Gretchen that everything I was doing sucked. She told me: "Look, you can't be afraid to suck. If you are, then you'll never learn anything." Realizing she was right, I stopped whining and being precious and pushed on.  No pain; no gain. I continued to churn out crap, but I was getting critiques and being exposed to different techniques. Practice helped and I was building my oil painting muscles. A year or so later, I had a picture in a show - a good one - and sold it.

So here's the reason for the post. What I learned from acting on the 'you can't be afraid to suck' advice is that sucking or, to be more specific, failure is just fine as long as I learn from my failures. Posting this is a way for me to even more objectively react to my work. So, let's get to it.  What's wrong with Three Jonquils?

  • Composition is poor - There is no dynamism here. The forms have no energy and do not interact with each other. This gives the piece a flat feel, like it just sort of sits there and makes it impossible for the piece to 'grab' the viewer.
  • Background is too much - It overpowers the subject and, even worse, there is no relationship between the colors chosen and the subject. I tried to use complements (red behind the green stems and purple behind some of the yellow flowers) but the tones are somehow off. Too dark and rich. The background also lacks the variation in color and intensity needed for it to breathe. 
  • Flowers and stems lack finesse - There's not enough variation in color in the petals, and there's no suggestion of form aside from the outlines. The darker background should have been used to provide this outlining, but it was not. The lowest of the three flowers is best, and the one on top has some electric green along the petal edges that is the beginning of something interesting. But it doesn't go far enough. 
  • Trite colors - Not enough mixing and shades/hues to deliver something other than 'GREEN stems' and 'YELLOW flowers'. This is probably due to me using different pastels from the ones I used on Blue Vase. This is a big failure for me, since color is probably the best thing I bring to the table as an artist. If I miss there, then I have little chance of success.
Bottom line, a sense of looseness or play would have gone a long way to making this piece interesting and/or dynamic. As it is it's sterile and dull. So I need to play with the new oil pastels I have, get to know how they work and blend, decide if I like them as a tool, and also just draw more to redevelop that sense of confidence and looseness that comes with being an 'in-shape' artist.

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