What Makes You Paint?

As a human we are unique in the world for our ability to think about ourselves from a distance and examine our own motives, and character.

I was reading Christopher Gallego’s blog where he was asked what motivates him. His answer was working inspires him to work.

It’s a good answer, and maybe the best answer for an artist.

I am always suspicious of artists that have a properly formatted and all too often overly wrought three page report of why exactly they do what they do. It usually boils down to some polito-social tripe that has it’s origins in the propaganda of powerful forces that they are willfully ignorant of.

I have painted pictures that just felt right to make, and not until months or years later am I aware of the hidden meaning that motivated me to make them.

I used to worry that I didn’t have one of those clearly defined single spaced twelve point type written manifestos, for if I couldn’t articulate why I painted right at this moment then wasn’t there something wrong with me?

But while self examination of our basic character and work to improve ourselves is good for the human being, I think it is bad for the artist. The artist is a lightening rod, or mirror. Neither one is active, the lightening rod doesn’t grasp for the storm, and the mirror doesn’t beg for something to be put in front of it. They wait for the world to influence them and then transmit that influence back, changing it through hidden processes that they are not even aware of.

So for now, work motivates the work, but later on the meaning will be a surprise for both of us.

Is it a Sketch or a Study? How do You Know?

On the Nile sketchbook of R.Swain Gifford
On the Nile sketchbook of R.Swain Gifford

After looking at enough art over the years the difference between a sketch and a study might seem pretty obvious, but the definition (at least for me) was really a guess based on accumulated experience. The problem with this method is that calling an artwork a sketch or a study seems completely arbitrary, relying on the understanding of each individual artist as to what they think the difference is. The result is an extremely fuzzy classification system, where a sketch or a study just means any artwork that is not a finished work.

But, I was happy to find out that there is a difference and what the purpose for each one is.

A sketch is the main idea. Whether it is a painting, a drawing, or even a sculpture, a sketch is where the artist explores the composition for the final work. Accurate draftsmanship, color, and detail are not important in a sketch. The most important thing is to get down the main idea, the impact, and the spark that ignited your passion to make the artwork. A sketch is about the big things in an artwork.

Mother, Child, and Camels, Tangiers sketchbook of R. Swain Gifford
Mother, Child, and Camels, Tangier sketchbook of R. Swain Gifford

On the other hand, a study is the complete opposite of a sketch.

Studies are fussy. However it is made, a study is all about gathering information. When making a study of a scene or an object be as accurate as possible. Put in all of the details that might be important. Composition and emotion don’t count in a study, accuracy of color and draftsmanship do. A study is an objective notation of observed facts.

Together, sketches and studies are the pillars of support to help make the final artwork.