The Value of Experiementation

"Ranger Roost"
watercolor 15 x 22 inches

You saw the paintings in my last post and probably recognize the image in this post.

Ho Humm, you say?   You very well might say that, or think it.  But, for me, there is something deep within me that I must satisfy . . . . .my curiosity which is constantly asking "What IF I painted that painting (such and so) way?"   "WHAT IF?"
I certainly do not consider myself an expert at painting (and some days what I do consider my skills as, . . . .well, don't ask!)    But there IS something that sets me apart from most other painters . . . .and it isn't my expertise.   It is my attitude about every painting that I make.   Some call it courage, I call it something else, entirely . . . .
Y'see, there is this drive to understand WHY and HOW good paintings work the way they do, or what is the underlying logic of good paintings?   It goes way beyond the subject, that is for certain.   There is tyranny in the subject . . . .that it demands to be copied.   While I adore being outdoors and painting a landscape as it appears, I also shun the same image and long to understand what I could do better to make a painting so much better.
In the last post, the two paintings had something nagging at me after I had photographed them:  The ever presence of green.   What should I do to make the painting less green?   Yesterday, the nagging finally got the better of me.   In looking over one of my books on design, I came accross some ideas for limited palette color strategies. . . . . .to paint with just three pigments:  Alizirin Crimson, Cad Yellow Light and Paynes Gray.   Yes, that yukky, sooty Paynes Gray.   It took a few minutes for my mental processes to kick in, then I was off to the studio as fast as I could get there.
I am amazed at the beauty of this painting . . . .how it all knits together so nicely . . .and how it has such a warmth to it compared to the cool atmosphere of the on in the previous post.   Of course, I had to pay attention to cooler temperatures as the scene receded into the distance in this painting.   I wasn't at all concerned about the shapes or the "picture" as I was about being sure that every adjoining color related in some way.   There had to be subtle shifts in temperature and intensity as the shapes came forward in the composition.   I found myself marveling at how well everything related in this piece.
Of course, dear reader, you can easily see the overall dominance of the color in the painting, which makes for a strongly unified piece.  But the variations in that dominance is where the painting could fall apart.   This is where the artist must take him or herself away from the subject and carefully think about the variables of color every step of the way.   It isn't that the picture mattered so much as the conditions of the design elements.   This is the place that beginning artists simply do not fully grasp.   For the beginner, the representation matters more than the design . . . .and, I suspect, the reason is that the beginning painter has never been exposed to what it means to paint relationships.   

How does one go about learning this sort of thought process and understanding it?   By experimentation.  In other words, it is my concerted opinion, that every painting must have behind it an attitude of taking a chance . . . . . of wondering what would happen if I did (so and so) . . . .taking the attitude of throwing caution out the window to see what would happen . . . .in other words, make every painting an experiment.  (Mind you, this would be impossible if one is driven to sell their work.  Because sales matter most, that artist is destined to be stuck and not really ever learn or grow).  
The distinct mental position of removing one's concern over how precious a painting might become, or not, is precisely what I am writing about.   Decide on a specific idea for the experiment and DO IT without concern if anyone will like it or not.   For example, what would happen if I chose Ultramarine blue, Yellow Ochre and Burnt Sienna as the only colors I could use in this painting.  What would happen?   Or, What if I made all the shapes angular?  What would happen?   Or what if I used Brilliant Red Orange outlines in gouache of every shape in the painting, then painted in the shapes?   What would happen?   What, instead of showing form or volume of the shapes in this painting, I made them all be very flat?  That is, no value or temperature change in any of the shapes.   What would happen?

It is through questions like this that an artist finds new creative paths to follow.  It is through the idea of making every painting an experiment that discoveries are made and how styles are struck.   But most of all, the artist learns to pull himself away from copying and truly begins to C R E A T E.

We all have extraordinary powers to create.  (Yes, we ALL do!)  If you are an artist and find yourself bound by the subject, undo the leash and the harness.  Let yourself go.  Waste paper or canvas and see what happens!   Worry not about the expense of paint, paper or canvas.   The expense is much, much more if you restrict yourself from growth!   EXPERIMENT !!  Try new ways to make the same painting!   (I bet there are an infinite number of outcomes of painting the very same thing time after time!)

Go on!   Give it a go.   Experiment!