Watercolor 22 x 30 inches
The hunt for ‘the next painting subject’ seems like an
endless, frustrating task at times.
The art world is filled to overflowing with “pretty
pictures” of subjects that seem to repeat themselves over and over ad
For example, still life
paintings of flowers, or Koi fish, or baskets and bunnies . . . . . . .You know
what I am talking about:
I can remember that not so long ago, when I began painting,
the frustrations for finding “good
clung to me like an ill fitting suit.
The fact is that there is no such thing as a
subject suited to a specific medium.
artist learn over time that it isn’t “What” you paint, but “How” you paint it
It seems perfectly ridiculous that people
choose the same subjects over and over because they are “pretty.”
Excellent art is well designed, obviously,
but it also carries an emotional mood.
It makes the viewer feel
“Pretty” is but one possible
feeling that a painting can hold.
So, I ask . . . . . .what’s pretty got to do with it?
Just because something is pretty doesn’t
mean that it is good art.
professional artist, I have found that it is NOT the subject that magnetically
attracts the viewer / buyer.
In short, it is the pattern of light and dark
(light and shadow) that arouses that odd feeling in our gut that draws us in
(sorry for the pun!) to look closer
. .and, perhaps, be so moved so as to purchase the piece.
Painting subjects are everywhere!
They are hiding in plain sight.
If you are a neophyte to the painting world,
all you need do is open your mind (and your eyes) to interesting patterns of
light and shadow.
It is a developed awareness.
My friend, Mark Mehaffey, is an expert at this.
His international reputation isn’t built on
painting “cute” pieces of art.
paintings reflect his skill at spotting (and designing) very strong value
abstract patterns in realistic subjects.
An example would be how the light bounces around in an old alley in
Shanghai, China or Reno, Nevada.
wouldn’t know it was China or Reno.
What is attractive about such paintings is how the darks and lights sit
inside the rectangle of the painting’s picture space.
subjects are where you find them.
pop up when you least expect it.
that needs happen to find them is to pay attention to your surroundings as you
move through your world.
through a window and reflecting off a dining room table top made for a prize
winning painting at NWS a few years ago.
There were no flowers, no knick knacks, no table settings . . . . .just
light and shadow created by some chairs around the table!
Another prize winner was an open refrigerator and the light
streaming out of it dodging around the contents.
All one could make out was some silhouettes
of various containers.
It was the light
and the shadow that won the day in that painting.
The list of examples could fill a
The best paintings often lie
among the most mundane settings or things.
It is the artist who elevates the mundane to something extraordinary
that gets the recognition.
In other words, pay
Awaken yourself to patterns of light and
shadow around you.
Set yourself up to NOTICE
. . . . .and, therefore, see the potential
offered by shadow patterns.
aware that “pretty” isn’t always the best art subject.
Consider the unordinary or the worn out,
over used buildings or objects and how they fit in their surroundings.
I recently gave a workshop in Oklahoma.
The first morning I stepped out of the side
door of the church in which we were gathered and was immediately struck by the
cast shadows on the old house across the street . . . .and how the old easy
chair on the porch was illuminated in that shadow pattern.
Maybe is isn’t something you would put
above your couch in the living room, but the patterns sure do capture the
There are hundreds of painting
subjects literally sitting and looking back at you.
merely have to notice them.