Yup, we're back in June-time in Minneapolis at the Great River Energy Bicycle Races. And yes, I've already painted a painting where there is a spectator on the left and there is a blur of cyclists coming right at you. But this one is different---I have a photo reference from in front of Brit's Pub, and there are flags/banners flying much in the manner of Manet's Rue Mosnier Decked With Flags. And then there were the crowds, and the excitement, and the cyclists going by in a blur of speed (again!)---and it's impossible to say all that in one painting. Series.
I met a school principal in Boulder this summer who liked my painting Higher Education, except that it needed to be elementary school aged readers rather than college-aged readers, and could I possibly paint something like that? Well, that was the wrong question. The correct question was "could I possibly paint something like that ONCE?" Series.
(1) We always read that a good compostion is edited, that picking and choosing from your inspiration source is mandatory. The surest way to mess things up is to think that you can include everything. Series.
(2) A successful painting is about something you know. So you observe and you sketch, and you observe and you photo, and you observe some more and then maybe sketch again---all in an attempt to really get to know your subject. You end up with a massive amount of stuff on this subject. It's like school pictures of your kids, they send home this pile of pictures of your darlings knowing that YOU KNOW that if you don't buy them, then you have to send them back and they will just throw them away. Isn't that like a sin? Who can throw away all those good images, kids OR reference material?! Series.
(3) What about strength through repetition? Something interesting happened in our life drawing group. We have one very consistent model, who wanted to take the summer months off. During those summer months we had numerous models, seldom repeating. Two friends and I just opened our show "Go Figure"at the Pearson Lakes Art Center, with much of the work based on those life drawing sessions. Of forty paintings, one was of a model from the summer months where there was no repetition. The model with whom we work on a regular basis, (can we call it a series?!) was in many paintings. Series.
(4) I suppose we could also enter the point that we've got history on our side. How many times did Paul Cezanne paint Mont Sainte-Victoire? And Monet and the water lilies? Berthe Morisot (yeah, one of my favorites) painted her daughter time after time. Series.
Let's summarize: we can't paint everything all in one painting, we have a ton of reference material, and when we paint the same subject repeatedly we get good work. Not to mention all those famous guys whose work, in series, is pretty doggone famous as well. I've got two books on the bedside table, both authors stating that the subject doesn't matter, each for a different reason. (that'll be another post) I vote that the subject does matter, and we need to be repeating it, series style!
By the way, the Morisot painting I referenced is Young Girl Writing. I saw it as part of a traveling exhibit of impressionist work at the Grinnell College Art Gallery (Grinnell, Iowa) I vaguely remember it being on loan from Smith College at that time, but can't find it in their archives now. Has anyone seen it lately? It's currently not very google-able :(