Thursday, February 12, 2015

Working Out Concepts

Lately I've been working out concepts instead of limiting myself to working from plein air paintings or photos. So what does that mean exactly?  First, let's define concept.  The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines concept as:  

1:  something conceived in the mind :  thought, notion

2:  an abstract or generic idea generalized from particular instances

Conceptual artwork has become to be known as work where the thought that went into it is of primary importance, and the creating of the work is not as important or even unimportant.  Whether this is an accurate definition of conceptual art is a discussion for another time.  The discussion I would like to have today is, how do you work through your creative concepts?  Do you stay true to the field study or the photograph because that is what you saw, do you adjust it to create a better composition, or do you go even further and play with ideas that are sparked from a field study or sketch?  I consider working conceptually as pulling ideas from multiple sources in order to create something new.

Here's an example that started with a cloud thumbnail out of my head.  My main objective was to create a cloud shape with movement.  There were 5 or 6 other thumbnail attempts that didn’t work as well.  This one had the right upward movement and side to side movement that filled the page nicely.

Left to right:  field study used for correct color, Cloud Dance Study 12x12, cloud thumbnail in sketchbook
So I had a thumbnail of a cloud that I really liked.  But it didn't come from a field study or a photograph, therefore I need some additional references to inform time of day, color, etc.  I also clearly need an adequate foreground.  After some searching, I found a plein air of a southwestern landscape and sky (shown on the left in the photo above) that I liked as a color example.  I believe the best reference to use for color is your field studies, especially if you are working conceptually.   I found a photo of a pond at sunset (not shown).  The pond photo wasn’t exactly like the pond in the study, but it was from the correct time of day.  In the middle of the easel you see the study I created from these three pieces.   

Cloud Dance Study, oil, 12x12

Here is the study simply titled, Cloud Dance Study, 12x12.  In order to decide what would be best in the foreground, I started with simple perspective lines that worked with the cloud design.  After that, I decided it would be a pond so I found a pond reference.  The perspective lines could have become several things, but in the end I decided that showing the reflection of the clouds at sunset would be the most dramatic and help continue the upward movement.  I decided on a square format because it accentuates the height, allowing vertical movement.

Cloud Dance, oil on linen, 30x30

After letting it sit for a few days, I determined it would indeed make a good larger piece and started a 30x30.  Working from a successful study gives an artist a certain amount of courage.  What has worked in this format should work again.  I have found that this confidence allows more freedom to play with the paint in a large piece.  Still, there will always be some unknowns when going larger.  In the case of Cloud Dance, the distance in the ground plane wasn't as developed in the study simply because there wasn't space to do so.  But in the 30x30 there was space, and it became necessary to develop and show depth in the ground plane from foreground to background.  I also felt like the larger, single tree in the study was at risk of taking over the focal point which is where the cloud touches the horizon.  In the 30x30, I put in another tree and made them smaller, thereby not allowing one to stand out.

The process of beginning with a thumbnail sketch, going to a small color study, and ending with a larger studio piece, has worked well for me.  It's a process I enjoy.  It may seem as though it takes more time on the front end, but the end result goes so much more smoothly than staring at a blank canvas and hoping for the best.  

There are many ways to work out creative concepts.  What are some ways you work out concepts?