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
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|
|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?