I have always admired artists who bring a loose style to their art. There is so much expression and feeling that is woven in that piece of art and I have always wished I could just see and create my art in that way.
Changing my style and embracing it has been challenging. The key is in finding a way to ease your brain into accepting a new style, one a bit messier than the perfectionist fiddler inside. That perfectionist can be quite judgemental and want to hold on.
That being said I have to admit I am that fiddler. My brain up to this point has been interested in fiddling with the details, perfecting them and somehow manicuring my art to death and fighting me as I move to let go.
Many other artists I know also have this same challenge so I know I am not alone in this pursuit.
So what is an artist to do when you want to do something other than where your brains seems to demand you go?
I have some thoughts on this
Now don’t get me wrong I do love the look of these pieces when I create them. It’s a skill I am glad to have and many people would say embrace it.
But I have always longed to embrace texture, looseness and a bit of wild abandon with an impressionistic approach to art and I have had trouble getting there.
Does this sound familiar? If this is you please comment below. If you have found a way to move into this zone also please share that with us.
I know of artists who did really detailed art and have crossed over to the other side and are now creating more expressive pieces. They were successful in finding how to let go and redefine their artistic style.
For each person, I would imagine the journey is different and we all need to find the way through for us. Determination keeps me looking for my way into this world of art.
There is more than one path in.
I tried abstract art and that was definitely not the path for me.
Abstract art with no direction or form was definitely not the way for me to embrace a new style. I recognized that I do need some form to my art regardless of how little. So abstract did not provide an avenue into a looser more expressive approach to my art.
I was not satisfied with that particular mess and working through it.
Another thing I learned about myself is that I need to go back and forth between exploring a freer style and my detailed brain.
This way I am feeding both my desire and my natural inclination of fussing with details. This keeps my brain satisfied while I explore ways to open up new creative paths in my brain.
Recognizing your habits and personal needs in art and owning them helps in moving you along the path. If you fight who you are completely you will spend lots of time frustrated and possibly unhappy with your outcomes that you will think you suck more than you do.
So I work both my detailed art side and my desire to loosen-up side. This way I am producing art I like an am proud of while I experiment and learn. It has proven to be an effective method for me.
Homemade textured panels and pastels have shown me a path that might get me there
I have chosen pastels as my main medium because I love the beauty of them and they are so versatile. The color is rich, they can be layered for beautiful depth and are also easily fixable.
Another feature that helps in loosening up for me that pastels come in larger size sticks that are bigger and more awkward than a paintbrush or a pencil and for me, that is a good thing.
One day while I was reorganizing my art space I came across some old ampersand watercolor board that had gotten dirty over time and I decided to use it up by applying a few layers of pastel ground to the surface and painting over that. Nothing goes to waste.
This resulted in a nicely textured surface that was less friendly to fiddly details. It pushed me to embrace looser mark-making in applying my pastels than I would have done if I used my sanded papers.
While this isn’t perfect, it was a successful test in not fussing with details and I imagine with each piece I do I will be more satisfied with the emotion and impression of the moment than the details. At least that is my goal.
The first piece of the hay bale in the field was a slightly more textured surface than the second attempt of the moody landscape you see below.
Even though this board was slightly less textured I was still able to stay in the looser zone when applying pastels. I was trying to capture the distant feel of a storm approaching.
The part I love about impressionistic art is that it captures the feeling and lets you fall into it. There is no need for it to describe everything in detail. You as the viewer get to embrace your own feelings of the piece.
Going from detailed to loose in your style
For any of us trying to embrace another approach to your painting style other than the one you typically are drawn to do it can be frustrating.
Trying to teach your brain to be happy with a bit messier technique than the refined detail finessing you may typically find yourself doing can be a challenge. I know it has been for me but I am determined to find a way to ease myself into this.
Making art exploration affordable is important
When attempting a new style or medium many of us don’t want to waste expensive supplies like art papers. After all, we aren’t very good yet. The thought I’ll buy the good stuff when I get better seems to be what drives the urge to not waste good art supplies.
What I can tell you after 30 years of making is that quality supplies make a difference in your outcome even when you are new to the art.
The frustration of cheap paints, pigments, and papers will kill your desire to paint. How do I know this? Because I also thought the same thing when I started. And now I know just invest in better stuff and add to it as you can afford to.
If we don’t allow ourselves to experiment and use good art supplies and have the freedom to explore we will never discover what we are capable of creating.
That being said I am making this exploration of textured freer mark-making approach as affordable as possible by creating homemade surfaces that make it more cost-effective for me to free myself up for exploring.
For me, this means that I will not avoid art playtime because I’m afraid to waste pricy papers while I learn.
Practicing on less quality cheap surfaces would not render the desired outcome I desire and I don’t want to get caught up in daily disappointment that has more to do with the quality of supplies than skill. It’s easy to get the two confused.
The surface you work on and the supplies you use makes a difference, even in the learning stage of any medium.
If you work on cheap non-artist quality surfaces your end product will be affected by that and you may not see how well you are progressing and possibly think you have worked so hard and not improved.
How to make my homemade surfaces
I went to Lowes because they will cut things down for you to any size. I purchased a 4×8 sheet of hardboard.
I had the board cut up into several sizes. I love square format art and made sure I also cut some up in that size. Out of the 4×8 sheet I had it cut into 10×10, 8×8, 8×10 with a couple of odd larger size pieces.
Working small is a benefit for several reasons.
- One- I’m an impatient artist and like to get through things in a timely manner
- Two- doing smaller pieces allows me to get more done and thus move my learning experience and improvement happens a bit faster.
- Three- I have more room to hang small art than I do large art
- Four- smaller pieces means I need less detail
As you see the board is a little rough around the edges and I use about a 150 sandpaper to smooth that out and run it across the surface lightly so the gesso in the next stage adheres better.
Time to prepare the boards for art
I use gesso to seal the board. Artist grade gesso is worth the price and will work better than student grade supplies. I prefer Golden brand or Liquitex.
Using a foam brush or small roller apply two coats of gesso, the first one in a horizontal direction, the second one in a vertical direction. Let it dry well between coats.
I let my gesso boards sit overnight to be sure they are thoroughly dry.
You can use these homemade gesso boards for any medium if you like but since I do pastels I now need to add another layer of medium. Pastel ground will add a textured sanded surface to paint on.
I like to brush on 2-3 layers of this pastel ground alternating layers with the first horizontal, then vertical, etc. The more layers you add the more texture you will get. Dry between each layer and remember this ground dries clear.
I don’t do more than three layers because I don’t need it and the rougher the texture the more it will eat at your pastels. Try and see what works for you. And also watch some youtube videos and be patient with yourself. Learning takes time.
If you would like to try texture applied in a different way please check out Rita Kirkman’s underpainting technique. She tints her ground using golden fluid acrylics. Her beautiful golden color is achieved using quinacridone nickel azo gold added to the pastel ground.
She then sponges on her acrylic carefully to achieve a wonderful underpainting. This video shows how she makes her colored mixture.
Using this technique is also in my plans moving forward in my embracing a looser style in my art. I love the warm glow of her paintings.
The hardboard I purchased was 8.99 for a 4×8 sheet. Gesso can run you 10.00 and up depending on the size bottle you purchase and the pastel ground runs 13.00 and up also depending on size. I bought larger size containers of both these mediums as I plan on playing a lot so I can learn more and grow.
Out of a 4×8 hardboard I got about 50 pieces of board to practice on. A 32 oz jar of both gesso and ground was about 50.00 for both. So $60 and a little elbow grease I have lots of pastel surface where I can experiment and control my texture and even maybe use different ways of making a texture for painting.
Who knows what I might come up with and just think of all I can learn and improve on. Oh, and let’s not forget the fun of playing along the way.
If you want to improve the best thing you can do is…
I am sure we all wish there was some magical shortcut to being better in our creative endeavors. But alas there is not!
Sorry to burst your bubble, but the best way to get better at anything is to show up and do it.
In other words, PAINT! PAINT! PAINT!
The second thing is don’t be afraid! Fear will stop you dead in your tracks.
You didn’t know how to read or write and you learned that like you did many other skills in life. Painting is no different.
Show up every day, learn, try, do with no expectations. Enjoy the process, immerse yourself in it no matter the outcome. You will start to see growth and the desire to do more.
Buy good supplies. Purchase the best you can afford and when you can afford better buy better. Artist-grade supplies in small quantities are better to start with than cheaper supplies in larger quantities.
As your art improves so will your vision of what you want. This will create a situation where you may think you continually suck and aren’t getting better. That is not true. The more you do the more you learn the more you raise your expectations to match your visions. If you recognize this in your art journey you will be more patient with yourself.
Art is a never-ending cycle of improvement and desire. We all go through this.
That is what makes it so fun and challenging.
I am not showing up every day to be better than anyone else. I am showing up just to be a better me in my art and enjoy the journey. My art is my passion, my therapy and my joy.
You are never too old, and you are worth following your dreams and desires. Have fun, jump in and don’t look back.