Parallel Play 12 x 16
Available at Collector's Gallery of Art
Last weekend I taught a workshop at the Calgary School of Art entitled "Expressive Oils". I found that defining "expressive" was the most difficult part of preparing for the workshop! The term became slipperier and more ambiguous the more I thought about it.
What I finally decided was that "expressive" meant that I could see more of the painter than the subject in the final painting and I could see what the painter wanted to show me the most. Expression is a complex mesh of composition, colour choices, brushwork and editing. It uses the reference image as a starting point only and goes its own way from there.
Once I'd decided this, it was easy to prepare for the class. The most important thing then became, "what do you like most about the image that you've chosen and how can you emphasize it in your painting?" If you know this, you're half way to a good painting.
So the first thing that the students did was find the special thing - the focal point - in their photos. Then we worked on simple compositional sketches that led the eye to that point. If this meant that we moved roads and cut down trees or changed the shape of rolling fields, then so be it. BC painter and teacher, Dianna Shyne, tells her students to "play God" when they compose their paintings and she's right. It's our job to create a world on our canvases, not to recreate a photo.
With this careful preparation, the actual paintings just seemed to flow. I was impressed by the quality that the students produced, including two who were painting their first ever oils. Starting a painting with so much thought seemed to lead naturally to completing it in the same way.
As always, when I teach, I feel like I learn as much as the students do and what I learned - yet again- is that I have to do lots of thinking at the beginning if I want a painting to work out at the end.