Excerpt from my forthcoming book ‘ Painting Landscapes from Imagination
There will be no introduction words from me about landscape painting. Every art student knows what it is. It is painting a small or a large portion of Nature on canvas. This we call Landscape Painting.
But there are many questions …Working in plein air, Working in studio from outdoor sketches, Working from photos or Working from Imagination. Which is the right approach?
Here are the answers …
Working in plein air
If you work in plein air, your painting will have movement and color freshness. Reason for this is, you have to work from a scene which extends for a couple of miles or from a smaller part of it on your small canvas which is usually of one or one and half feet size. So to capture that large area on your small canvas, first thing you have to ignore is details. You have to paint only large and medium shapes. This act itself brings some life into a painting and it also leads to movement. This movement helps avoids static feeling. Static feeling means lifelessness.
Next… color. Why plein air paintings will have some color freshness even is they are painted by amateurs? Usually color will lose its freshness by over mixing with other colors. In studio, you have plenty of time to mix colors so if you over do a little bit of it, it causes muddiness. That means losing freshness of color. In plein air it won’t happen. The reason … you won’t have much time to work in outdoors like in studio. And for every hour direction of light changes, sometimes fast moving winds, heat, dust, unexpected rains along with many unforeseen problems will push you to do the things quickly. So you have to come to quick judgement about shapes and color of the nature. Then you don’t have much time to make your colors muddy. Result … your colors will appear more fresh on the canvas.
Loose brush strokes, color freshness and less details, you will get them in plein air even if you are a just beginner.
Working in the studio from outdoor sketches
This will be a big problem if you don’t have the right knowledge about value, color and composition. I told you already that when you work in outdoors, your work will have some plus points even is you are an amateur artist but when you want to develop them as finished paintings the, the problem starts.
Now you will have leisure time on your hands, you have a comfortable environment where you won’t face any disturbance such as fast moving winds, changing light etc …. How nice it is! You will think that you can work more comfortably in that environment than in outdoors. In fact the problem will start from that moment.
Problem one … Now you have plenty of time to work your picture so you will try to find where you can add detail. Result – More detail leads to static feel. Problem two … You will try to mix different color tints and greys and you will paint them on your picture. Result – More color mixtures lead to muddiness and losing freshness of color. Problem three … loosing of loose brush strokes. Result – This also creates static appearance.
Now you may ask me, there are many artists who work in their studios using outdoor sketches and photographs, what about them?
Yes. Many artists work that way. But all of them have a good understanding about value, color and composition which are the keys to do a successful painting. If you have that knowledge like them you can also work from your studio by using reference.
Note this, If you understand value, color and composition along with few more elements, definitely
you can also work from your studio.
Working from Photos
For a student working from photos is not a wise thing. In photos darks will become more darker. So you are not able to judge color of dark. Darks are transparent, you won’t be able to see that transparent nature in photos. And other problem with photos is, they are condensed images of the vast nature. When you see the images of nature in small size print, like 8×10 inches … just imagine, what is there for you to see! Nothing. Those small photo prints will deceive you about the true essence of nature.
So, note this… without understanding nature and its wholeness working from photos will be hopeless. You may ask me,…” Then is it not possible to work from photos? ”
Sure, You can work from photos but before that, you must understand mother nature. Observe it, analyse it, imprint the images in your heart, then you can use photos. In this approach those photos will become only a source. You are not painting from them, you are using them for inspiration. This is one part of doing a painting, along with this there is another part, you need to study to create a powerful painting. That is the technical aspect. That technical aspect concerns with Value, Color, Composition and few more elements of art. In coming pages I will discuss about these.
A crucial chapter in any artist’s life. Artist has to feed his mind always with new knowledge. At the same time he has to feed his stomach also. If he has a family , their needs will also have to be taken care of. For all this money is needed. Here many of the artists face the worst situation. Especially if you are a true learner your sufferings will be much more.
This world is full of hypocrites. So many sweet words. Beautiful lies which will give you pleasure. They say Art is Great. It’s God’s gift. They express that they feel sad for not having this great talent. Words…words…all are words.
That words won’t help you to come out of starving. This starving will make you sad. Pathetic. You feel confused. You don’t know what to do. The reality will hit you like a tornado. You began to lose the courage. After all, you are human. What you will do then? It’s too late. You will become helpless. You could not leave your art. Can any sane person desert his family, because he is not able to feed them properly? He will fight till the last drop of blood remains in him. Art is also like that to him.
* * *
Sometimes he may go away from art. But not permanently. Just drifting.
Why? He will question himself. Because nobody is there to answer him. Nobody has time to think about this.
Art is not their priority. Everybody have their own problems. Why they should think about you? It is your problem. You have to think yourself. That is the truth. Truth never changes. nother
You have to know one bitter truth. You have to ask one question genuinely for yourself.
Why people have to pay money for your work? You started to learn art because, you enjoyed it. That time you did not think about the money. Once you learned art more or less, you began to realize to live as an artist you also need money. There’s the problem. Nobody assured you that they will buy your work if you learned art. If they find time they will enjoy it, that also as long as they don’t need to pay any thing for that. There may be few who will pay for your work if they like it. But how do you know those true art lovers? How do they know you? One in a million chance. Then you have to go to art galleries.
There again you have to face bitter experiences. Very few art galleries show concern for artist’s welfare. Most will ignore you or exploit you.
* * *
I don’t want to create fear in you about art with my experiences or my understanding. What you are practising is not a commercial commodity to make people pay money for your work. It’s entertainment for the mind for people, which they are reluctant to pay for. They will pay for physical entertainment. Yours is not physical. Know this reality. Learning art, becoming an artist is enlightenment for your mind.
Why should they pay for your enlightenment? Think of it. This world is not that much idealistic. If you are an idealist then that it will be your problem.
By learning truth you may survive, if not physically at least mentally. We are having our momentary weaknesses even though we are detached with many materialistic things. This is the life we have to live. Struggle and pain is inevitable especially if you want to live the way you want.
Accept the mistakes. Acceptance makes you strong. Everybody has to die one day or other. Death should not bother you. Life is precious like art. Life is full of struggle and pain. Life and art are same. They are abstract. You never know them fully. That’s what I understood in the last chapter of my life.
Becoming a great artist does not necessarily mean great technical skills. Reasonable understanding about the basic principles of art is sufficient. All you need is truthful imagination. What is this Truthful Imagination?
Imagination inspired by reality, follows reality and captures reality. you call it truthful imagination. When imagination goes beyond reality you call it fantasy.
Whether paintings based on truthful imagination sell or not, they will be great paintings. Selling of paintings is not the criteria to judge the quality of paintings. Many great artists didn’t sell their paintings in their life time. A mediocre painter could sell his paintings with good marketing skills.
So be a warrior, be an artist, don’t bother about end results. Do what is needed. With a lot of struggle and pain Vincent Vangogh did it. Why not you?
Do you remember when you started to draw? I think it is a little bit difficult to remember when we started to draw. Some day we began to scribble some pictures on paper. Usually those pictures might not be clear. But that day, really it would not matter to us. Just we love them.
That love would give us pleasure. Suddenly one day we would draw the picture with more clarity. Then everybody says we have inborn talent to be an artist.
Then it starts. We began to feel that we may have great skills. To bring out that potential, we need some support and encouragement. We begun to search for a teacher, who would be able to teach us.
* * *
Then the real story starts.
Usually the teacher we find is not going to be the right person in ninety to ninety percent of cases. He does not know any thing about the science of art. With years of practice he might be able to draw, but he does not know the reasons if something goes wrong. Most of the art teachers and artists are like this. They will teach the
students what they know. So what teacher knows, student also learns the same.
Then the student starts to paint. After sometime the student begins to feel that something is going wrong with his work, which he doesn’t know. Because the best works which influenced him to enter into the world of art, the paintings which mesmerized him with their beauty, that beauty he would not feel in his work.
* * *
Then frustration starts. Frustration and ignorance are the twins. Because of ignorance you would not be knowledgeable. Lack of knowledge won’t help you to do the work efficiently. It leads to frustration. So Ignorance and frustration are intertwined with each other. You could not separate them. When frustration overtakes his passion, the student slowly forgets about learning art.
If not, if he still has a lot of urge in him to become an artist, he will try to explore other options, like joining in fine arts colleges. Then another chapter will start. It will be a chapter of confusion.
Because there also, he would not learn what he needs. He has to be taught basic principles of art. In fine arts colleges, are they explaining these? When I talk with the ones, who graduated from those colleges, I understood their confusion about those basic principles.
* * *
Even though I have not entered in these kind of institutions, I had faced all these situations. I was in terrific frustration, by that time I had discontinued my college education. I entered into the world of art with mountains of inspiration, ready to starve and die if necessary, to become an artist.
Yes! Artists will die of starvation. Artists will die of ill health. Artists die with depressions and frustrations. They could not feed their families. They could not support their children’s education.
Why? Does Society not need art? Is it not necessary for it? Is it the reason for artist’s suffering?….When they are suffering that much then why are they remaining with art till their last day?
We have to try to find the answers for these questions.
* * *
‘ Why Art? ‘
This is the question we have to ask ourselves. Art is not for art’s sake. Art will enlighten our lives. Without art there won’t be any cultural growth. Without cultural growth there won’t be any quality of life. Then we would be in dark ages.
So society needs art. But artists need to know what kind of art society needs. Are artists capable of it? Are they really equipped for it? I don’t think so.
If you want to survive decently on any work you must be good at it, like in any
profession. To become good, a person has to learn basic principles of that field.
Basic principles! A wonder! How many artists know about them? Then how do you
expect they will earn their bread and butter? I have to say one thing here, many artists was not learning the basic principles of art.
I don’t think it is their fault. It is the system which is responsible. It has to be blamed for this. It is the duty of the art institutions to prevent this sad state. But themselves they are ignorant, what can they do? First they have to be educated. Then only the new entrants will become knowledgeable.
Then artists don’t need to starve. They can feed their families. Like any other professional they can support their children’s education.
Some one may ask “ See the news in the papers about how artists are selling paintings for millions of dollars! “
Yes! It is true.
There are artists who are selling paintings for huge sums. But how many are they?
* * *
Another question is, if they are not surviving … then why are they not leaving art? Why are they sticking to it till their end? I don’t think they are able to do other things than art. That much they get absorbed in art, by the time they know the reality, It is too late for them to go back. This happens to any art student who does not have financial support.
The same thing would have happened to me also, if I had not met my teacher. He was Mr. Bhargava. An art teacher in a district high school. Basically I am a self taught artist. But if I have to say there was a teacher for me, then it was him. A really good one. He was one of those artists, who knew the basic principles of art. Who understood the science of art.
But by the time he understood them, it was too late for him to use his knowledge for financial benefits. Not only for him, it happened to many artists in the past, it is still happening in the present, and it will continue to happen in the future also. That’s why we have to strengthen the institutions of art to show the right path to the art students. Then suffering will be minimal.
* * *
My teacher showed me the right path. He introduced me to the teachings of the Great master Andrew Loomis.
Andrew Loomis teachings showed me the way. That was the time, I understood the basic principles of art. Unity, Simplicity, Design, Proportions, Color, Rhythm,
Form….many of the things I understood from his teachings. I am fortunate because this knowledge came to me when I was in the beginning of my learning. I owe a lot to Andrew Loomis and my teacher Bhargava for this.
Once I learned those basic principles, my work changed unimaginably. Paintings began to come beautifully. Simply it was a wonder! A few basic principles…how they changed my work! And the paintings also looked very simple. Yet beautiful! Yes! This is the key word. Beauty! Beauty will be created by those basic principles.
* * *
Beauty lies in every good art form. If the artists are not able to create the beauty in their work then what is the point of becoming artists? Every artist has to understand the beauty. To understand it, they have to learn the basic principles of art.
Once I understood the basic principles, another chapter opened in my learning process. That chapter was about knowing the true meaning of those principles. Here the real struggle starts for a true learner.
This struggle is related to the character. Your personal character. This character will play the key role to make you a true learner.
Why I am talking about character?
* * *
What is character?
Sometimes we appreciate greatness of some people. We admire them. We try to follow them. We will make them as our heroes.
Why we admire them like that?
Because they had some qualities, traits, which made them as heroes, legends and all time greats.
Character means having these qualities, traits. A person has character means he is selfless, ready to sacrifice to achieve his dreams, ready to lose anything to reach his destination.
That is character.
After learning basic principles of art or any other subject, one should go with applications. That means execution. Knowing is different from doing. When you start
doing things they won’t happen as you planned. They go haywire.
Then depression starts. You may be reluctant to continue. Here most of the learners would stop their attempts to experiment and stop their struggle. That means they are not having the character required to be a true artist.
A person who has character never turns back, whatever happens. He is like a warrior. A true warrior never thinks about death, he thinks only about how to conquer the enemy.
To me every artist is a warrior.
* * *
Warriors and artists are alike. Otherwise how do they become famous? How will they be admired? But to be a warrior how are they trained? They learn strategies of war, they practice and understand fighting skills.
To become an artist we need to understand the character of a warrior. We should try to become like that. In history only Warriors and Artists will be remembered more than anyone . Perhaps the reason is, they are the creators and they are also the destroyers. By conquering other kingdoms warriors will create new states. To achieve this they will destroy the existing states. Where as artists will lose themselves in the process of creation. That is the greatness of the artist.
To create a new world on two dimensional canvas they are ready to destroy so many canvases. In this process so much suffering, pain and agony they have to experience. Great things never come to you cheaply. The entire world, irrespective of races, countries talk about Leonardo da Vinci’s Monalisa. Why?
Alexander the Great, Napoleon, Lenin, Abraham Lincoln and Gandhi, Einstein and many greats…. Monalisa is always more in the news than them. Why? Think about it! You may find the answer.
The answer is … It is the character of all time great Leonardo da Vinci. History says ‘ The world had not seen such a extraordinary genius till this day.’
People love that kind of character, they admire those who have that character. Not only warriors, or artists, If anybody wants to become the best they must have character.
Character demands continuous learning, courage to sacrifice, and risk taking. We can ask ourselves sincerely …’ how many artists are having this character?
Continuous learning will help you to get this character. We should continue our learning till our last breath. That is the process of learning.
He is an artist. He does paintings regularly. To him it’s passion. For livelihood, he used to paint sign boards for shops and offices. He is living with some happiness, because he is getting some money for his day to day needs from sign boards and he is doing paintings which he likes very much.
One day someone told him that if he exhibits his paintings in some gallery, he will get some name, then he could sell his paintings to wealthy clients. He would be able earn some good money that way.
He felt it was a good idea.
So he prepared thirty paintings for the exhibition and framed them. It costed him a lot. He didn’t have that much money. So he borrowed the money at interest.
After that he approached the galleries which have some name.
Every gallery rejected him. They said they exhibit only artists who have fine art degrees and awards.
This artist didn’t have any of them. He didn’t study in college. He is self taught. He went to many galleries. His attempts became fruitless.
Finally one gallery accepted his show, with one condition, that he has to pay the rent. He accepted without thinking because he was so excited about exhibiting his works. He thought that he could sell few paintings in his show, with that money he would pay the rent. He spent some money on invitations and snacks for inaugural day. He borrowed money for that also.
Finally the day arrived.
Invitees came. Some newspapers, one or two TV channel reporters also attended. Everybody praised his talent and the uniqueness of his work. Next day, one or two newspapers and channels published and telecast his work.
He was on cloud nine.
The exhibition was over after five days.
Nobody bought his paintings, not even a single one.
To take the paintings out of the gallery he had to pay the rent, but had no money to clear it.
Gallery owner told him curtly that he could take out his paintings only after paying the rent.
He didn’t know what to do. After few hours, he came to the realisation, that he has to borrow some more money to pay the rent to the gallery.
He borrowed money and took his paintings home.
After few days, he came out of that shock, then slowly started to think …
‘He paid money for invitations.’
‘He paid for snacks. ‘
‘He paid for canvas boards and colors. ‘
‘He paid for frames and he
paid gallery rent also.’
At the end everybody got their money except him! Is this the actual reality? If it is … why other artists are not speaking about it? Why they didn’t warn new entrants like him? Why there’s not much talk about artist’s struggle for survival? That too for minimum basic needs?
Tail piece:Yes. There is so much talk in the history about artists’ struggle for survival. But the problem is, history is talking only about great masters. That means they are successful people to us. Even though they felt pain, starvation, ill health in their life time, in the end they became successful, some maybe after their death. But to an art student who enters into art field, it looks glamorous. Because he is reading about world’s greatest artists.
To an art student, starvation is not a big deal, to attain that status. But after a few years, he would realise that starvation is not a glamorous thing. This world has only a few great masters.
By the time the artist realises this truth, it would be too late for him …
He is an artist. I know him well. Very hard working. Having a lot of passion for art. A simple human being. Never bothered about luxuries.
The only problem with him is he didn’t learn language of art and he is not interested to learn it either.
Because he believes in Intuition. ‘With intuition you could do anything. ‘That’s what he believes.
Sometimes his paintings come well. Sometimes not.
He would give reason for that.
He says, ” Art is like that. Sometimes our intuition may not be in our favour. ”
I tried a few times to change his notion about intuition and the language of art.
I tried to tell him, ”Intuition will come to us from our experiences of life. By learning we know the language of art. You have got an intuition from your experiences of life. You didn’t learn language of art. That’s why you don’t know it. Because of that sometimes you are not getting your paintings well. And you don’t know reason for your failure also. ”
He became angry at my words. But he controlled it with some effort and said, ” I don’t believe all this nonsense. Artist doesn’t need to bother about language of art. Intuition is enough. ”
I didn’t argue with him. Just I became silent. Usually I won’t try to convince anybody with my opinions. Because he is my friend, that’s why I tried to make him to understand certain things. But it was futile.
Tail piece: If you are an artist you should know the reasons for your failures. If you are unable to know the reasons you won’t have consistency in your work. When you are inconsistent, you are not a professional. If you are not a professional you won’t survive financially. If you don’t bother about earning money for livelihood, it’s up to you. It’s your life.
She said that she loves art very much, she wants to be an artist, for that she is willing to give even her life. She looked very emotional.
I didn’t say anything, just smiled. I have been seeing throughout my life many students like these.
She was enrolled in my art classes.
Few months passed.
She has been doing painting well, but it’s only a beginning. She is good at sketching and reproducing great master’s paintings. It’s a good beginning for an art student. She has to travel a long journey from there.
Suddenly she stopped coming to classes. I don’t have the habit of calling students to know the reason for their absence.
Two months passed.
She didn’t turn up. I forgot about her. For me it’s a common thing. Sometimes they would not come to classes for a few months also. Suddenly they would appear in the class. I never asked reasons for their absence.
Another three months passed. Then one day I heard that she started art classes in her house. Her house is very huge, of course she is very rich.
She used to say to the people, ”I have mastered the art. I could teach anything in art. ”
Tail piece: To master the art or any subject what a person needs is not just money or desire, it requires something more than that, you have to have the urge and vitality of a volcano.
He is an upcoming artist. He is doing paintings well. His work has been appreciated by many people.
One day a client called him to commission a portrait.
He went to their house with excitement and a little bit of tension. He knows getting a commission for portrait means definite money. At the same time Convincing client to accept your work will be a very difficult thing. Definitely it’s worrisome and sometimes irksome.
It’s the old man’s portrait. Recently he died. His wife, sons and daughters are there to meet him.
They explained their views about how they are expecting it.
He listened to every one of them with patience.
After few weeks he finished the portrait and took it to their house.
Everybody in the house crowded around to see the portrait.
The dead man’s wife was satisfied with her husband’s features. Her sons and daughters also said it’s okay.
They looked at it some more time to give final approval. The artist knows the importance of that final nod. If any one of those family members expresses even a little bit dissatisfaction, then the portrait would be rejected. That means … No money.
He became tense with that thought.
For a few minutes, everybody became silent as if taking time to give final verdict.
After some moments, the wife of the dead man asked a woman who was standing at kitchen door.” How is it? ”
That woman is a cook in the house.
Instead of replying to that question, the woman started to look at that picture as if to judge it once again.
Losing total patience, the artist turned his head towards the dead man’s wife and asked, ”See Madam, Do you think she is better judge than you, to know how your husband looked while he was alive …?
Tail piece: Later when he came out of their house, he sat in a small restaurant and began to think. ”Why people behave this way? After living with her husband for nearly forty years, she could not judge how he looked? Asking her sons and daughters was okay. But asking her cook …! Does she know better than them? No way. If the cook points out that something in the face is not looking proper, then what’s going to happen?
The portrait would be rejected. It’s horrible.
Why people behave this way with artists? What sin they have committed? Without big success, artist and his art would be treated like that?
” What do you mean by realistic painting? ” I asked him.
” Painting things the way they appear. ”
” Do you call it realistic painting? ” I asked him.
” is it not? ” he was bewildered.
” Not at all. ”
” if you interpret the images, which are visible to your eyes, it is art. Once you interpret them they are not coming on canvas as they appear to your eyes. Viewers are interested to see how an artist sees or interprets the same visual that they are seeing everyday. If your artistic interpretation is effective that will be … a work of art, whether it is realistic or abstract. ”