Monday, February 26, 2018

March Newsletter: Interpretation vs. Imitation

What you see is what you get. Not necessarily.

One of the hardest art concepts I teach is interpretation instead of imitation. All of us want to draw or paint something recognizable. It would be awful if you drew a seagull and someone thought it was a rooster. Having said that though, you don’t have to be a slave to your subject (be it still life, plein air or a photograph).

In the beginning, most of us experience drawing something and stumping the viewer. Mine was when I drew a spool of thread. My dear husband and my then middle-school son were so sweet. They really didn’t know what I had drawn, but they struggled to be kind. Of course, I was crushed, even irritated. “Can’t they see it’s a spool of thread?” I was that bad. Fortunately, I was in the early stage of my art career, so I just crawled onward. (I had the good fortune to have a husband and son who encouraged me through thick and thin.) I obviously had a lot to learn.

A few years later I took a painting class where everyone traced from a photograph. The finished products were astounding. I couldn’t believe what I saw—a complete replica of the photo, down to the smallest of objects. With my natural tendency to feel frustrated back then, I thought, "I’ll never paint or draw like that." At the same time, I also didn’t want to be limited to a photograph to create my art.  Aargh.

I don’t know when or how it happened, but one day I had an epiphany. I don’t have to be exact, perfect in my drawing or painting. I can interrupt what I am seeing instead of creating a photographic resemblance. Wow. What freedom, what a breakthrough. From that point forward I tried to express myself. Now I understood the Impressionists, the Expressionists. I even started to look with a new eye at Picasso’s crazy work (at the time I did think it was crazy). 

When I painted a pear or a flower, it was MY flower. Don’t get me wrong. I still have the structural parameters of making sure the object looked like a pear or a flower, but I wasn’t restricted to making an exact copy. I could use my camera for that.

As an example, let’s consider Paul Cézanne (1839-1906). Like me, he was a very slow painter. So much so, his fruit would often rot before he finished his painting. Some say he was the father of modern art because he broke the rules.  

Cézanne was born and worked mostly in Aix-en-Provence, France. He was friends with the Impressionists but didn’t really like their messiness—just way too loose and chaotic for him. Stil, he didn’t want to be a perfect draughtsman (technical illustrator) either, which was required in days gone by.

His basic philosophy was that there are three shapes: the cone, the cube and the sphere. I actually adopted this idea to create my own method of three lines, three shapes. He also broke the rules of perspective—a fun thing to do when you’re expressing what you see in front of you.  I have read that he would look at a still life, walk around it and paint from different points of view. That’s why his fruit paintings look a bit different than others. By the way, Cézanne did agree with bright, vivid colors, but outlined a lot of his work. 

If you look at a picture of Mount Victoria and compare it to his paintings, you see that he was interpreting what he saw, not imitate it.

From fr.wikipedia en: Image: Ste Victory Cross.jpg 
Photo taken in: Aix-en-Provence , Bouches-du-Rhône 
Not from the exact location. But notice the colors, the form.

I personally love Cezanne’s people, especially the Card Players (1894-95). What a cool interpretation. 

There are many other artists I could cover who influenced me in my journey to create the way I want. What is more important is that now, I paint for myself.  We should all be painting the way we feel most comfortable. The way to get us into the "zone." So if that means we feel most comfortable tracing a photo and then coloring it in, then that’s okay. If we want to go our own way and try our hand at drawing the subject, while interrupting what we’re seeing, that’s fine too. Moreover, if we feel more abstract and want to push the envelope to create our art, that is perfectly acceptable in my book.

Now having said all this, I have to admit that drawing realistically haunted me for years. So I had to try to draw exactly what I saw (no tracing). But I have to admit, even though, I got really close, I never mastered the exactness you can achieve with tracing. I still interpreted. Perhaps it was one line off, one angle different, a shadow not quite exact. The difference today than in years past, is that I don’t care. I draw and paint for me, no one else. That’s the way it should be.

What's coming up?

Classes and Workshops
Glastonbury Studios Classes
Four-Week Session 
Begins Week of March 5 - Ends Week of March 26
Seats available in most classes

Pencil to BrushDrawing and painting
Every Tuesday morning
10 am to 12:30 pm$65 per four-week termPrerequisite: Studio Acrylic Workshop*

The Morning DrawEvery Wednesday morning10 am to 12:30 pm$65 per four-week term

Watercolor JournalingEvery Wednesday afternoon1:00 pm to 3:30 pm
$65 per four-week term

The Drawing Studio
(Watercolor Sketching)
Every Thursday evening

6:30 pm to 9:00 pm$65 per four-week term
To register email:

*Must have taken previous Acrylics Workshop/Class conducted by Jill Goodell

2018 Studio Workshops
All studio workshops are from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Includes most supplies and lunch. Class size is limited to ten students. Pre-registration is required. Only payment reserves your seat. Cost is $85. For detailed information on each workshop, go to workshop offerings.

Saturday, March 24 (seats available)
Drawing Cats

Saturday, May 5
Flowers in watercolor/pen and ink

Saturday, July 14
Keeping a nature journal

Friday, September 7
Watercolor painting with Brusho®

Saturday, November 10
Beginning acrylic painting

Only two spots left
Watercolor Sketching Cruise

September 14-21 2018
Autumn in Watercolors
(watercolors, pen and ink)

Page from my journal, Boston

Mural in Old Town Quebec

New England and CanadaSeven Days only $839*

*For cruise: PP, DO; rates subject to change