Creativity Versus Formula

Aiden, is in the 7th grade and created this unique silhouette portrait.

Aiden, is in the 7th grade and created this unique silhouette portrait.

Gavin, a 5th grader incorporated his interests in building and Legos into his background.  By personalizing his portrait he adds interest and meaning to the final design.

Gavin, a 5th grader incorporated his interests in building and Legos into his background. Personalizing his portrait  adds interest and meaning to the final design.

Discovery and growth are an important part of the art making process. I want my young students to use their imaginations and develop good visual problem solving strategies. One of my strengths is being able to analyze and make suggestions that can enhance a painting or drawing while helping a student to see more deeply and evaluate their own work.

Technique is important, but it usually develops with time and experience.  I find I need to repeat specific techniques or principles several times to get people to try something new. One of my adult students told me it took her hearing and seeing a new concept three times before she began to incorporate this knowledge into her own work. I don’t know if this is the case for all, but my observations tell me it’s true.

Skye is six and  has developed an unusual  brushstroke technique.  She puts a brush in both hands and dips each in a different color.  She  is able to blend and layer the pigments using her unique physical abilities to amazing results.

Skye is six and has developed an unusual brushstroke technique. She puts a brush in both hands and dips each in a different color. She is able to blend and layer the pigments using her unique physical abilities to amazing results.

Today, I wanted the kids to layer tempera paint so that the first color applied shines through the subsequent layers of pigment. It’s a tough concept but its fun to work on mixing the paint on the paper and not on a palette, and the results are a more complex color story. It saddened me to see that several of the paintings had a formulaic background. I don’t teach to a recipe, so they learned this elsewhere.  These paintings lacked spontaneity and personal style. I like to look at a student’s work and know who the painter is without looking at the name. The children are all unique personalities and that should come through in their choice of color, their brushstrokes, and even in what they leave out of the finished work. It’s a lot easier to have students follow directions and make a painting that looks just like the example, but what are they really learning?

To view more of my student’s work, visit http://creativekidshavefun.com.

Excavation

I’ve never met a creative person who isn’t a bit of a pack rat and I’m no exception! For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been reliving my creative past; in other words, I’ve been cleaning out closets. Excavating, evaluating, and marveling at the amount of stuff I have accumulated. I knew I’d been saving things in case I needed them but some of the things I found were long forgotten and sometimes, even now, impossible to part with; like the scrapbook of ideas I made when I was 20. I don’t recall making it but it is so me that it’s surprising; the person I am now and the person I was aren’t that much different. I went so far as to put the book on the throw away pile but I had second thoughts and it’s nestled on the top shelf of the closet destined to be found again sometime in the future. A sweet reminder of my youthful style.

Pam and work 1985

Thank you Janice Mercure, you took this picture of me (Pamela Atkinson) and one of my handmade paper reliefs a long time ago and it was one of the things I was happy to find.

Over the years, my artwork has gone through changes and the supplies I unearthed reflected my interests and preoccupations. I found the best work I made in college and photo’s of artwork I’ve sold. These things will stay but I’ve been ruthless and only the treasures I’ll be happy to find in the future are packed away.  My twenty year old silk screen inks are at the toxic waste disposal.

Reflecting on how my style has changed and being able to look back on what was happening in my life when I created the work is a bonus.  Finding the elements that tie my diverse body of work together is fun and not surprising.  I started out as a painter and became a fiber artist, who became a paper maker,  who went back to painting.  I want to always be a painter.  I feel fulfilled using a brush and pigments.  My stint as a fiber artist in college had more to do with a supportive professor and a hospitable creative environment.  A good teacher can make a big difference in a artist’s life.

The ideas I want to express have changed overtime but the core thoughts are ever-present.  A curiosity about the unknown, the spiritual, femininity and strength are as important in my work now as they were in the beginning.

Please leave a comment, I’d love to hear if time has changed your artwork or not.

 

 

Tribute

It is with great sadness that I write this post, one of my painting students passed away last week.

About twelve years ago, I received a call from a woman who wanted to come to my watercolor/acrylic painting class and paint with oils. I said no. I explained that I hadn’t used oil paints since high school and wouldn’t be able to help her. She came anyway! And boy am I glad she did! If she’d listened to me I would have missed meeting a generous, thoughtful, sensitive woman, who spoke her mind without apology.

Classes come and go, and I was no longer teaching adults when I got another call. Could I come and work with a small group in her home studio? Of course I said yes, and three years ago I began what her son called “Tuesdays with Laurie.” Laurie referred to the group as the “Golden Girls,” three unforgettable women, all with different painting styles, and all dedicated to supporting each others efforts.

Laurie painted places she had visited and cared about; pictures with meaning and memories. She appeared to have no angst or fear about starting a new painting and worked to make each canvas the best it could be, even reworking paintings she had done in the past to get them just right. She was always on the look out for inspiration and loved the look of laundry hanging on a line.

When you work with people over a period of time you get to know them; where they grew up, the places they’ve lived, the people they love, and how they feel about life. I’m lucky to have gotten to know Laurie. She was irrepressible. I will always remember her joy, laughter, and curiosity.  Laurie Chamberlain, you will be missed and I will remember all you taught me!

Blank White Space

Watercolor, work in progress. © 2015 by Pamela Atkinson

I’ve been busy finishing one of my acrylic paintings. It forms the second half of a diptych and together the two canvases make a strong and complex statement. Now, I’m faced with starting my next work and it needs equal care and consideration. I must put aside any fear I have of the blank white space before me, plunge in, and trust that I will make good decisions about color, form, and composition. These things usually take care of themselves, but the white canvas is daunting.

Making art is a mind game, it take courage to continue. I cope with the fear of creating by working on more than one painting and in more than one medium at a time.  For me, working on a watercolor and switching  to acrylic painting allows me to use all my skills and techniques.  For a couple of years, I gave up painting on paper and I missed it. I love the freedom of mixing the pigments on paper and trying colors to see how they combine. If a mishap occurs and the colors looks muddy or jarring, quickly lifting up the paint to get back to  a white surface is a challenge I enjoy.    With Acrylics I can white out something I don’t like and start again. The discoveries I make about myself, my thoughts, and the materials are worth any momentary discomfort.

Do you have any fears about creating? If so, please share them. All my years of painting and teaching tell me you are not alone.

Vibrant Color

Lush, vibrant, bold pigments; a tube of paint is magic!

Color Wheel

Color Wheel

But, when I’m teaching, I like my students to use a limited palette of six colors, (see the color wheel to the right). If they’re using acrylics, they also need white and if they’re really, really insistent, black. I don’t use black in my work because I like the challenge of mixing rich, deep colors. To deepen the value of a hue I use its complement (the opposite color on the color wheel; yellow and violet, red and Green, and orange and blue).  The more complex the color the better!

Tulips in Shadow, 22″ x 30″, Watercolor, ©2014

Pamela Atkinson, “Tulips in Shadow”, 22″ x 30″, Watercolor, ©2015

When I created most of my early watercolors (see painting on the left), I used only four tubes of paint; Cadmium Yellow Medium, Permanent Rose, Ultramarine Blue, and Sap Green. The work I made with this color scheme had unity and a distinctive look and sometimes I still use them.

 

 

Reflections Triad

Reflections Triad

But I don’t like rules in art and new colors delights me, so lately, I’ve been having fun using the watercolor triad sets sold by Daniel Smith. The Reflections Triad* came today. I’ll mix and match these paints with colors I already own. I’ll keep the selection to 4 or 5 pigments per painting and make sure I have a clear bright hue in the mix. I can’t wait to try the Blue Apatite Genuine and I’ll be sure to post the results. Do you have a favorite paint color? I’d love to hear your comments.

*Update, Daniel Smith now sells only the primary and secondary triad set. Still a great deal, you can check them out at Daniel Smith sets.

Curious Viewers

Pamela Atkinson, "Tulip Moon #2," Watercolor, 9" x 12", ©2015

Pamela Atkinson, “Tulip Moon #2,” Watercolor, 9″ x 12″, ©2015

On occasion, I run into someone who is genuinely curious about what I make and why I make it. I am grateful for these generous individuals, they give me a chance to discuss my work and get a fresh take on something I have created.

Painting is a solitary occupation. It’s me, the paint, and the surface on which I’m working. My mind is busy making decisions, spotting discoveries, and solving problems. When I paint I’m expressing my thoughts and feelings; my philosophy of life. The energy and care that I pour into creating are the reward but coming across a curious viewer is a gift. My work is mysterious and amusing and it’s nice when someone gets that.

Please leave a reply, I welcome your thoughts and your stories.

My First Post

Color Studies

Two of my watercolors, “Moon Moss #2” and “Moon Moss #4,” and color charts, Pamela Atkinson, ©2015.

The decision to write a blog was not an easy one for me. My internal critic knows many reasons why this is a bad idea and will articulate them ad nauseam. And yet, I’ve decided to ignore the doubts and excuses; what will I say each week? Who will want to read it? You’re not a writer, you’re a painter, etc. etc. I could go on and on, but I love art and sharing my enthusiasm for color and paint has won out.  So, here I am writing my first post. Starting at the beginning seems like a good idea.

One of my preschool students painting a wonderful animal picture.

One of my preschool students painting a wonderful animal picture.

I have been a painter since my parents gave me my first set of Prang watercolors. They came in a metal box and I thought they were magic! Just add water and a brush and amazing things happen. With the stroke of your hand, you can create a line and turn it into a dog by adding a circle and four small lines. One color blends into another. The shape that starts out yellow turns into a big brown puddle when purple is added.  The paintings take forever to dry and all you want to do is show them off to anyone who will look! Almost as exciting is cleaning your brush;  plunging it into clean water and watching rings of color form and dissipate into a murky pool is all part of the fun. Because I work with small children, as well as teens and adults, I have shared these magical first attempts at painting again and again. Putting down on paper the elusive images in your head is both joyous and frustrating.

Please share your first memories of making art in the comments section.

I hope you enjoy my blog!