Anne-Marie Harvey demonstrates how you can explore new approaches and develop a style by "Painting a Series"
“T’aint Whatcha Do; It’s the Way Howcha Do It” is an aphorism from an old jazz tune that applies as well to painting as it does to playing jazz. In short, how you interpret your subject is often more important than the subject itself.
As beginners, we often believe that in order to produce an exciting painting we must search out and accurately record a visually stunning or unique subject—a sunset over Bora Bora or a gypsy picnic in southern Chile. However, a less prepossessing subject—something as simple as a canoe beside a dock or a few blades of grass—can be transformed by a creative artist into an exciting and personal painting. By exploring in a series of paintings different treatments of the same simple subject, you can discover and develop a more personal and effective graphic language.
Anne-Marie Harvey of Vancouver, British Columbia explains how she has taken a simple subject and in a series of paintings developed new approaches and a variety of compositions. She may inspire you to try a series. Here are some of her ideas and thoughts that might help you get started on your own series.
When I was attending the Intensive Studies Seminar this spring in Santa Fe, Toph and Skip suggested I undertake this exercise: paint the same subject again and again with as many variations in color, shape, value, etc. as I could think of. I thought it would be great fun, easy, simple, a piece of cake. I was wrong! But I stuck with it until I had made a notable breakthrough in my approach to painting; I hung in there until I understood why they had suggested the exercise. Here’s what I learned.
How You Get Started
This experiment sounds deceptively simple: you take one design or idea and paint it again and again in every way you know how or can possibly imagine. When you begin, these possibilities seem endless, but at some point you find yourself running dry—out of ideas and short on imagination. You have hit “The Wall” and are tempted to quit and go on to another fresher subject. Don’t! This is the time to keep going.
Quite unexpectedly, you will paint this now boring, old idea in a completely original way—so new and different that you will be filled with the excitement of endless possibilities. You are now back at the beginning, not with a new design but with new eyes.
Try redesigning your painting as I’ve done in this version. Here, I’ve ignored the effects of aerial perspective in order to emphasize shape and color relationships. I’ve changed the scale of the mountain and given equal treatment to the value contrasts, color, intensity and surface detail to both distant and close-up objects.
If you have trouble doing this, try turning your painting upside down or sideways. Forget that the mountain is far away. If you can produce a beautiful painting, nobody will care.
I tried another version (#4) using intense color, but I was still struggling with the concept of ‘flattening’ form. It’s hard to change old habits!
Perseverance is the key. We, as artists, can have strong ideas about the way things 'look.' With great tenacity we hang on to our version of reality, no matter how limited or limiting it may be. This exercise is about going beyond our current way of seeing. It is about finding our own language.
On my fifth attempt I used more subjective color and was able to more successfully flatten the forms. I used the three primaries. I started each area with a single, solid primary and then, while it was still wet, dropped in the other primary colors.
On my next two versions I reduced the color intensity and range to emphasize values. The cool, dark, monochromatic feeling of this one (#7) created a mood that I liked. It reminded me of the North—the northern skies and the aurora borealis.
I’m glad now that Skip and Toph urged me to do a series. It is a terrific exercise for any artist wishing to move to a more personal level in her or his painting. I didn’t find it a waste of time or non-productive, but I realized that in order to progress it was almost a necessity.
In doing this exercise I found it important not to turn to other artists for help in ideas and approaches. The whole purpose in doing a series is to tap into your own feelings and imagination as an artist. This means reaching deep inside for something new and unique to you, not reaching outside for what has been done by or has worked for others.
Some Ideas To Get You Going
Here are some ideas I used that might help you in starting a series:
- change colors
- change values
- change shapes
- use patterns
- use texture
- use lines
- use calligraphy
- lose edges/flatten forms
- get geometric
Artist, teacher, explorer, Anne-Marie Harvey is a native British Columbian. For many years she traveled, lived, and painted in northern British Columbia and the Yukon Territory in Canada. She has taught extensively in North America from B.C. to Alaska to Baffin Island.
Anne-Marie’s work reflects her deep love for the land and its inhabitants. Whatever her subject matter, she finds color, light, and play are her primary inspirations.
Anne-Marie lives and paints in her “floating home” in Vancouver, B.C. which she shares with her husband, Chris, and their Springer Spaniel, Picasso.
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