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Finding The “Best” Way

October 20, 2017
IMG_1393edited at 400

Pencil Sketch of a Rembrandt Etching, 1973

I came across an article from copyblogger recently, titled “This Common Belief Could Be Blocking Your Creative Potential”, written by STEFANIE FLAXMAN. Thinking it was probably just another “here’s how to make money from your art” article, I almost scrolled past it. Instead, I opened and read it. It was a short article and, maybe because this has been on my mind lately, it made sense.

In it, she writes:

“Once you’ve learned the basics, you have to give your project your own color and richness, rather than try to mimic or duplicate someone else’s “best way.”

“The best way” to do something may not work for you at all.

If you keep searching for “the best way,” you’ll never discover your way.”

The article was primarily aimed at writers, but it works for artists as well. There have been times when I was afraid I was just a mimic, an imitator, a copier… because I studied other artists when I was trying to find a way to accomplish something in a drawing or painting. I still do that today. When trying to solve a visual issue, I look to see how others did it. What I’ve discovered is that when it’s time to actually apply the paint, I do it my way. And I remind myself how many artists derive most of their art income, not from selling paintings, but from teaching, doing workshops, and selling books and CDs. There is nothing at all wrong with that.  I even have a book out myself on painting with gouache. The point here is that for every workshop by an artist, there are 5 to 20 people attending that workshop. Why? To learn how that artist does what he or she does.

When we go back into art history, we find that most, if not all, of the great masters of the past studied under someone else. Art historians can tell us what qualities in an artist’s work reflect who that artist was apprenticed to. Most of today’s well-known artists studied or learned from someone else. I can sometimes look at an artist’s work and tell whose workshops or books that artist learned from. When I started painting, I was told that my work reminded one sometimes of Corot and sometimes of Constable. The truth was that I had studied the work of both of those masters. Influence is hard to hide.  An artist mentor once said he believed that the more different influences an artist studied, the more likely that artist would develop his/her own personal style. Even after ten years of painting, I keep studying and hoping that will eventually happen to me.

While I agree with Ms. Flaxman’s premise, I seem to have modified it in my own work. My way has developed because I’ve continued to search for the best way.

The search continues.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Terry Wilkinson permalink
    October 20, 2017 4:15 pm

    Just joined a new art class near my home there is a full-time tutor and for his first demo when i joined he did an Elephant in gouache. Last Wednesday i attended my second visit and armed with my newly purchased gouache i did a pair of Rhinos what an incredible product to use and with his help, i achieved a decent painting As a novice, i only started 18 months ago i have done small amounts of oil, acrylic, coloured pencils, pastels, charcoal and some watercolour The great thing about gouache was that on Thursday morning at my usual art class i was able to make adjustments to my work to finish it off One of the reasons i wanted to do gouache was because i enjoyed the Ralph Parker site so many thanks to you Terry

    • October 20, 2017 4:30 pm

      Good for you, Terry! I’m glad you got something from my site and I’m glad you’re getting some good results. Thanks!

      • Terry Wilkinson permalink
        October 20, 2017 5:23 pm

        many thanks Ralph

  2. October 21, 2017 9:08 am

    Hi Ralph,

    I found your blog to be very helpful. It focused on an issue I’ve been struggling with for a long time.

    There are two opposing theories which focus on art and the individual. They are incompatible, but both reside in my thinking. One is that you are born an artist and there is nothing you can do about that. The larger proportion of the population are not born artists, and there is nothing they can do about it either.

    The other, opposite theory, is that we all have a potential for art within us, and that if we grasp that potential, we can produce art, perhaps not good art, but art nonetheless. The fact that most people don’t choose to develop that potential is not the issue. The issue is what you do with it.

    These two theories seem to be behind almost all art programs. Because the second one is more popular, you see it more often, but when art gets really serious about itself, the first one emerges. Which one is true?

    Your blog helps me make a decision in this way. By stating ‘there is no best way; there is only your way’, you make me choose. It really doesn’t matter which theory I select, the end result is the same. By following and refining my way, I produce my best art. And when I think about artists whose work I admire, this is what they have done too.

    Thank you.


    • October 21, 2017 9:19 am

      I’ve heard those two theories most of my life, Peter, and I still don’t know which one I think is right. I do believe that having drawn pictures almost my whole life has enabled me to produce at least passable work in a variety of media. I believe very strongly in studying the work of others, and that has helped me. But in the end, I find that if I don’t work at it regularly, I lose some of the edge. I think, even if one has a “natural ability”, without study and practice, only mediocre work will result. Thanks for looking in.

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