Happy Labor Day! I’m looking forward to spending time with my friend Sara Swink at her studio today. My daughter and I took a workshop with Sara this summer at the Sitka Center for Art & Ecology called ‘Creative Process Workshop.’ I’m fascinated by all things creative, and wanted to expose myself to something completely different: clay. I hope to share my finished projects once they’re glazed.
Sara shared her method of gathering visual material for her work, and we explored the symbolism and Jungian theory of our creations. It was a mind-bending experience, one I highly recommend. I’m not sure yet how it will play out in my own work. One thing it did help me realize is that my process for gathering painting ideas has very little to do with visual images. I more often begin with words and memories. Starting with a visual image was refreshing! One thing that it immediately resulted in was the painting above, done for a good friend and client.
Recently I’ve been preparing smaller works for #PDXOS – Portland Open Studios. I hope you’re looking forward to visiting me as much as I’m looking forward to hosting 🙂
Working on these smaller, more casual projects has some benefits and drawbacks. The good part is that I feel free to experiment with color, design, texture and play that I might not readily attempt in larger, more serious projects. It also keeps me working, even though I haven’t had as much time for ‘serious’ painting recently given my class and show schedule. All that teaching, framing, shipping and hauling takes time.
But the drawback I’m finding is that I’m becoming irritable and itchy to get back to my series. When I talk to students and some fellow artists about working in a series, I find that many times folks look at me as if they’re wondering how I can explore a subject for over three years and still have new ideas. The truth is, I can see my “Down on the Farm” series providing me with satisfying material for at least three more years! I knew when I chose this subject that it was important to me, but I did not know that it would become such an obsession.
Surprising Perks of Working in a Series
I’ve been doing some reading online about working in a series. Katherine Tyrrell writes about reasons for making a series on her blog Making a Mark:
“I’ve come to the conclusion there are probably four main categories of reasons why artists work in a series. Within each category there are more specific reasons.
- investigate and explore – subject
- investigate and explore – technique
- emotional response
- business motive”
Read the full, excellent article here.
I’ve found that although the original impetus for me to explore “Down on the Farm” was motivated by the subject and emotional response, in the process of working in a series I have begun to investigate and explore techniques as well. I’ve broadened my means of expression to include alternate media, more abstraction and bolder use of color.
Just take a look at a progression of selected works from this series, below. You’ll notice the earliest pieces use similar compositional devices, based on an aerial view of the farm which begins fairly literally. As the series continued you can see how my work evolved; becoming more imaginative, abstract and bold. I had no idea when I started the series how the work would evolve. I just knew that I wanted to approach painting this place in a more expressive and interesting way.
Another surprising benefit showed up at the opening reception for “Farm to Fork” on Friday. I had 8 paintings in the show, and rather than talk to patrons about each one individually, I could easily generalize about the series. That led to deeper conversations about individual paintings, as the clients could then ask more specific questions. The conversation then led to a sale.
If I had not felt comfortable talking about the paintings as a series, I might have launched right into talking about the particular painting the patron was interested, something I sometimes find a bit pushy. Instead, we ended up having a stimulating exchange of ideas that generated even more excitement and enthusiasm. She bought the painting before the end of the evening.
The series continues to surprise me, and new ideas occur to me regularly. I can’t wait to get back to it.
Stay tuned: my next post will relate ideas for finding a rewarding series of your own! Don’t miss it! Subscribe to get automatic email updates with the feedburner box up in the right corner of this page! And join the conversation…. What benefits have you found in working in a series? Leave a comment 🙂
Fascinating, Ruth. As one who also works in a series (several of them, in fact), I applaud your process and your way of thinking. I might even try your method of starting with a word or phrase because I find myself struggling to come up with suitable titles for my paintings, and I think starting with a title might being a creative kick in the pants for me. Thanks for this post!
Thanks Liz! I look forward to seeing your results 🙂
Although I had seen photos of each of these paintings, Ruth, seeing them in chronological order while looking for change and idea development was insightful. This series of works is personally important in a way that resonates with the viewer. These aren’t simply paintings of ordinary landscapes; they tell a story of your life, your experiences and that elevates the work beyond the mundane. Thanks for sharing this insight. And BTW, I love the flower triptych.
Oh, thank you so much, Jo! I thought it might be interesting to view them chronologically 🙂
Good stuff Ruth. Robert Burridge challenged me to a series and I am loving the growth that is happening in the process. He challenged me to do a 100 but I’m so inspired I know I’ll keep going! I’m at 84 and can’t imagine an end yet. 🙂
Thanks Anji… I look forward to seeing your series!
The four reasons for a series really resonated with me, especially as I look back on the Journey series (technique!! and my venture into the non-representational). Desert series is a combination of emotional response as well as investigating the subject.
Ruth, thanks for showing/discussing the development of your fabulous “Down on the Farm” series. I love this series and was inspired by it several years ago to try to capture my boyhood home in a painting/series. But my effort was so literal and unemotional that I eventually set it aside. Seeing that you began with a fairly literal aerial view and later moved on to abstraction, I may give it another try.
Thanks Hal! I hope it inspires you to try again – Many times it takes me quite a few failures to figure out what I’m really after with a series 🙂
Wow! Wow! Wow!
Ruth, revealing your insight, intuition and practical application has lifted us up to higher level. Thank you for sharing for sharing what you have learned with this series.
Thank you Linda! I’ve been enjoying watching your series evolve too 🙂
I have been following the “down on the farm” series all along, but I didn’t realize the progression in the work until this blog post. Very cool to see how an artist changes perspective.