Subject Matter

Anyone who approaches any kind of artistic endeavor, whether sculpture, painting, photography (or knitting), will soon find that age old question staring them in the face, “Where do I begin?”

How many times have we heard in galleries and museums, “I could paint that,” or, “Honey, you could paint that.” As a matter of fact, I can remember my own mother telling me the same thing throughout the years. Well, yes, many times I could have created the image my mother scoffed at, but I didn’t. The other artist did. Which is my point. The artists we see in galleries, magazines, etc. create, period.  Sometimes it’s average, sometimes we wince, and sometimes we wonder aloud, “Why do I bother, when these other artists are so incredibly gifted?”

Once I was going to plant a vegetable garden. I bought some wood to create a large planter, and some soil to amend the dirt. I had read about mulching and turning the soil, preparing it to perfection to achieve the ultimate vegetables. All of these steps I had to go through before I could even think about planting any seedlings. My father came over one day, and I explained all of this to him, proudly showing off the plain, corded off dirt, for my future garden to be. He said, “Why don’t you just plant it?” Well, who can predict when life-changing events will come along? Just like that...”Just plant it.”  I did.  And the vegetables grew, delicious, juicy and fresh.

Then I discovered painting, and I “needed” a studio. I envisioned skylights, work-surfaces and about five hundred square feet. And I thought, “Why don’t you just plant it?” Van Gogh did not have a perfect studio. I started painting without a studio, and, I suppose, the rest is history.

Now I think of that phrase often.  It has become sort of a life motto whenever I’m about to start on a new project, which, on the surface, seems to need all kinds of preparation. Can I just start it?

Which brings us back to, “Where do I begin?” The most important concept is that you do begin. God knows it’s not easy, at least not always, and it’s A LOT easier said than done. But, I guarantee that once you get started painting you will begin to think of more and more subject matter. More ideas flow, and more things will excite you. But you’ve got to start somewhere, as my dad said, “Just plant it.”

Here are a few tips on GETTING STARTED. Some I’ve developed over the years, and some I’ve learned from other teachers. If you discover more tips, let me know.

Keep A Sketchbook: Put anything and everything in it. DON’T EDIT your thoughts. Draw whatever, record interesting shapes, compositions, notes on color, ideas. Refer back to this from time to time. Look at your really old ancient sketchbooks for ideas you forgot you had.

Set Up The Night Before: When you know you are going to paint the next day, try and have your subject matter set up and ready to go the night before. Even your palette can be ready. That way all you have to do is “show up” and paint.

Keep a “Morgue”: This is theatre language for a file full of images that you can refer to for inspiration. It works great if you can be a little organized and file by subject matter or at least style. That way if you’re inspired to paint a landscape you can go right to it instead of thumbing through apples and roosters. (Although you may rediscover an old hen that inspires you like no tomorrow). Ideally you want to paint from your own images, i.e: photographs, sketches, etc. Use others’ artworks for inspiration.

K.I.S.S.: The useful acronym “Keep It Simple Stupid." It’s better to paint something than nothing. If you’re stuck, grab a coffee cup, an apple, a carton of milk, anything in your reach. Just start painting. A good painting doesn’t need to be fancy or take hours to set up.