In today’s art podcast we are talking about the AHA moments we experience as artists and there is no more useful AHA moment than the good old ‘happy accident!’ And it’s often the happy accidents that help us progress, because it almost always means that we’ve learned something… It’s just that we learned it by mistake.
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Suddenly understanding art terms you’ve heard
Sometimes when you’re starting out, you hear of certain phrases which you’re not entirely sure what they mean. ‘Draw what you see, and not what you think you see’ was one of those examples for me, which of course I understand now! But I’d also heard a lot about lost and found edges and I just couldn’t get my head around what that meant either and it was only when I was working on my vintage teddy bear series, which really takes me back a long way and that was when I was studying the old master technique back in the beginning… and to this day I think those teddy paintings taught me more than anything I’ve ever learnt since.
But while I was studying the way that some of the old masters painted, I kept coming across this phrase ‘lost and found edges’ and like I said, I didn’t really know what it meant, until I accidentally unwittingly did it myself and said, quite literally, ‘Aha!’
What I had done was wipe a bit of fluff from the surface of the canvas and managed to smudge an area in the process. And what it did is it completely blurred the transition between one area and another in the background of the painting and when I stood back and looked at it I realised that in that one moment I had learnt something really big and it changed my whole way of thinking after that. My paintings took on the whole new level once I’d learnt that lesson. And it’s funny because it’s one of those things that I just had to learn myself and it came with experience as so many things do.
It’s a great feeling when you suddenly work out how to do something, Something that makes so much sense once you realise when, and how to do it.
Liking something you did by mistake
Maybe you used the wrong material and put it on your work by mistake or substituted a material and found you likes the result –
For example I poured white gouache on my work instead of Matt medium
Using a medium in a different way
Maybe you see someone use a medium you don’t usually like in a new way and decide to try it out and like it.
I didn’t used to like charcoal until I tried it with Matt medium.
I also saw Jo Brown Prickly Witch on Instagram do some amazing water colour paintings with bits of card and a credit card to apply it. That is something I fancy trying.
When you discover a new material and really like it even if it takes a few tries
When you discover a new material and really like it. Actually this takes me back to when I tried your Pentel brush pen a few years back in London when we were out sketching and I really didn’t like it at all. But once I’d tried it again a few times I started to really enjoy it. It was just learning to adapt to the way it makes marks because it’s completely different to any pen I had used before.
Another AHA moment I had, was when I first tried the Gamblin brand. The one thing I hated about oils was the smell… And then I heard about Gamblin and thought I’d give it a go, starting with Gamsol thinners and I have never looked back. So my AHA moment, was finally realising that painting with oils didn’t need to be a stinky and unhealthy way to paint.
Dismissing materials you don’t like
But actually, some of the a-ha moments I’ve had, have been realising that I’m just not suited to certain materials because I simply don’t like how they feel. Oil pastels are a classic example of that. I absolutely hate using them! I think I could probably try them over and over again and I would still hate them. Sometimes you just realise that YOU are not the problem, but the materials you are using are because they are just not right for your style. Learning the things you don’t like is equally as important as learning the things you do.
Tara, I know you’ve done this in the past, but accidentally ordering the wrong materials and realising you prefer them to what you usually use is another example of an aha moment.
That said, I had hoped that would be the case for me when I ordered those Windsor and newton brush pens recently. I’d ordered the chunky chisel ended version instead of the water soluble brushes but I have to say I didn’t like those, so that wasn’t an a-ha moment for me! But sometimes if things like that happen you could take it as a sign that maybe you ought to try them. You never know, you might find a new medium you love!
When you discover that you like marks made by different tools
For instance I love drawing with the dropper bottle top of an ink bottle. You might find you like to use rags to apply paint or bits of twig to get interesting marks
Combining mediums you wouldn’t expect to work
When you discover that mediums you wouldn’t expect to work together work great.
I remember seeing someone use charcoal with watercolour and they actually applied the charcoal first. I would have dismissed that as a combination as I would think that it would look murky, but the result was great.
I would also never anticipated that charcoal would work well with Neocolor, but it does
When you discover the subject you most love to draw
When you discover the subject you most love to draw… And when this happened to me, it was all because I wanted to challenge myself to draw something I thought would be the most difficult. A bit like getting it out of the way so the other things would seem easier. Actually it was when I first had a go at drawing glass and as soon as I had done it the first time, I knew it was a subject I was going to want to tackle again and again.
So that was definitely an a-ha moment for me.
But more importantly when you suddenly realise that you have a style. It’s often the case that artists don’t realise they have a style until someone else points it out. But on the other hand Some artists search and search and try out different styles all the time to try and find a style they love.
I remember my own a-ha moment and it was when I shut everyone around me up, mainly other artists and tutors telling me I needed to loosen up. Yes, they were right to a point… I did use to be very tight and now I’m very happy to use loose and painterly strokes in my work and my paintings are far better for it, but that happened naturally over time. Being pressured to slap it on and hope for the best was way too extreme and it wasn’t until the moment I decided to ignore everyone else and follow my own instincts that my style came so much more quickly and now it feels totally natural to me.
When you finally connect things you like to do
Maybe that’s when you finally discover the subject you want to paint and the style that suits you most. For me that was finding a way to draw faces in a way that let me be loose and free.
Realising you can blend more than one thing you love in your art
Maybe you love painting flowers and animals and suddenly realise that you can combine them in a novel way in a painting. When I was creating my bright style work I suddenly realised I could combine characters with faces. Now I have realise that I can combine a niche that I like – Science fiction with my art style
Accidentally going outside the lines
Accidentally going outside the lines is a good one. When were kids we were always taught at school to try and stay inside the lines, and the trees must be green, the sky must be blue, blah blah… But actually venturing outside the lines makes for a far more interesting sketch! And the freedom that allows you is so lovely! I love the spontaneity of it in my sketchbook.
And who says a tree has to be green?
The beauty of art is it you can paint the world exactly as you want to. There are no rules! You might want your tree to be purple or blue! So break those rules and do it your way!
Learning to be less precious
Another thing I learnt was to be less precious in my sketchbook. There was a time when I used to rub out any smudges or marks I had accidentally made while I was drawing. When I look back on those pages they are so characterless. But one day I put my coffee cup down because it was too hot and I’d put it on my sketchbook page and it made a ring. The page was blank but there was something I liked about the mark it made so I filled the page anyway and that was definitely an a-ha moment for me! I realised that all of the smudges, coffee rings and fingermarks tell a story of their own and since then my sketchbook has become so much more interesting.
That a-ha moment definitely made me less pedantic and more comfortable with a smudgy book! And actually if you look at someone like Lewis Rossignol, can you imagine his sketchbook pages if he had cleaned his drawings up and removed all the smudges when he’d finished? I don’t think those sketches would be anywhere near as interesting as they are the way he does it. And I know actually he does a lot of it on purpose!
Using something meant for another purpose
You might have an Aha moment when you use something meant for another purpose in your art – For example I tried using gummed tape in my art to collage with. Perhaps you might use an old text book as a sketchbook
When constraints push your art forward
When you enter a competition or follow a brief not liking an aspect of it and discovering you love the results.
I mentioned recently I entered a competition and discovered that I liked a colour combination I would never have considered
When you see how much difference a mount and frame can make to your art
And believe me, it’s something that can either make or break a painting! I have seen a painting go from beautiful to an absolute disaster simply because of a poorly chosen frame. And equally, sometimes what might be a painting you ‘quite’ like, can be totally transformed into something really special when it’s been mounted and put into the perfect frame!
I love choosing frames for my paintings.I find that to be an art in itself!
Tara, I know that when you started framing your paintings you were so surprised how different they looked, to when they were just on the loose sheets of paper.
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This week’s creative question
Q. If you could choose one imaginary friend to join you in your art studio, who would it be and why?
The best answers will be read out on a future podcast.
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