During the past few weeks I've asked some area artists how they have honed their skills. Their thoughts are illuminating. Here's some of what they had to say:
Richard Garrison is a mixed-media painter."As long as an artist is working he or she is honing skills. However, to push work to a higher level an artist's life must be one of open-mindedness, awareness and growth."This means the artist must reject formula, take chances, not fear failure, try new materials, try new subject matter, look for books and music and other possible sources of inspiration where he or she has not looked before."Also, it does not matter how many new sources of inspiration one takes in, but how deeply those sources are allowed to enter one's life. I currently have a show of work at Tyndall Gallery in Chapel Hill that I feel is at a higher level for me. I think there were several factors involved in the creation of this new body of work."First, I discovered a book about the spiritual aspect of the study of Pythagorean geometry that provided a wealth of symbolism. Normally I would not be interested in a book on geometry but I gave it a try anyway."Second, my wife and I moved a year ago from a house outside of Raleigh with woods and gardens to a condo in downtown Raleigh, in order to simplify our lives, including driving less. My ongoing study of geometry has meshed nicely with this move, as I live now surrounded by obvious geometric structures and new physical perspectives."Finally, as a painter mostly of the human figure as representative of our physical and spiritual natures, I have been interested in and inspired by people living and working in that human-made, urban environment."
Louanne Watley is a photographer, printmaker and book artist."The question of honing my skills to reach another level is a difficult one for me. I'm sure there have been many times in my years as an artist when something has happened and whatever art form I was involved with took on a new life. But 'honing my skills' to get to another level in a literal sense has almost never applied. My life as an artist has resulted from intuition and serendipity -- by putting myself in the 'right' place or rather in 'another' place purely by chance."Taking a course in printmaking or book arts at UNC or a workshop at Penland to learn how to apply silver gelatin emulsion to aluminum and make contemporary tintypes is an example of 'honing my skills.' I loved learning these mediums and know they have influenced me, but each time I moved on. I don't see this as waffling but rather as reaching -- for the next rung. If I 'make it,' that is, have a show in a museum or have a piece bought by a collector, that's a rung -- a rung on my Jack and the Beanstalk ladder."But to say that I sought out to reach for the next level has occurred rarely, mainly because I have not had the goal of technical accomplishment. "Mine has been more of a romantic journey, and my mentor for this journey has simply been my ever-present guardian angel. In this way, whatever art form I was pursuing at the time took on new life. My role in the process was to follow along in awe."Yesterday, by chance, I opened a book by Ray Bradbury. He has expressed so well just what I have been trying to say: 'I blundered into creativity as blindly as any child learning to walk and see. I learned to let my senses and my Past tell me all that was somehow true.'"
Rose Warner is a painter and textile artist and a participant in the Orange County Studio Tour."To develop, improve and refine my skills as an artist I participate in study groups with individuals who are seeking to do the same. Because my work is a juxtaposition of painting and weaving, I belong to two groups."One is a weaving study group led by a master weaver who teaches diverse weave structures. She encourages excellence in technique and asks her students to go further to see what would happen if certain variables are changed such as color, kinds of threads, combination with other structures, etc. There is a sharing of ideas, problem solving and critiquing."The second group focuses on color and design. Members work in different mediums but have a mutual interest in exploring art techniques, finding one's voice and becoming more productive."We meet every two weeks, study a number of books on various aspects of art and set personal goals. We have challenges between meetings which are meant to increase our knowledge, go beyond our comfort zones and simply make a commitment to produce something."A typical challenge would be a combination of the following: Read a certain chapter in a book, incorporate something gleaned from the reading, use a certain color palette and then produce something in one's individual style and medium. "The finished work is shared, and it is incredible how different and varied each person's work is. There is a discussion of what worked and what did not work and how a technique, material or piece might be made stronger. "This sharing and critiquing is an important learning took that motivates one to take something a step further. Ensuing homework grows from the discussion and the cycle continues."These study groups are vital in my continued journey as an artist. They offer a safe place to experiment with and refine a variety of techniques. It is also imperative to have people to laugh with when something turns out dreadfully, and in turn to have a group to celebrate with when a personal goal is reached."
Barbara Keighton is a watercolor artist specializing in portraits, faces and flowers. "The challenge of capturing a person with pencil and brush has intrigued me since childhood. A few years ago when I made the decision to pursue art full-time, this seemed a natural place to begin. My passion for watercolors, a difficult medium, added further to the challenge."Fortunately at the ArtSchool in Carrboro I found an excellent watercolor instructor, Luna Lee Ray, and attended her class when the focus was on painting people. "I began by painting people in magazines. This non-personal choice of subjects allowed me to explore freely a wide variety of faces and techniques."I then made the leap to taking my own photos of people, and presenting the painting when it was complete. This was a very difficult shift, and I became so worried about what people would think of the portraits that I tensed up creatively."Luckily, I was also attending life-drawing sessions at the ArtSchool, where I rediscovered an aptitude for paintings quickly from life. I found that if I used a pre-painted background and a pen sketch to define contours, I could create a richly colored portrait in less than an hour."I practiced these watercolor portrait 'sketches' for several months on friends, family, colleagues, former students, the neighborhood children, and anyone willing to sit for half an hour! "Under the pressure of working quickly, my intense focus left little time to worry. Before long I was ready to paint at street fairs and other events, and I found that my larger slower watercolor portraits from photos also grew more relaxed and expressive."This year I have begun experimenting with some larger than life-size faces. I start with a photo of a real person, but allow myself to be more playful with the expression, the colors, and the way I use the brush. In the end an imaginary character emerges, often with a hint of the fact that inspired the painting."