Monday, March 15, 2010

The Isolated Artist

During one of my many conversations with artist, Robin Luciano Beaty, we were talking about artist organizations, workshops, and working in isolation in home studios versus larger studios spaces. She mentioned a quote that made me think about how I usually worked and my need for "alone time".

"Artists never thrive in colonies. Ants do. What budding artists need is the privilege of wrestling with his problems in solitude...and now and then a piece of red meat." ~Henry Miller

I thought about this quote for awhile and decided that I had to agree with Henry Miller...most of the time.
I have always been a loner when it comes to creating art and who doesn't love a piece of red meat now and then? But with my new series, I have found that every once in awhile, wrestling with my problems just wasn't going to be enough.

Having never been to art school (I got my master's degree in math education), I don't have the "technical" background that many artists have. The things I've learned have usually been by trial and error or from the occassional workshop I managed to attend. This wasn't much of a problem when I was painting still-lifes or working more abstract but now that I am painting people, it became pretty obvious that I was going to need some help and advice from my fellow artists.

Just the other day I was painting a picture of a little girl, and like many artist who don't have much experience painting people, she was looking more like an old lady than an innocent little girl. This wasn't the first time that I had encountered this problem. After working and reworking the face a few times, I finally asked fellow studio artist, Scott Inguito, what he thought of it. He looked at it for awhile and then shared some advice that his former painting instructor gave to him. He said that when painting women and children, delete any lines in the forehead, under the eyes, and all smile lines in the cheek EVEN IF YOU SEE THEM IN THE PHOTOGRAPH. These lines/wrinkles won't translate well when painted and will cause your subject to look older than what they actually are.

I was hesistant to erase these lines. Afterall, they are in the photograph. This girl has smile lines and lines under her eyes. Shouldn't I paint what's in the photograph? ISN'T THAT WHAT YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO DO???? But what I was doing was obviously not working so I decided to trust Scott and delete these lines from my painting. Once I painted over these areas and smoothed out the lines in her skin, my subject immediately transformed into a little girl. No longer was this a painting of a middle-aged lady holding a teddy bear. My painting looked a thousand times better!

This is not the first time I have had this encounter. While I still like being a loner and keeping to myself, and I will never join an artist/support group, or at least attend any meetings, I have come to appreciate how another artist's opinion can help my work. Though I have found that I do have to be picky about who's advice I solicit since everyone has an opinion but not all of it is usefull. I have my trusted artist friends whose advice I value and whose work I respect. My favorite "go-to" person has always been my dear friend Hylla. I send her images of most of my finished painting to get her feedback on a regular basis and while I am sure it can probably get annoying for her, I sure do appreciate the critique. It's not always what I want to hear but it has always been constructive and I have always learned from her. So what's the lesson here? Being an island has it's advantages, but everyone once in awhile it's good to let someone on for a visit.

Image: "Girl with Bear", 12" x 12", oil, graphite and encaustic wax on panel.


  1. jhina-great blog entry...I hope u don't mind me putting the Henry miller quote on my website (I have quotes I've been collecting and posting on the side of my blog). I do like the isolation as an artist, but do wish at times to have input from other fellow artists too! I am lucky at the moment to have a new artist at my very intimate 3 person studio that actually shows up and we have exchanged some good dialog with her. there was a time where I wanted to be in a group space and may be some day, but I think is more for being inspired by others working and for hopefully more visibility during open studio type events. well in summing up...I see u and am with you.

  2. I am totally flattered to be asked but mostly honored that I get to see the works as they near finish. They are ALWAYS perfectly fabulous!

  3. Raymond- Thanks and yes, use the quote!Group spaces are great when it comes time for open studios but can be a problem when you really just want to get work done. Everyone is really nice and social which can be distracting sometimes, especially if you're on a deadline.

    Hylla- ...and this is why I love you!

  4. I second the props on this post Jhina.
    I completely agree with you. As artists, we thrive on our interaction with other artists and obviously more so when it's constructive rather than superficial. I don't know what I would do without the inspiration and critique from my peers. (including yourself of course,...just wish it was in person more!) Its essential to have a creative community and conversation on a consistent basis but "colonies"? ... meh...not so much. ;)
    With that said, I think solitude is absolutely necessary to an artist on many levels. Plus, a fat piece of medium/rare skirt steak with a little lime and hot sauce does wonders for my work! (personally) And pork is pretty good too. ;-)