Once again today, I will address a query from one of my blog followers regarding reference material. The topic arose out of a question regarding how I keep from losing myself in the details . . . the details of feathering like on the recently completed little ostrich portrait, or the details of the wrinkles on the hide of an elephant, or the details of the spiral patterns of sheep’s wool, or, in the end, the details of any textural minutia. Well, simply put . . . I just don’t sweat the details!
As the years have passed and I have continued to refine my technique and have found shortcuts, shall we say, to an end result that is pleasing and gratifying to me, I have found that details have had a way of becoming less of a struggle, less the means by which I desire to work and less important to the overall complexities of any given work. Oh, there still are plenty of details in my work, but I have to say that transferring an exact duplicate of my reference material down to the last feather placement, is not what my work is about.
Slavishly locking yourself into duplicating a reference photograph seems counter intuitive to the creative process, don’t you think? Sure, I can be considered somewhat of a photo-realist in style and compositional approach, but even realist artists edit their subject matter, refining and honing and culling out what is not important to the end result. In other words, their art tends to be made ‘their own’.
Whenever I have been asked by students or younger artists about how they can become a better artist or find a more creative way to deal with their talent, I have always suggested that they make whatever it is that inspires them, their own. I mean taking what you see and adapting it to your inner being; finding what is the most important aspect of whatever it is and zeroing in on it. How do you separate yourself from the very talented artist next to you at the gallery or the art show or wherever . . . you find in your reference what speaks to you individually, what sparks your need to paint or sculpt or draw or stitch.
Just look at the works of any number of the French Impressionists who spent hours in the field together, working en plein air, focusing on the same subject matter but yet, coming up with such different viewpoints, such different end results. They did this because each one saw the same subject matter with a totally different eye, with different experiences behind them, with a different view of the world in front of them.
As artists, we should go with our gut feelings in order to produce works that truly represent who we are and not who someone else might think we are. Reference then, is just that . . . a point of referral. Reference, I feel, is there to support your inner need to be a creative soul, to give a starting point and not be taken as the end point. Reference is good to give gestural movement, to give light and shadow indications, to spark thought and creative pondering.
As time has passed and I have chosen subjects that I do frequently, such as elephants and lions and maybe more recently, cows . . . the reference material becomes less and less important in the grand scheme of a work and more of a footnote, something to which I go when I am puzzled or momentarily unsure.
For some who are just beginning on the long path of artistic endeavor, selecting good reference material with well defined understanding of the subject is important as you want to make sure you can accurately portray anatomy or size relationship or perspective quality. But allowing yourself to express yourself, once you have mastered those important basics and forms and shapes and spatial relationships, is what the creative process should be about, I feel.
Make it ‘Your Own’!