Simon Jennings, trained as a graphic artist and a graduate of the Royal College of Art in London, authored a number of books for artists. He worked as a designer and graphic artist in New York, Chicago, and London and taught at several British art schools, including the Royal College of Art.
My favorite among his books is his Artist’s Color Manual which includes valuable information about the history of color and pigments, a section on the characteristics of individual colors and a section titled “Creative Directions” which describes and illustrates techniques with various media.
Jennings includes a number of quotations from artists and also his own sometimes deliciously irreverent narrative about painting. As the sometime poster woman for irreverent behavior over the years, I particularly like his suggestion that we break the rules. After all, it’s art!
Of course, artists have been experimenting and breaking rules for years. It’s the nature of the best of the game. Just as in writing or music or any other creative endeavor, we learn the rules (the scales, the grammar, the classic steps) and then we get to fool around. We get to make choices and discoveries.
Here’s Jennings on “Experimenting with Color:”
“Experiment with how you look at colors in nature; the colors are rarely like you think they are. Use any materials that are available and ignore correct usage–try gouache over acrylic, mix it with ink, and scribble over it with colored pencils and pastels.”
A friend sent me a card recently with a quotation from actor/comedian Danny Kaye: “Life is a great big canvas. Throw as much paint on it as you can.” To which I might add “and in any media you choose.”
“Rub, scratch and scrub into the surface, using a simple limited palette of two or three colors to avoid the results looking too muddy. Use thick and thin paint, draw lines and apply washes.”
Even before I read this passage, I began – in my own irreverent way – to “rub, scratch and scrub.” As I’ve written before, I no longer use brushes – I use tools, and the rub, scratch, scrub technique is perfect for the palette knives, rollers, scrapers and anything else I pick up.
Jennings ends this sidebar as follows:
“Forget about making an accurate drawing of a photographic likeness of the object – just apply the paint as fast as you can. All you are trying to do is capture a vibrant impression of the simple still life in front of you, so concentrate on the colors. See what turns out. If you like what you have done, keep it. If not, discard it and try again.”
I don’t work from a still life these days, but my first serious drawing from many years ago was done in pastel and was of an apple the instructor had set up for a still life. I pulled the drawing out recently to remind myself of the long distance from then to now (on a lot of maps).
Back then, I was pleased that my pastel looked like a real apple, the one on the table, and told the instructor so. She smiled and said, “That’s good. Now do one that doesn’t look like an apple.”
Looking back, I realize that her words may have been my beginning in the happy world in which I now reside with abstract expressionism. All color, all the time. A world in which I always “concentrate on the colors” and in which I wait to “see what turns out.”
Here’s a new piece, “Dreamsville,” and I’m pretty happy with the way it turned out. It’s 20 x 24 acrylic and it’s available.