Superfluous as this question may sound, it poses the biggest problem an artist faces. One reason many artists prefer commercial work is that the subject is usually settled upon before the artist is called in. In most cases there is material to work from, at least in the form of layouts, sketches, and theme. If the artist is required to prepare his own working material, he has but to call in his model, get out his camera, go to his files for suggestions, and then proceed with the job. This practice relieves him of the need of finding subjects, but it also limits him. The chances are that he will build his picture according to the client's tastes and wishes rather than his own; he must deliberately subordinate himself and much of his own creativeness to someone else's demands.
That is why many commercial artists turn to fine art in their later years, after the financial pressures have lessened. But the step is actually a big one. The artist who has never exercised his creative ability beyond the demands of an assignment may find himself at a loss for ideas, for avenues of expression for that extra creativeness that is required to become wholly original. To search for subjects without regard for a preconditioned cash value is something new. Painting solely for the sake of beauty and craftsmanship and the "joy of doing" is unfamiliar. If, on the other hand, he has planned throughout his career for this well-earned day of freedom, he will be armed with new ambitions, relieved of pressures and tensions, with the door open to new experience and new goals to reach for.
This is not to suggest that commercial art cannot be beautiful, or even qualify as fine art. The point is, has the artist, during his career of painting for other people, done any painting for himself? Has he attempted to express himself alone, has he tried to achieve the finest craftsmanship of which he is capable, with no thought of money in the process? Has he tried to show his work in noncommercial exhibitions?
If he has, the step will not be so great. That is why, in my belief, every artist should keep reaching above himself. He should go out and acquaint himself with nature. He should sketch. He should do some of the things he wants to do, rather than do only those he is being paid to do. Every young artist should realize that his commercial career inevitably reaches a peak, from which it must go down, since style trends constantly change as advertisers and agencies search for something new and different. The higher a man goes, and the more of his work that appears, the more certain it is that his output will be replaced by another's to keep up with the desire for change. Some men are capable of changing with the times, prolonging their usefulness, but eventually all must bow to the young, the new, and the different. This is one of the motivating reasons for this book—to urge the artist, young or old, to think always in terms of beauty, of improvement, of the finest craftsmanship of which he is capable.
Tn the process of developing, one must cheerfully accept limitations, but by doing so one earns the right to the day of freedom. When that day comes, instead of feeling that you are through, how much more wonderful to feel that you are free! How a man plans for that day is his own business. But there are always new fields to conquer if he is prepared. I hope I can instill in the reader an awareness that his personal search for beauty is his best stock in trade. Not only does it improve his work, thus increasing his income and bringing interest and happiness in the doing, but it also builds up a reservoir of accomplishment and well-being for the whole of his life. There is no end to the search, no end to the source, no end to the accomplishment. There is no age limit to the start or finish other than the span of life itself.
There are many ways of finding or preparing material for painting. Let me mention some of them. One of the best ways is to build up a file of subjects that interest you. Even though these in a sense are "copy," the same kind that is used in commercial work, they do not need to be literally copied and they provide necessary information. This file may contain clippings, postcards showing interesting places, transparencies and photographs you have taken yourself, art reproductions that you can learn from, roughs and compositions you have made up in your spare time, or actual pencil sketches and notations you have made. When you get out in your car, or during vacations, always have your camera and sketchbook with you.
If you have the time and energy, try making direct color sketches outdoors. Because light and weather conditions change so fast, it is seldom practical to attempt large paintings in the open, unless the spot can be revisited under the same conditions. Then there is the hazard of wind or rain. If your easel blows over, it is usually—alas —with the canvas face down. But you can make sketches under almost any and all conditions.
Sometimes you see by chance a scene that strikes you as startling and effective. If you have time for nothing else, at least jot down a description of the general composition and color, and any other notes that will be helpful in re-creating the scene in your studio later on. Put these in your file of "Subjects to Paint."
You can make a simple "finder" by cutting a small opening in a black card, in about the proportions you prefer to paint. Carry it in your coat pocket. Looking through this finder as your eyes range over a particularly "paintable" view can help enormously in settling on the most suitable area to choose for a landscape composition.
Develop the habit of drawing abstract patterns and shapes within a small rectangle. Three or four values are enough. If these suggest a subject, rough one out, and save it.
Painting from life is always better than faking. If time is limited, you can set up a still life. The more unusual the setup, the more varied the material, the more interesting the picture. Portrait studies arc always possible, interesting, and a means of increasing your skill.
You will be more interested in developing the material you have prepared yourself, or seen for yourself, than in using what you are given for a job. Besides training the eye to see the material before you, you can train yourself to be on the alert for material in any shape or form. If you have the desire to paint, now or later on, you will need material to work from. A file of material waiting to be used is the best "fresher-upper" an artist can have—especially if the last job did not go too well. A still life which contains no faking is a great restorer of confidence in your ability.
Go to art exhibitions; see what is being done. If you are interested in abstract art, here is a whole new field for experiment, in which you can play with design and color and create at will. If some abstract art appears ugly to you, see if you can do something more beautiful. You have the whole range of the spectrum. Your design may be geometrical or free-form. You can take concrete or identifiable form, and reduce it to the abstract.
Pears and Pewter by Luigi Lucioni, the metropolitan museum of art, new york city. Painting from life is always better than faking. If time is limited, you can set up a still life
Egg Beater V by Stuart Davis, the museum of modern art, new york city. If you are interested in abstract art, here is a whole new field for experiment, in which you can play with design and color and create at will
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