Sunday, April 11, 2010

My Artistic Progress

I have been having an interest night of thoughts. Thinking about my art, what I'm doing, and why... thinking of answers for questions that might be asked, validations, defences...
I think it's always good to be prepared, and to know how you feel about your own work and techniques. I do feel a tinge of irritation when I see artists who reply with bemused shrugs or nondescript mumbles when they are asked about their work.

I received my first piece of constructive criticism today in a long time, (besides the frequent critiques from my artist partner, who has very strict thoughts about art) and it sparked this very fruitful night of thinking hard about my work. It was great. I needed it.
It made me want to share a bit about my revelations, and a little about my very recent artistic path.... so, where shall I begin? Maybe at the beginning... very briefly, I promise.

I started drawing at a young age. My first grade teacher told my mother I was a very good artist. She looked at my childish scribbles and could not for the life of her fathom what he saw that distinguished my work as showing artistic talent. He mentioned my "figures" had eyelashes, rings on their fingers, shoelaces.... tiny details that were unusual for a six year old. Now, I was by no means some artistic child genius, in fact, I struggled at art all the way through my education.

My recent critique brought memories with a smile to my face. Proudly showing my mum a new drawing, to have her mention something that was wrong with the picture. In hurt tones I would defend my mistakes, to which she would reply "Oh I didn't know you only wanted to hear good things... okay Monika, It's beautiful, it's amazing, oh, it's perfect!" (She was, and still is, a very sarcastic woman.) This would irritate me even more, and indignantly I would sweep away my drawing and scuttle back to my room.

After finishing Art School, I slowly began to get back into drawing the way I wanted to.
I would tentatively draw my picture using a pacer (technical pencil), erasing mistakes, and redrawing. Erasing, and redrawing, erasing and redrawing.... Until I finally deemed the piece perfect. Having a high expectation of what I wanted to achieve, it could take me weeks to finish a single A4 sized drawing. After this laborious task, I was often too daunted to even colour and finish the drawing, terrified that after all that hard work, I might ruin it. I still have a lot of unfinished drawings from the last few years, waiting to be coloured and brought to life.

This next picture was the last, and first, of two different stages of my artistic history. 
The last piece I would draw meticulously in pencil over a period of time, then slowly colour, and only the second time I had ever used watercolour paints. It was the "dawn" of a new style and subject matter for me, and I drew it less than a year ago.... my entire portfolio right now is under a year old...

I was the co-manager of one of Australian fashion designer Alannah Hill's coquettish boutiques, working alongside a small team of beautiful girls. Struggling to find a voice in my drawings, and a subject matter I wanted to pursue, I began asking the girls I worked with to pose for me.

I knew instantly that I had found a "subject matter" that I loved. But the drawings were taking so long. Preparing to begin work on the next drawing, (that I figured would be at least another week or two till completion) I decided to do a "test piece"-  a quick sketch in my sketchbook, just to test out the composition. 

Doing these two sketches changed everything. Sure, there were mistakes, they were loose and messy compared to my "proper" drawings... but there was a life and vibrancy that took only a single evening to achieve.

My partner told me a quote at this time: "You can't hesitate your way to fluency."
He related a story about a painter he used to know, that would spend days in the studio just preparing. One day he would stretch the canvas, the next he would clean his palette and prepare the paints, the third he would work out a colour wheel... it would go on like this forever, he was so daunted by actually starting the project that he would just prepare endlessly, but would never actually get to the painting itself.

With this motto in mind, I decided to set myself a project. To work like this in my sketchbook for a while, to practice drawing quickly... using the pen straight onto the paper - no pencil under drawing. One go, one chance to get it right.

It was after I finished this particular piece that I thought I should just start working on nice watercolour paper, but try to keep the same immediacy and flow of the 'sketchbook drawings'. I haven't looked back since.

This technique of drawing straight onto the paper with pen, means that I do make mistakes, and have to just keep going. There were some drawings where I had made so many mistakes and had to abandon lines half drawn, to re-draw them in their proper place, where I felt like just giving up on the piece entirely and starting again. But I forced myself to finish them, and add watercolour. It means there are ghostly black lines crossing across torso's, the remnants of where I made a face shorter, double lines, double chins... You can see the evidence with this young lady's arm.

But I don't mind (well, of course I do, but...) I have learnt so much from this forced technique of non-tentativity. I am trying to not hesitate my way to becoming a better drawer. I have thrown myself in the deep end considering the previous perfectionist that would not finish a drawing till every line was perfect.

Some drawings are riddled with distracting mistakes... but miraculously.... some recent ones have had none. This, and all the helpful and encouraging comments I've received have kept me going, pushing myself further to better my skills and techniques. Thank you to everyone who leaves a comment!

I hope this terribly long post was not too arduous to read, I hope some of you enjoyed it - and I hope it clarifies some of those curious black lines and obvious mistakes!!! :-)


  1. Great post. I think it's really hard as an artist taking negative criticism. Because our artwork is coming from within us to show the world. I've learn that criticism makes me stronger and work harder to improve.
    Thanks for sharing your story in this post. I really enjoyed reading your technique style to improve. Your painting style is unique and beautiful.

  2. There's nothing negative about criticism, except sometimes the intention behind giving it. I gave it anonymously for fear of upsetting you. Your last post is very insightful and it's startling how much we have in common. I agree wholeheartedly that it's a good idea to finish each and every drawing, despite it's flaws. But at the same time, you have to recognise and judge the success of each drawing against more than just it's status of 'finished' or 'unfinished'. That said, 'A person who never makes a mistake never makes anything'. Your work is very admirable and so is your courage in abandoning the perfectionist. I can learn a lot from you. We're out of school now, so we have to seek out the opinions of others. That's why you blog about your work, isn't it? Hopefully criticism is dished out and sweetened with good intent. Looking forward to seeing more.

  3. Ashely - I'm glad you enjoyed it, and I agree.. if you can take criticism well, knowing that it might hurt your ego - but ultimately it will help you become a better artist. Being painfully aware of your mistakes helps you to try harder not to make them again!

    Anonymous - thank you so much for your (second) comment - everything you have said rings with such startling truth. I especially like your first sentence, and I know there was no ill intent behind yours. I also liked your statement about judging the success of each drawing against a simple tick in the finished box, I do agree, and I do look at some of my pieces as very unsuccessful.
    And yes, one of the last statements too - we are out of school, there is no teacher to give us feedback, too often we can sit in our studios working away not having any fresh eyes look at the stagnation one might be falling into - this is exactly why I blog and share my work online, to seek out helpful tips and feedback from people such as yourself.
    Thank you again, for both comments, I appreciate them whole-heartdedly (and any future ones, keep them coming!)

  4. Monika! My mum used to tell me the same things as husband too. Sometime I disagree with them, often I pay attention and that's rewarding to me. This entry was very interesting and insightful. It was great to see your artistic growth. I completely relate to your struggle with perfectionism. I don't draw often but when I do it takes me ages to finish a piece, spending ages in doing research and thinking over what I should do next: it's paralizing sometimes... I am so glad you found your flow, and developed your voice. So glad you shared with us your drawings, your history.

  5. firstly can i say one thing, before getting to my response to this particular post - the very first thing that caught my eye with regards to your work was the 'immediacy' of it. By that I mean the way you seem to be able to capture a moment, a feeling on paper.

    Ok, now to my (actual) comment,

    coming from a background of being completely self tought, i laughed at myself when i read your memory of showing your mum your earlier work and her sarcasm - when i first started to realise that my doodles could go somewhere i would spend weeks agonising over them and when i look back now i can only laugh at how truly bad my drawing was from that time :)

    i really, really enjoyed and got a lot from this post and am so glad you decided to share you very insightful and honest thoughts regarding growth as an artist. Your work is to my mind full of the element of that most beautiful of season's, Spring. Full of life with the odd and almost undetectable little strange line going off here and there - But most of all full of a flowing beauty and delightful colour and joy.

    Looking at your sketch book I can see how your imagination was sparked by the immediacy of flowing paint and pen straight on paper. Your work continues to be a delight to my imagination and eyes monika :)

  6. Astera - thank you for your sweet response. You have used the word "paralysing" there in perfect context.. it is very true.

    Illusive - I cannot even begin to express how wonderful your comments and feedback are to read. It has been a treasure to watch your stylistic and artistic growth as well.

    I think you are right, though it took you to word it for me to realise it... I guess I strive in my works to capture fleeting glimpses of delicate moments... capturing a heartbeat in time that then disappears into mist forever.. like the short lived beauty of a cherry blossom, torn from its branch and spiralling off into the wind and unknown....


Oh! How did you know? I absolutely adore comments, thank you! :-) I appreciate all the feedback I get xx