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Pushing It Too Far: Crossing and Finding the Line

Folks ask me how it is that I know when a piece of art is finished. How do I know when to sign my name and put down the brush? They comment that maybe it is never finished, and there is truth to this because technically it could always be pushed a bit further. There is only one way to know, however, if it should be pushed further.

At this point in my artistic career the completion of a painting or drawing feels instinctual, but this was acquired by making a lot of art and absolutely ruining some along the way.

Just as we learn as people when it is that we should speak or remain quiet, when we should stand our ground or concede, we learn as makers of art how to get the most from a 2-dimensional plane through trial and error. And just as in life, it is the ones bold enough to make mistakes who are able to apply those lessons toward their future endeavors. And in this way I find a connection between young people and those young in their artistic journeys. Both need to push past the line to know for sure where it lies. They each need to mess it up, to get themselves into trouble so that they may realize where exactly it is that they went wrong. For a young person this may actualize as crossing a boundary with a parent, a teacher, or a friend. And, hopefully, once they face the consequences for their actions they find a way to either make it right or simply do better next time. But for someone new to making art the process is more avoidable. This post seeks to encourage these creatives to push themselves.

As an accomplished MOA (maker of art) my most consistent critique when observing the drawings and paintings of younger artists is that they haven't yet learned to push IT far enough.

IT may be their value scale: all medium or light greys with no punching deep greys, blacks or whites to make it more dynamic.

IT may be their safe color choices: certainly there is nothing wrong with blue skies and green grass but it won't have the same emotional effect on the viewer as something less expected.

Or maybe IT is their use of a full color palette when they could have taken a chance by only using tints and shades of two or three colors to create mood.

IT could be the lack of detail and a clear focal point leaving the viewer with no sense of where their attention should go.

Playing it safely every time does not inspire growth but screwing up something that you've already poured hours of attention and hope into sure will. Treading lightly at the right time may produce a delicate and lovely result, but if all you have to offer is "delicate and lovely" then you may not catch a viewer's eye in the first place. Go too bold and you may lose the opportunity to connect with the viewer on a deeper level, which is required if you'd like to sell your creations.

And so a young art maker must sometimes push their work too far (past the point of no return) in order to evolve. As in life, the greater the personal tragedy, the stronger the lesson. Sure, the choice of a purple sky and orange grass may look downright obscene on a first try. The colors may be too bold and even tacky, but through this mistake there is a lesson in adjusting the saturation of colors and finding balance. In mistakes there are opportunities for aha(!) moments if a student of art is open to them.

Unlike power struggles within our families, schools, or communities, the young artist is only held accountable to themselves. Whether a ruined piece of art is simply thrown away or whether they choose to use it like a puzzle, figuring out how to make it work next time, is completely up to them. Accountability and discipline are created in the artist as they continue to throw ideas against their canvases to see which ones stick the best.

Growing as an artist means getting back on the horse and making adjustments with each try. Play it too safely and the opportunity for artistic growth is supremely stunted. How much shading is too much shading? Well there's only one way to find out, by crossing the line from not enough to too much. (And I would bet money that the line is usually further out than expected, but then again "further" means something different to each creative.) A good rule of thumb in art making and in life: all things in moderation including moderation.

Through making art we learn about making art, of course, but we also learn about ourselves. With a little awareness it's easy to see how these lessons are transferrable to our daily lives. I will always be an advocate for making art. I can't imagine my life without it. There is little else more fulfilling than seeing progress within yourself, whether it be in life or on the canvas.

Vol. 1, Post no. 1

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