The Urge to be Better

There was a painting I did last year which I thought was pretty good. I thought it worked, and I like the amount of detail I’d been able to use. The source photo hadn’t been that great, but I thought the end product was worth the effort.

I look at that painting now, and all I want to do is repaint it. My technique has improved, even in the 11 months or so since I finished it. Here’s a more recent painting:

And another one…

What’s the difference? There is so much more detail. And with the detail comes perhaps a greater sense of distance, as the detail diminishes in the background.

But what has made this difference? There are three things – the first of which has been working in the background within my artistic efforts for years. The first is youtube. There, I said it. I found a series of videos on youtube uploaded by an English artist called Michael James Smith. His paintings are phenomenal – photographic in their realism. And his videos are full of helpful hints about how to achieve the same detail. I’m not there yet, but he gives me something to aim for. I then discovered instagram, and followed the artists producing work which I aspire to. It’s all a useful motivational tool to help me improve my work.

The second thing which has helped is improving my tools. The aforementioned Michael James Smith has his own range of paintbrushes which he uses to paint with, and he sells them online. I’ve bought about 10 so far, and they are just the most beautiful brushes I have ever used. To have fine brushes which don’t immediately start losing their bristles the minute you pick them up is life-changing! They make painting a real pleasure again.

And the third thing? Time. Since giving up teaching 8 weeks or so ago, I’ve had so much more time to develop paintings. I’m not constantly rushing to get them finished – I can work at them until I am totally pleased with them. Or closer to being totally pleased with them. I doubt I will ever be absolutely happy with them – it’s just the way I am.

Now some people might say that I’m wasting my time – why spend so long doing fine photographic detail when I could just hang a photo up? Well, I don’t just paint from photos. I edit the source photos to accentuate details or colours, or contrast, so that they themselves begin to look like paintings. That’s my way of approaching photorealism – the photo itself becomes part of the process of creating the work of art – here’s an example.

So if I were giving advice to someone wanting to improve in their creativity?

Firstly, be inspired. Be inspired by other artists and practitioners. Don’t be afraid to learn from them.

Secondly, get the tools which will help you achieve your vision. Whatever sort of style we work in, we will find it much easier to create work to be proud of if the tools enable us rather than hinder us.

And lastly, give time. It won’t happen immediately. I’ve been painting for over 40 years, and I’m still learning. My grandpa used to say, “if something’s worth doing, do it well”. It’s something I try to live by. I don’t let anything go until I am happy I’ve made my best attempt at it. It may be that I look at this year’s work in a year’s time and think it’s not much good – but it’s good for me for now. And that is what I aim for. But it takes time – as the old saying goes, it’s 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. Creating something worth the creating will often take a lot of time and effort. But it’s worth it!

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