297: Finding Your Style

–AT A CRITICAL moment in my plein air development I attended a prestigious art festival. My studio painting was in a precarious evolutionary phase–I was slathering on massive amounts of highly textured oils–and I opted to replicate the technique in my plein air routine.

Although I painted a few satisfying paintings at the festival overall, the experiment failed, and I left feeling the need to develop an alternative technique. I was disappointed because I enjoyed the festival and looked forward to a return visit.

But more importantly, I felt an obligation to develop my style further–to push my technique further. On the upside the disappointment made me rethink many ideas about painting both in the studio as well as in the field. Much of my current success is attributable to that public failure.

I began to wonder why the thick paint of the oils didn’t translate well into plein air oil painting. In contrast, I wondered why my sketches of the event were so strong. How did I lose something so critical between the sketch and the final painting? The answer was that adding heavy texture caused me to focus on surface texture rather than overall design. 
The more verisimilitude I included, the less the abstract design could carry the composition. This discovery answered the question why my woodcuts achieved a higher aesthetic appeal than my paintings generally did.

In an intuitive leap, I began doing acrylic abstracts. Painting abstractly I was able to explore design while using texture untethered from the real world. This further reinforced the idea that recreating realistic surface texture is irrelevant to my artistic project. It simultaneously demonstrated that realistic values shifts were equally irrelevant–my concern was with value relationships and using value to create focal points. I also started using palette knives exclusively which helped maintain sharp lines and sharp linear detail–a strength also seen in my woodcuts.

During this process, I discovered that my artistic concerns were very different from many painter’s concerns with verisimilitude. Any attempt to imitate such success by painting images dependent on highly nuanced value fluctuations and realistic surface textures were bound to fail. Those virtues, as beautiful as they are in other people’s paintings, were not relevant to my artistic journey.

I needed to focus on broad patterns, heightened and invented value shifts that reinforced design, and pleasing but arbitrary surface texture. Tellingly these were all aspects I accidentally incorporated into my woodcuts. I succeeded as a woodcut artist because woodcut effortlessly fused all my natural strengths.

These insights have clarified the path forward–I need to focus on broad, puzzle-like design, invent or interpret value contrasts to reinforce design, and add surface texture for aesthetic effect rather than verisimilitude. Following these guidelines yielded the painting seen above, which was painted in acrylics in the field. The results satisfy my expectations for a properly painted motif while tapping into all my strengths yet eliminating aesthetic elements that require strengths I don’t have.

The above painting is not an exact portrait of the observed motif but, more importantly, it captures the essence and energy of the scene. It also has thick texture and exists not only as a painting but as an artifact of that particular moment. It is also a style that is uniquely my own and essentially inimitable. For these reasons, I find the painting deeply satisfying.

I wish you the best in finding a style that is a unique expression of your unique view of the world.

Brad Teare –August 2016

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Updated: 20th June 2024
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