Friday, September 5, 2008

What Are Your Subjects?

My Subjects -
Trees in the Field

Rural Buildings

Conifers and Color Fields

It was interesting to see a great pastel artist list his focus on a narrow range of subjects in a book I read recently. The book is a dated one by Albert Handell, Pastel Painting Workshop. He likes the Southwestern landscape with arroyos and pueblo-style structures. He does trees, rock boulders and waterways. In his figurative work, he likes vignettes and portraits.

Why be narrow in subject matter?

It is good to be aware of what your subject matter is before you go off to the field to paint on site. Why be narrow in subject matter? My own feelings are that you may delve into a subject as deeply as you wish, and may never run out of inspiration. If your goal is to "draw things", then you may wish to pursue every possible subject one after the other. But, if you are wanting to produce paintings with depth and with good technique, then limiting yourself to a handful of subjects will provide you a greater opportunity for depth.

Limiting your subject matter will put you in good company.

Limiting your subject matter will put you in good company. Van Gogh stayed with agricultural landscapes in France that revolved around trees, waterways, fields, buildings and bridges. He did portraits and still lifes, but he stayed with common themes. Degas stayed with interior and theatrical figures, such as orchestras, singers and ballerinas. He did nudes at the bath. He also liked the horse track, and some industrial interiors. Daniel Greene stays with the portrait, but in his figurative work he focuses on painting his wife, artist Wende Caporale, in the New York subway with tile mosaic backgrounds. Of course, he does other works, but his series work is a method of staying focused. Harvey Dinnerstein does self portraits where he is painting bare chested, and Andrew Wyeth stayed on the Helga series for a number of years. His Helga series kept true to his own ouevre of rural interiors and moods.

Limiting my subject matter helps tremendously in finding compositions

My own oeuvre features conifers in a forest setting with color bands, trees in the field, and farm buildings. I recently have added deciduous trees and the figure to my interests. Making brief appearances in my art are clouds, skies and waterways. Limiting my subject matter helps tremendously in finding compositions when I go outdoors to paint. My next target is a neighbors farm outbuilding that one looks up to , and it has a stunning backdrop where the draw bends away and down in the background.


Brian McGurgan said...

I love that example you've posted of trees in a field, Casey - beautiful work... That's a common theme for me as well so it is not surprising that I would be drawn to it. Probably my most frequent subject these days is fields with treelines. I find open space appealing and also like slow moving waterways and lakes surrounded by hills or mountains.

Casey Klahn said...

Thanks, Brian. I did that one in the spring as one of my first plein air works of the year. I will admit that I finished it in the studio, though.

Sounds like you've got your subjects figured out.