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Creativity Can Be Learned!

CREATIVITY CAN BE LEARNED!

By adopting a creative outlook, you open yourself up to both new possibilities and to change.   You become able to find new answers, new solutions, and new ideas.  A creative mind can transform one thing into another – can look at the same thing as everyone else but think something different.  Creative artists can change their perspective and, by using their knowledge and experience, can make the ordinary extraordinary.  Creative ideas come from manipulating and transforming your resources, and you can choose from many creative techniques and strategies when transforming those materials. The stages of this creative process include identifying, preparing, incubating, reaching a breakthrough, and finding a resolution.  In the preparation stage, techniques for modifying and changing your vision can include comparing, reversing, connecting, imagining, eliminating, and rearranging.

Everyone has the potential to be creative.  In other words, with a little effort, you can increase your level of creativity.  The quickest way to kill your creativity, however, is to think you have neither talent nor creativity.  Believing that you have insurmountable limitations can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.  In other words, if you think you are not creative, you hesitate to try, and – sure enough – you fail to be creative.

Instead, believe in yourself.  Attitude is important!  Develop your skills: skills build confidence.  Improve your drawing, and practice your painting techniques.  Improvement comes with practice.  Emphasize the fun of creating rather than the achievement of results.  Try to notice the good things you’ve done, and don’t dwell on mistakes.  Set yourself achievable goals, and persevere.

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Try new things, and expose yourself to new ideas.  Look at artwork in museums and galleries and at art fairs.  Read books and magazines.  Look around you, and observe.  New experiences stimulate your imagination.  Similarly, vary your routines, and do the unexpected.  CHANGE jumpstarts your creative thinking, and creativity becomes more accessible when you can begin to act more impulsively in your life.  Change a problem by sneaking up on it from a different direction.  You can try something fresh – a new way with an old theme, a different point of view, a new technique.

A childlike playfulness allows you to relax your mind so that creative images come to you.  IMAGINATION plays a large part in the process.  Take a few minutes every day to work on freeing up your imagination.  Think of this as a way of stretching your creative muscles, getting them limber.  You should aim for a state of relaxed attention, when you can be free of interruptions.  Let yourself daydream, and empty your mind of all the distracting “clutter” of chores or things that need to be done.  (Natalie Goldberg calls this negative state of mind “monkey mind.”)  Allow spontaneous images to come and go.  These images express your connections with your inner self, and that connection is what creativity is all about.

OBSERVING AND BEING AWARE of what is around you is important to developing your creativity as well.  People tend to look at things without really seeing them.  They block out the unfamiliar and allow access only to what they feel comfortable with.  (See my blog dated 12/18/18, “Painting Begins with Looking and Seeing” at leemuirhaman.com.)  Try to focus your awareness on what is around you and discover things you may have overlooked, details that others don’t see.  CHANGING YOUR FOCUS increases your creativity.  Train yourself to look closely and refocus.

While no subject is totally new (everybody has painted water or mountains or trees), your unique experiences and observations influence everything you paint or draw.  You modify, add to, or subtract from what is there to make something new.  Your subject often chooses you.  It doesn’t matter how ordinary the subject is: what you bring to it that is new is YOURSELF.  Your point of view is different from everyone else’s.  Tap your inner resources to find your responses to life’s experiences.  What makes you happy, angry, calm, nostalgic?  Use your EYE, MIND, AND HEART in your artwork.  Strive to make your art your own and not to copy; copying denies your uniqueness.  When you paint or draw, you are making visible something that you might not be able to express in words, something that combines how the subject appears to you with what you think about it and how you react to it emotionally.

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There are definite steps to the creative process, whether they occur over a long period of time or happen very quickly.  The first step in the creative process involves the IDENTIFICATION of the subject or problem to be solved (for example, selecting what to paint or learning a new technique).  Nothing creative can happen until you recognize what you want to do.

The PREPARATION step follows, during which you consider many possible solutions.  You may make a thumbnail sketch, plan color schemes, consider altering the composition by eliminating or adding components, decide on the placement of a focal point.  You also consider the mood, time of day, and season of the year for the painting.  In watercolor painting, most of this THINKING AND DESIGNING phase is done before you start to paint.  It is advisable to decide exactly what you are trying to do and consider possible plans of attack.

In the INCUBATION phase, you set the project aside for a time.  All the information that you accumulated and thought about in the preparation stage needs to be sorted in your unconscious mind.  This stage may take only minutes while you organize your paints or take a quick break.  On the other hand, it may take a much longer time for all the information to gel into a final solution.

BREAKTHROUGH is the next stage in the creative process, when the solution/plan becomes apparent.  Your solution does not come out of the blue fully formed but is a result of all of your previous thinking.  At this point, RESOLUTION completes the process, and you’re ready to try your solution and see how it works.

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Okay, so you’re ready to be more creative!  Where do you find ideas?  If you can observe carefully, approach your art playfully, and not concern yourself with the approval of other people, you will discover painting ideas everywhere you go.  Ideas are in familiar places like libraries, malls, food markets, farmers’ markets, coffee shops, the beach; at work, in newspapers or magazines, at museums, galleries, art fairs, at home, in sunlight or moonlight, outside on a walk or inside looking out the window.  If you can change your focus to discover things you may have overlooked  and things that others don’t notice, you will have many images and ideas come to your attention.  Some images will interest you more than others, because we each have different passions.  It is helpful to get in touch with yourself and come to understand what issues and ideas are important to you.  Are you repeatedly drawn to animals in their natural surroundings or to baby animals?  Do you enjoy images of the hustle and bustle of the city or see people as isolated in the city?  Do you find connections between the grandeur and power of nature and an individual human?  The subjects that suddenly surface in your mind and pique your curiosity are usually topics you feel strongly about, and thus they will likely be excellent topics for you to paint.  If it feels good, paint it!

The faculty of creating is never given to us all by itself.  It always goes hand in hand with the gift of observation.  And the true creator may be recognized by his ability to find about him, in the commonest and humblest thing, items worthy of note.

Igor Stravinsky, The Poetics of Music

Painting Begins With Looking and Seeing…

Many inexperienced painters believe that to produce a good painting, all they need is mastery of technique.  However, it takes more than finely executed techniques to achieve an artistic result.  Artists need to observe closely what they intend to paint.  When you’re an artist, seeing isn’t simple.

Most of the time, we look at things with only part of our attention.  We see only what we expect to see.  We assign a label to every image.  For instance, if what we are looking at is a “tree,” we may not look closely at what is really there.  This habit of not paying close attention keeps us from actually looking at things.  In the everyday world, we quickly categorize and move on.

However, to paint or draw successfully, artists need to slow down so they can examine and study the shapes and values that make up an observed object.  Artists try to avoid labeling an object as “tree” or anything else and instead train themselves to interpret what they see in a new way.  Seeing means focusing attention, looking at shapes, values, and colors before beginning to paint.  Where is the light hitting the tree branches?  Can you see through the branches?  What is the overall shape of the tree?  Are branches straight, upturned, crooked, rough?  Is the tree lopsided or symmetrical?  Are the highlights a different color from the shadows?  What is the weather, and how does it affect the appearance of the “tree”?  By asking such questions and looking carefully, you can accurately paint what you see, NOT what you think you see.

Drawing helps you see, and seeing helps you draw.  Drawing trains the mind, hand, and eye to work together.  Many beginning artists avoid drawing altogether if they can, feeling that their drawing skills are not good.  However, you should not feel obliged to render precise drawings of what you wish to paint!  Do not let your concerns about drawing technique prevent you from trying to draw what is before you!  One of the main purposes of drawing is to train yourself to see shapes and spaces more accurately – to “see” like an artist and take note of details.  By keeping your drawing SIMPLE, just getting something down relatively quickly, you can allow yourself to see.  Look for basic shapes, and notice how they are connected.  Find larger shapes first; then fit smaller shapes into them.  More specifically, see the image as a whole; then concentrate on individual components.  Distracting details are only decoration on the surface of these shapes.  Concentrate; work slowly and intently.  Give yourself the time to observe and take in information before rushing to produce an image.  Ultimately, you should be able to perceive everything you see as totally abstract forms, values, lines, and color, as in a jigsaw puzzle.  Remember that shadows are shapes!  Reflections are shapes as well.  Backgrounds have shape and should act as frames for the subject of a painting.  Only when you can “see” in this way will you begin to be able to suggest three-dimensional reality on your flat, two-dimensional paper.

Frederick Franck, artist and philosopher, in The Zen of Seeing/Drawing:  “I have learned that what I have not drawn I have never really seen, and that when I start drawing an ordinary thing I realize how extraordinary it is, sheer miracle . . . .”  So do not hesitate to sketch and draw what you intend to paint.  As you draw, you will notice important details and sharpen the mind/hand/eye coordination necessary to improve your painting skills.  Drawing is not something you can or cannot do; it is a skill that requires practice and time, just like any other ability (including painting).  The skills and mental processes necessary for drawing are the same as those used when painting with a brush.

Another benefit of drawing and sketching, in addition to developing necessary observational skills, is that you will learn to condense observed information into a simplified format, and this ability will come through in your painting.  With a drawing you are more likely to end up with your focal point being prominent, because you concentrate mainly on that particular feature.  Your drawing will be simplified, easier on the eye of the viewer, as you collect only the information that counts and leave out extraneous material.

Reference photos:

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Line drawing:

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Strive to “see” the world in terms of shape, pattern, color, line, and texture.  Having observed carefully, use the information to record an image skillfully.  Mastering these techniques will improve the quality of your work.  Your personal viewpoint or individual perception of the world will become apparent as you interpret what you “see” and choose what to record and include in your drawing or painting.

Your picture has your touch in it.  You can pick a subject that appeals or has special meaning to you.  You can rearrange what you’re looking at any way you like.  You can simplify or exaggerate parts of what you see.  Look beyond the normal, the everyday, the expected for your painting subjects.  Notice the negative shapes, the rhythms, the reflected lights, the colors.  Look at an object close up for a new viewpoint.  Consider a portrait approach or botanical style.  Look for varied shapes and unusual forms to add interest to your picture.  Each person sees the world in a different way.

Adjust Your Color Thermostat!

As artists gain experience in watercolor painting, they become aware that different colors have more or less “warmth” or “coolness.”  Colors on the color wheel can be grouped into two families: warm (reds, oranges, yellows) and cool (violets, blues, greens).  Furthermore, each color has a warm or cool bias (whether it is cool or warm itself) depending on the amount of its neighboring color that it contains.  Adding red or yellow to an existing color will warm it up; adding blue will cool it.  When you are comparing two hues, the hue closer to yellow on the color wheel will be the warmer of the two (for instance, Cadmium Red is warmer than Permanent Alizarin Crimson).  The color closer to blue on the color wheel will be the cooler (for instance, Aureolin or Lemon Yellow is cooler than Cadmium Yellow).  When a cool color and a warm color are placed near or next to one another in a picture, they can also BIAS or INTENSIFY each other.  Thus, a cool blue feels even cooler next to a warm color, or a warm yellow feels even warmer near a cool color.  If you want a feature of your painting to stand out, paint cool colors surrounded by warm colors or warm colors in a cool area.

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This temperature relationship allows colors, including grays, to be PUSHED or PULLED to add visual interest or depth to a painting (Making Color Sing by Jeanne Dobie, p. 30).  “Pushed or pulled” refers to the use of RECEDING cool or ADVANCING warm colors.  Pushing color into a cooler version of itself causes it to recede while pulling a nearby color into a warmer color makes this nearby color advance.  Armed with this knowledge, painters can create distance in a painting: the receding color and advancing color can be made to appear on different planes.  For example, to describe distance in a landscape painting, artists can “push” the background back by using cooler tones as features of the landscape disappear over the horizon.  Thus, far hills often look more blue or purple instead of green.  Also, the foreground can be “pulled” forward with warmer colors.

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Difficulty can arise, however, if artists assume that all yellows, for instance, are warm or all blues are cool.  The temperature of a color is always relative, because it depends on nearby colors.  You must judge color temperature by surrounding colors.  Ultramarine Blue viewed next to Cadmium Red appears cool indeed, yet the same Ultramarine Blue next to Lemon Yellow or Permanent Rose will seem warm.

Another complication in using color well involves observing how light and atmosphere change local color (the actual, basic color of an object).  Artists should consider how conditions in the scene affect local color.  Snow shadows are not always blue and may even be golden or rosy at sunset.  A gray road drenched by rain may take on a purplish cast.  At sunrise a brown tree trunk may have a golden glow.  Try to use warm and cool colors to intensify the atmosphere in your picture.

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Artists often use shading or modeling layers of color to create the effect of three-dimensional shape on painted objects.  In deepening a shadow by adding darker layers, however, you may dull or deaden color; instead, use the warm-cool interaction to achieve similar results while keeping colors luminous.  With an understanding of the “push-pull” of warm and cool colors, you can begin to form volume through color alone, creating the illusion of three-dimensional space in a painting.

Paint your object the local color first.  Then find your light source to determine what is in shadow.  One side of your object will be away from the source of light and in shadow.  If the local color of your object is warm, you can use cool values like blue to shadow.  The object will seem to TURN AWAY from the light and have two sides.  If the local color of your object is cool, then use a warm color on the side way from the source of light.  (When glazing on the second [shadow] color, make sure the first color is dry before adding the second layer.)

To be effective with warm-cool interactions, artists must be aware of the light source and whether this light itself is warm or cool.  A warm light source affects a subject differently than a cool light source.  To create volume through color alone, you will need to handle each lighting condition somewhat differently.

On bright, sunny days, the sun bathes objects in warm light while casting cool shadows.  Paint a pine tree on a sunny day with predominantly warm colors such as Sap Green mixed with Cadmium Yellow, with a touch of Cadmium Red.  The cool, shadowed side of the tree could be Sap Green cooled with Ultramarine Blue or Permanent Alizarin Crimson.  On an overcast day, the light areas of the pine might be a cool mixture of Viridian and Permanent Rose plus Cobalt Blue.  The warm shadow could be mixtures of Sap Green plus Transparent Red Oxide with small amounts of Cadmium Red or even Permanent Alizarin Crimson.  Artificial indoor lighting is usually warmer than outdoor light which is often affected by cool reflections from the sky.

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When colors are in close proximity, they tend to exaggerate each other’s differences.  Complementary colors have contrasting temperatures.  Using the “push-pull” of warms and cools can help to create depth in a painting by moving objects forward or backward in space, as well as creating the illusion of three dimensions.

Painting Skin Tones.

There are so many variations in skin tone that it seems overly simple to choose only certain specific pigments for painting skin.  In other words, you don’t have to use prepared color formulas.  Consider variables of age, ethnicity, light source, reflected light, and gender when you are painting skin color.  Skin color does NOT come in a tube; it must be mixed by the artist based on an interpretation of the colors seen.

To reproduce skin colors accurately, observe your subject closely.  Painting skin tone has more to do with the light and the environment than with any preconceived notion of what skin color should be.  You must analyze how and where the light source strikes the skin surface.  From which direction does the light come?  Is there more than one source of light?  Can you see any reflected light in the shadows?  What colors do the shadows add to the general skin color?  Is the light soft or harsh?  Warm or cool?  Brighter light will make reflected color stronger and more obvious.  Bright light darkens and sharpens shadows.

Skin color can vary from the palest yellow on through pinks, browns, and ebony.  Light skin tones appear transparent and vibrant.  Dark skin shows a range of rich, exciting colors.  Look for a subject’s general skin tone; then alter tone by diluting with water for highlights or by adding a complementary color to create shadows (for example, a trace of green shadow on a pink jawline and a bluish or purple shadow on brown or dark skin).

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Facial areas like nose, ears, cheeks, chin, and tear ducts of the eyes tend to be warmer in color than the rest of the face.  The most basic way of painting skin is, after careful observation of general skin tone, to mix that color with two to three transparent paint colors.

Possible skin color combinations might be:

For fair skin—

Burnt Sienna/Cadmium Red/New Gamboge

Burnt Sienna/Permanent Alizarin Crimson/Cadmium Yellow

Burnt Sienna/Winsor Red/Cobalt Blue

For Native American or Hispanic skin –

Burnt Sienna/Brown Madder/Cobalt Blue

For Asian or fair skin –

Raw Sienna/Burnt Sienna/Cobalt Blue

For dark complexions –

Burnt Umber/Permanent Alizarin Crimson/Ultramarine Blue

Burnt Umber/Permanent Alizarin Crimson/Cobalt Blue

Burnt Sienna/Burnt Umber/Ultramarine Blue.

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Apply the general color thinly in a pale wash.  When this underlayer is dry, layer more color, as needed, to suggest skin depressions and create form.

Adjust the ratios of your colors to fit your subject’s skin color and value.

When trying to make the skin in your painting lifelike and interesting, you should paint wet-in-wet or on damp paper to allow for soft transitions.  In painting skin, your layers should follow and define the shadows you observe.  You must have value changes to imply form.  Build up your layers of paint, remembering to save areas for the highlights.  Create form and depth by painting depressions and shadows, leaving highlights created by lightly painted layers.

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More experienced painters might prefer to mix paint on their paper rather than premixing a general skin color on the palette.  When paint is mixed on the paper, colors are much more interesting and vibrant than the same color combinations mixed on the palette, then applied to paper, which tend to be dull.  Glazing and layering one color at a time on the paper gives skin a luminous tone.  Apply the lightest washes first; then gradually progress to the darkest washes, which you should apply last.  Build up transparent layers with Hansa Yellow Light, Permanent Rose, Quinacridone Gold, Quinacridone Magenta, Winsor Red, Winsor Blue (Green Shade), and Winsor Blue (Red Shade).

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Be sure to use transparent colors for a clear, luminous effect.  By choosing a warm and a cool transparent color for your palette, you will have more than enough color options to produce unlimited skin tones.  By varying proportions of each color to change color temperature AND by paying attention to the order in which the colors are layered, you can create different skin tones.  (Remember that the last layer of color glazed on will determine the dominant hue of the skin.)

Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter Palettes.

Nature’s colors can vary considerably depending on the time of day, the weather conditions, and the season. The effects of the time of day and the weather on color changes and atmosphere seem more obvious and easier to observe than the effects of the season. Nevertheless, each season has its own characteristic feel and look, which an artist’s choice of paint colors can convey.

SPRING colors tend to be cool. Spring is a time of fresh growth, when buds and flowers burst forth. Forest floors are becoming free of frost and snow, and bright green shoots begin to appear.

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Hansa Light, Cad. Yellow, Winsor Blue, Sap Green, Permanent Mauve, Raw Umber.

Cadmium Yellow can be a bright spring color, especially when a little Hansa Yellow Light ( or Lemon Yellow or Cadmium Yellow) is mixed in. The cooler blues to use are Cobalt and Winsor (or Pthalo) blue. DaVinci Sap Green has a strong blue (cool) tinge. Other possible colors for a spring painting include Permanent Mauve or Raw Umber.

Spring pictures:

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Sunny days of SUMMER are filled with golden warmth and numerous, lush greens. The summer palette includes warmer colors than the spring palette.

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Cad. Yellow, Raw Sienna, Burnt Umber, Ultramarine, Sap Green, Perm. Aliz. Crimson.

Raw Sienna is a warm yellow. Cadmium Yellow mixed with DaVinci Sap Green is an excellent mix to use for summer foliage. The sharp, cold light of spring has been replaced by softer summer light, creating softer-edged rather than crisp shadows. Create a softer edge by painting summer shadows on damp paper or lightly blotting the shadow edge. Ultramarine Blue and a touch of Permanent Alizarin Crimson make a warm summer shadow. (Another possible color combination for a warm shadow mixture is Ultramarine Blue with a touch of Burnt Umber.)

Summer pictures:

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AUTUMN is the season of reds, oranges, golds, and browns.

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Cad. Red, Cad. Yellow, Raw Sienna, Ultramarine, Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber.

Rich, warm colors can be created with warm golds and siennas, such as Raw Sienna, Burnt Sienna, and Burnt Umber. Fiery reds made with Cadmium Red and golden yellows made with Cadmium Yellow light up the foliage. When the leaves fall, stark and skeletal trees are revealed in deep browns, which can be approximated with various combinations of Burnt Umber and Ultramarine Blue.

Autumn pictures:

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A WINTER palette would be composed of cool colors and more neutral pigments, mixed to produce slightly muted tones, often tinged in gray.

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Perylene Green, Sap Green, Winsor Blue, Payne’s Gray, Perm. Mauve, Raw Umber.

DaVinci Sap Green and Perylene Green (or Holbein Shadow Green) can be used as a base for any greenery. Alternatively, try blending Winsor Blue (or Pthalo Blue) with Payne’s Gray and mixing in some DaVinci Sap Green. For snow, leave the paper white and paint around it. Snow does have some color, depending on the strength of the steely winter daylight. Snow shadows could be blended from Cobalt Blue and Permanent Alizarin Crimson into a cool, blue-violet. Another blue-violet snow shadow combination might be Winsor Blue (or Pthalo Blue) and Permanent Mauve. Raw Umber can be useful to tone down trees, branches, and ground covers.

Winter pictures:

 

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The main tool that any painter has to work with is color, and by choosing pigments with different temperatures, tones, and intensities, an artist can suggest both warm and cold environments throughout the seasons.