Well, seems like lately I am covering topics here based on questions I often get. So, if you have any you'd like me to discuss, feel free to let me know what they are.
"How do you decide what to paint?" I'll start with a brief example from my own history.
My interest in painting people has been there from my earliest days of mark making. I can't even remember a time that a face, or a person hasn't been somehow depicted in what I drew as a kid. This never occurred to me as a direction, until people around me noticed it. My natural bent I guess. Went with it.
In art school, my education was pretty varied, and very thoughtful. I loved the broad spectrum of teachers I had, but sometimes, I was confounded by their assignments when they were conceptually based. I eventually understood some of them once I began the actual labor of it. For example, one of my drawing assignments was to "make the paper the drawing". HUH? I stared at my notes for hours, scratching my head and even considered handing in a blank white sheet to be snarky. Then, I began drawing. Threw my coat on the floor and suddenly, I got it: Make enough marks to have the white of the paper important to the reading, instead of rendering THE COAT. Eureka! That was likely the first inkling of my future ways. Surface, picture plane, marks...all valid in and of themselves as a focus, as subject matter.
One of our art teachers here at Beaumont School, Kristen LoPresti, just challenged our Senior art students to complete a painting based on a word: Harmony. Each student has to decide what harmony means to her, and come up with a way to represent that. As you can imagine, the possibilities are endless. This is a great way to come up with a body of work that can truly stretch you, not just based on the limits of what representation can impose.
Another way to look at this, is to step back and see what you are actually doing. By that I mean...what is niggling in your consciousness? Is it, going outside? What interests you about outside? Light? what kind of light? The place? what kind of place is it? There are lots of questions you can be pondering even with the obvious decisions of subject matter. Keeping a written journal is a wonderful way to uncover your thinking patterns and insights. What bubbles up time and again.
In my world, the trick bag becomes looking around and deciding 'what sells'. This is a controversial subject, because many artists do this exact thing. This is what I would call "picture making". Now mind you, I will admit to starting out my personal work in 2008 this way. I noticed there were a lot of paintings of women that were doing well out there. I jumped on board, and painted a number of what I call straight up figures. Thankfully, the art muses took control of me and had me morph within that category to something else...whatever you would call what I'm doing now.
Which brings me to a very important idea for me: focus on the process rather than the goal. I know, this is controversial too. (file in the future: Ditching The Plan post) Within those moments of effort, I follow potential directions. Instead of the viewer scratching their heads about the message, not understanding what or why, not seeing an applicative narrative they can relate to, I have decided to keep the figurative aspect the continuum, and to allow the paint to change. That's the theme. Whatever actual experience the viewer has with any given work, is their own. It is not decided by me ahead of time.
OR, what if... I change up my genre, but include the similar inquiry in how I describe it? In other words, think about how YOU make your marks, or how YOU reflect on the surface you are working on, the light you are seeing, the place that inspired your vision. This element, is what creates the body of work that future generations will know as yours.
And finally, if you are really stuck, just draw. Draw from life whenever possible. What happens is, like the written journal, you will see patterns emerge that will inspire more investigation. It's a balance between, doing, and reflecting about what you did. In my personal experience, and this is just mine...when I create work in my head FIRST...it is never successful. And I mean never. But that's just me. Try things yourself, and then decide.