Looking Backward & Inward to Move Onward

About a week ago, I created this small painting as part of my show preparation process: I practice theme and technique ideas small-scale before I commit to multiple and/or larger works. This project was actually the thing that launched me "backwards" to the Index-Card-a-Day challenge and in turn, it may be these ICAD experiments that propel my show work forward. Let me explain...

If you are constantly striving to reference and reinvent your own work (as opposed to always relying on outside inspiration,) you always have unique ideas at hand. Those ideas quietly inhabit your brain, shifting in and out of your direct attention. You spend some time exploring and then the idea goes into hibernation, waiting for the right time to reemerge. Each time you drag that idea back out into the world (consciously or unconsciously,) it has evolved a little bit. Coincidentally, this is how your own "style" develops as well.

I've been playing around with yearbook photos as a starting point for character creation on and off since 2013. Last week, that idea unexpectedly showed up again, this time on canvas and with a twist. I was intrigued so I looked back at some of the ways I've approached this technique in the past. I keep many, many detailed notes and sketches of my "brainstorms" so research was just a matter of pulling the right notebook off the shelf. I decided to practice drawing yearbook portraits again, this time in a medium I had not tried before. Inspired by this timely post by Danny Gregory, I also started looking at vintage mugshots as well. Once I'd done a few "normal" portraits as warm-up, I felt brave enough to play more with the idea that had popped up on that little canvas.

The result is this quartet of "monster" portraits. While I kind of love this idea, I'm still not sure about committing these to canvas and including them in the October show. Thematically, they would definitely be relevant to an art show concurrent with Halloween/Day of the Dead. Commercially, the market for such oddball works might be very small. I just need to settle that age old artist dilemma for myself: paint what I love or paint what sells. In a perfect world, those two options are one and the same. Thrilled and terrified by the possibilities, I showed my little painting to a couple of local artists. One is an impressionist/abstract expressionist and the other is best described as an "outsider" artist who draws, paints, and sculpts all sorts of strange and whimsical beasties. Both artists, despite their diverse viewpoints, told me to "f*ing go for it!" Last year, I experienced an incredible amount of anxiety about putting my monster paintings out into public, but the reception was overwhelmingly welcoming. This might be another occasion where I need to just make what I want to make. Trying to predict what will be popular with the public is a waste of time and if there is one thing I don't have enough of, it is time. In addition, I have found that the more I pursue what excites me - without thought to what other people want - the more authentic my work becomes and interestingly, the better it sells. I think it is just a matter of reminding myself of what I already know so I can do the work in spite of my nerves.


Melina said…
I can understand your dilemma regarding whether to create what you love or what will sell. I have always been unable to create anything other than what I love and therefore feel that my artwork is not sell-able. Not really. But I can do nothing less than create with integrity what most inspires me and what I really need to express.
I would love to make a living from my art but, alas, it is not, as yet, to be.
Emie58 said…
I also say "go for it!" IMHO if a person makes art they love, it comes through in their work... if a person paints something just to sell it and their heart isn't really into it... it also comes through. TFS your creative process!
Anonymous said…
I agree that creating what's in your soul adds a specialness to art that isn't there otherwise. (Acknowleding that generating sales is a very good thing, too!). Your "monsters" are so fantastic and whimiscal I hope you'll find your way to carry on with this theme. The yearbook re-dos are great with this twist - maybe becasue it seems like you are painting the inner side of thise people we went to school with but we never saw. No matter what, I'll be cheering you on! (Your monster notecard is on my cubicle wall and it makes me smile every time I look at it)
- Ellie
This is my first visit here, because of the link at Daisy Yellow. I have never tried to sell anything, because I fear my art would not be worth selling. But you have a very creative appeal to your work, and their must be a group out there who loves it, because I certainly found it appealing.
One Mother Hen said…
Your art is unique and truly comes from you. This is what makes it so appealing. It is appealing because it is different, and not the same as what everyone else is doing.
Oh yes, go for it, Michelle! I LOVE your monster portraits. There might be more people out there who are interested in pieces like these than you think, especially at that time of the year.