Find your muse(s) in books, other painters, museums, instagram…
I have stacks of art books in my studio. The first one I ever bought was huge Norman Rockwell book that I paid $300 for when we really didn’t have it to spend. I still have it, and I still love it. I’ve paid handsomely for a few others that I cherish, but most of them have been gathered at used book stores, flea markets, garage sales, etc… When I get stuck on something, or having trouble working out a solution I often flip through my books to see how other painters from the past may have worked out the same visual question. Reading through some of their history and their letters to each other also reminds me that we all strive for the same things – community, beauty, love. Most have also had their share of ups and downs, and a seemingly unquenchable wanderlust, just like me.
Edgar Payne is one of my muses. The first time I saw his work I was transfixed. I felt poured into his poetic landscapes and I wanted to stay inside of them. He was a fantastic painter, a king of composition, and a man who used deliberate color harmonies to create a sense of place and mood. Do a quick google search and see the tremendous harmony in his paintings. In our next section we will jump into plein air painting. If landscapes are of particular interest to you I would highly recommend his book “Composition of Outdoor Painting”. It’s filled with his philosophy and technique. It’s an enjoyable read with some great images too. My copy is filled with underlines and stars and I refer to it often. His work is dreamy.
There are so many great painters, living and long gone, that we are influenced and inspired by. I encourage you to visit used book stores and peruse their art section. Find work that makes your eyes dance and evaluate why you like it. See if you can determine a value structure or NOTAN behind the painting.
A few of my favorite painters from the past are: Edgar Payne, Chauncey Ryder, Joaquin Sorolla, NC Wyeth, Van Gough, William Lathrop, John Carlson, Tolouse-Lautrec, Edgar Degas, John Singer Sargent, Nicolai Fechin, Rembrandt, (all men here, that’s not intentional. Perhaps it was easier for a man to get out and build a career as a painter).
Here are some great living painters who are also great teachers. I’ve had the good fortune of painting with all of them, and calling many of them friends. Sherri McGraw, Kevin Macpherson, Quang Ho, Carolyn Anderson, Scott Christensen, Kim English, Hai-Ou Hou, Harvey Chan … search oil painters on Instagram and you will find some pretty cool inspiring work.
Try this Independent Play! Pick a painting out of your favorite art book and see if you can copy the color palette into a similar composition, but with your own elements, or even just copy the painting. Study their brush strokes, their seemingly random spots of color that stop your eye, their soft edges that send your eye along, their composition of elements and lack of repetition. You will learn so much from careful observation of these things and you will have fun working to copy them and experiment with them in your own work.