I have a bit of a problem. Not just as an artist but in general really. You see I’m a bit of a jack-of-all-trades. I suppose it’s genetic to some degree, my dad was the same, he could turn his hand to anything. If the gas cooker needed servicing, out would come the spanners and the blowtorch and before you knew it the back yard would be a hive of industry. One day, out of the blue, he came home from work with loads of wood and glass and proudly announced that he was going to build a greenhouse in the back yard: in a few days we had plants growing under glass and dad had a place to display a passion for gardening that nobody, including him, had any idea was there. If something needed doing my dad could do it and I, for my sins, am somewhat similar.
But when it comes to painting this presents a particular problem. When I was first painting in earnest, I experimented with all sorts of styles and media. Watercolours, oils, pastels, acrylics, I tried them all. People, landscapes, abstraction, symbolism: you name it I had a go and to some degree I became proficient in most media and made most styles work for me, with varying degrees of success. So as soon as I had accumulated a collection of works, the next thing to do was to take them to a gallery, only to be met with the obvious statement that fine as the paintings were, they were all too different from each other. It seems obvious now, but back then it took me by surprise. What I thought was showing my diversity, was actually giving gallery owners no common theme to promote to their clientele. It wasn’t that I had no ideas, on the contrary I had too many, I had to settle on one style and make it my own: but which one? I decided to ask another gallery owner, a very respected man who had also taught at the local art school for many years. I took along some of my figurative works and one or two more abstracted ones and his response was immediate: he picked up a canvas with a reclining figure that I had done in bold colours with a palette knife and proclaimed with absolute certainty, “If you can produce work like this, why are you bothering doing all this other stuff”.
Well actually his opinion mattered not one bit as it happened, because I still had to find my own path, as we all do. I did paint a lot more pictures in the style that he had admired, but after a while I realised that my heart was in the more figurative works and I began to develop the style that you see today. Gradually, over time, my work became recognisable as mine and best of all it started to sell! And here’s the thing, while I was selling figurative works in oil, watercolour and pastel, I never managed to sell one of the more abstract works that he had praised so highly.
All of which loosely brings me to the point of writing this blog in the first place. You see I still find it hard to stick to one particular style. I suppose I have ended up with two main styles with the occasional spin off that doesn’t really fit, but was something that I wanted to do, so I did it. My watercolours are exclusively done in the studio and they take a long time to paint. I can just about manage a 7″x5″ in a day but the larger works like “The Mens Room” can take up to a month of steady work to complete. The obvious consequence of this is that it becomes difficult to make such paintings affordable and painting them plein air is nigh on impossible. I can of course do something more sketchy outside, but I am never happy when it comes to watercolour with anything less than the quality of my studio works. On the whole though I am happy with my watercolour style and everyone seems to connect with it.
I do however enjoy getting out into the field and painting in a more direct style. My favourite paintings are most definitely impressionist. I love everything about French art of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century and the paintings that I most admire are loosely applied love affairs with paint, totally unlike my watercolours. So when I go out to paint that is how I like to work. Now I am also very happy with the results that I get when painting this way and I really enjoy the contact with the world that painting like this brings with it. But when I paint like this the results are so different from my watercolours that they could be painted by another artist entirely, which goes totally against the grain of making sure that you have one recognisable style doesn’t it? When I am painting outside, part of me wants to display a sign saying “You may see me painting like this, but I also paint like this” It’s a real quandary.
Of course when it comes down to it it’s all subjective anyway. Everybody that I talk to has a different opinion on which are my best works and what I should concentrate on. Years ago I ran a gallery in Sheffield for a while and one of the things I observed was that you never really know why anyone buys a particular painting unless they tell you. Everyone always has a personal connection with what they buy. You as the artist may have created something for a reason personal to you, but your customer buys that same work for reasons personal to them. So I soldier on creating what I feel like painting and just hoping to connect with individuals who like my work enough to want to buy it.
However at this particular moment I am trying to get things going after a long break and I would very much appreciate your feedback. Which of my styles do you prefer – the watercolours or the looser plein air works? Do you think it matters that I have two styles? Is it confusing for customers? Time alone will tell of course, but it would be nice to hear your opinions.