Monday, February 23, 2009

What's the Big Idea?

My canvas has been prepared. It's now ready for paint. But what to paint?

It is this part of the process that can often be the most frustrating and the most enjoyable — creating a concept.

I've occasionally been asked; From where do I obtain ideas for my paintings? There is no simple answer for this. As a generalization, most of my concepts are inspired by experiences in the field. They are often the end result of combining field studies, photographic reference and sketches to create romanticized versions of the experiences I've had while exploring the vast wilds of North America.

Unfortunately, the ideas sometimes don't come as easily as that explanation might lead one to believe. For me, good art must go beyond subject matter. It should also represent the artist. It must not only communicate the artist's conceptual intentions, but must also give the viewer a glimpse into the artist's personality. The subtleties of brush work, color usage, design, etc., are all important attributes of a painting that help to define the artist. It's for this reason that I'm not interested in creating photorealistic work. Although photorealism demonstrates a great capacity for draftsmanship, I feel it also often renders the artist right out of their own work — reducing the uniqueness of their paintings to literal (and frequently, generic) representations of the artist's photographic reference.

This is partly why the 'Big Ideas' can be hard to come by. I'm not personally interested in just reproducing photos I’ve taken. My process begins with rough sketches (thumbnail drawings) that flesh out the idea. I often complete dozens of these thumbnails, especially when my intention is to create a complex composition, and I then look to my reference to help me bring the concept to life. Even though it is an experience that may inspire a painting, there is much more work to be done to create a painting that might be considered art — and more importantly, art that is uniquely my own. That is what I hope to do with this first canvas in my new series of works.

So, what is going to be my 'Big Idea'? I don't yet have an answer. It may take me a while to create a concept I know will keep me motivated throughout the painting process, which is especially important when doing a piece this large. But once I have it, I'll certainly post it here.


  1. Beautifully written, Dustin. I'm anxious to see your next Big Idea.

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