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The Importance of Experiments

Many artists experiment with art processes, subjects, and materials to make better art.

I love the way Claude Monet painted the same scenes repeatedly. Not all of his iterations turned into finished paintings, but of them informed his process. A friend and I were recently discussing Monet's many variations of paintings on a single subject. My friend is a ceramics artist and she really understands the power of experimenting within a set structure. Her bowls and cups are amazing experiments contained within similar shapes and forms. The glazes and details she uses for each vessel differ while the structure stays the same. Monet, and many famous artists past and present, use(d) a similar pattern of constrained experimentation. It's an important, behind-the-scenes part of art making.

Playing with art by making studies and using many materials and various styles to paint the same thing, is one way that artists advance their skills. You may never see the studies or playful work that comes before the masterpiece, but they are part of its success. Artists are pressured to present a unified persona to the public. By this, I mean we have to develop a brand identity. It's not very different from the way fashion designers develop a trademark style. It can feel uncomfortable to see a brand veer into a different style. For instance, what if Chanel started to market outdoor hunting apparel? While it may not have a large enthusiastic audience, it might be interesting. Art experiments are like that. They are interesting, but not well received.

I like to play with a lot of different art materials. Currently, I'm teaching myself to use gouache. It's a thick, water based paint that is a little like working in acrylic. You typically won't see these experiments on my website or social posts. They are not for sale or available to the public in any way. Some of them are successful while others are embarrassingly bad art. I'm also working on learning how to paint landscapes. Painted landscapes are a type of art that I really admire and look for when I'm purchasing art. It is difficult to reduce a large scene into a small frame (see my attempt above). So, I am making tons of miniature landscape studies. These help me to streamline my compositions and teach me about the importance of value.

Studies of whatever I have on hand. This type of practice is much more interesting than creating a color chart. Yet it works a lot like that. I learn about different colors and shapes that I would like to have in my larger work (see the peppers above). While these are just for fun and learning, I do like to offer them for sale occasionally. Purchasing an artist's study is wonderful way to get a glimpse of their process. Sometimes these are really beautiful. A friend of mine on Instagram is making really large pastel paintings and I find her studies for the paintings to be irresistible. That are snapshots of her thought process as she composes a gorgeous painting.

It isn't always obvious where the play will lead. But each experimental painting I make helps to inform my larger, more serious art. Playing helps me to gain muscle memory, visual acuity, color sense and it frees my mind. The next time you see a painting you love, take a moment to consider how the artist may have spent time experimenting and playing to get to the finished painting. It's all part of the process.

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