Painting Outside the Lines

FoxgloveWeb

This is a foxglove growing next to my studio. It is not what one normally thinks of when one thinks of foxglove. That tall, spiky flower to the left is what we expect, not this strange frilly cup. I assume what we’re looking at is a mutation. (Any botanists reading this feel free to step in with an informed opinion.) But it really seems to me as if nature is painting outside the lines.

As a representational artist, this concept brings about an involuntary twitch. However, if I stop and think about it, (breathe, calm down, it’s just a flower) it’s kind of inspiring. After all, if Mother Nature can do the unexpected, why can’t I?

In a workshop with the wonderful Dan Santat, he lamented the fact that so many artists paint the sky blue (mea culpa). He suggested orange, or purple, or green, if that’s what the painting needs. The minor disclaimer here is that he was specifically referring to children’s illustration, but I think the concept can apply elsewhere.

I recently read ‘Grave Mercy‘ by Robin LaFevers. About a quarter of the way through, I almost stopped reading. It felt like a very predictable plot-line unfolding. The friend who recommended the book said, “Just keep reading”. I’m glad I did. Everything I expected to happen, did happen. Just not in the way I expected it to. Ms. LaFevers was painting outside the lines.

I’m currently working on some art that is interesting in the concept stage, but it’s not right yet. That’s because I haven’t taken it far enough. I’m still too close to what one would expect.

For some of us, it’s a difficult thing to do – paint the sky green, write a likable villain. But it’s where our best work can come from. How do you take things beyond expectations? Do you exceed pre-defined borders in your art? Tell me why. Send me links.

Let’s enjoy the view from the edge of too far.

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