kieferart  FAQ: Mediums, Paint, Color, Placement

"I'm all over the place with mediums, What do I paint, What colors, Where do I put it on the canvas?"

Testing out different mediums is not a bad thing. You wear different clothes for different occasions, right? Thumbing through a Dick Blick catalog is just dizzying with possibilities, so it's a pretty normal response to want to play a lot. After all, we're just tall kids. That said, particular mediums lend themselves better to certain images (and to the artist's intention behind the images). Next time you're at a gallery, notice how the medium serves the subject. Imagine any work of art you see as having been done in another medium. Would it work as well? Not sure? A good way to get a basic understanding of the use of medium is to experiment by setting up a simple, but emotional still life and represent this image using a variety of paints, pens, pencils, encaustics - whatever you're curious about using. Compare all the images. What does your gut tell you? Which medium expressed that particular emotion best? Which medium expressed your intention the best? The key is to try to use each medium in the way it was intended. If you're not sure what that is, read about it. Gamblin ( has a nice reference section on various subjects, but look everywhere - even YouTube.

If the issue is that you feel kind of "flighty", that's different. I have two very good artist friends who both have expressed "guilt" about not staying with one medium, like they were cheating on their husbands or something. Seriously, I kind of doubt it's actual "guilt" that they're feeling - more like frustration in not mastering any one of them. Or maybe they just feel a zest for all that life has to offer. Who could fault that?

Often, though, people will move on to another medium because their last work of art didn't turn out so great, thinking that using another tool will help. (Sometimes it actually does, but I think it has less to do with the medium and more to do with being stimulated.) If you want to be able to work yourself out of those confusing spots, know why you're doing it at all. If you work with an art group on a regular basis, sometimes you might find yourself comparing the level of your work with others, or maybe you feel as though you have to come up with another work of art because you know they will, or maybe you're part of an art group mostly for social reasons. It could be, too, that your life outside of that group is way too busy to be able to concentrate. Give yourself a break. Try to get in touch with your motivations and be true to them. Be conscious of why you create art, if you truly want to create art at any given time and remind yourself that creating visual art is normally a solitary, individual endeavor.

Many years ago, I had ankle surgery. For 11 years up to that point, I'd been designing and teaching stained glass. Well, ya kind of have to stand to do stained glass, so for 6 weeks I had to find something else useful to do. That's when I started using pencil, charcoal, pastels and ink in earnest. My proportioning and perspective were always off because I was looking at the surface of my pad from an angle (laying in my bed), but the visceral change in medium was exhilarating. That led to acrylics, which led to oils (which I totally fell in love with because it was so versatile and forgiving) which I use primarily to this day. You never know what's going to click, so experiment away.

Which colors to use and image placement? Those decisions will emerge from the development of your idea. If you stand at an easel thinking your idea will just flow out of the brush, you will be intensely frustrated. Think through your idea thoroughly away from the easel, envision it on the canvas completed, sketch it in a thumbnail a few times, test color in those thumbnails, test value range options. If you literally don't know how to use color, experiment until you do, take lessons and read about it. If you aren't familiar and practiced with the potential of your tools, your idea has no way of being expressed. Those tools and painting methods will have to become second nature in order for you to be able to create an image the way you envision it. It does take time to get to that point and a lot of patience with yourself. CONFESSION: In the early days, I'd get so frustrated I'd whack the edge of my canvas with my mahl. It wasn't until much, much later that I discovered things like, "No, you CANNOT get a sunset color by mixing a cool red with a cool yellow, no matter what proportions you use."  Duh.  My poor canvas. I'm sorry.  Learn the tools FIRST, then let it rip!   (I touch on "what to paint" - your subject - in my FAQ "Blank Canvas").


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