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Confidence Is Key In Art

First published Monday, 11 April 2016

My last few posts have all been getting around to one thing: Confidence. One of my favourite artists, the master watercolourist Joseph Zbukvic is quoted as saying “Trust your watercolour, and trust yourself. Lack of confidence destroys.” I increasingly agree.

Confidence in mark making is key in any medium. The bold stroke, line, mark or curve is a thing of great beauty, and, while seemingly effortless, is the hardest thing to achieve. The marks we make in our work should contribute to the feel, emotion or communication of our drawings and paintings. I refer you again to a quote from Katsushika Hokusai circa 1800 that I cited in my January post Ever the Learner “. . . by one hundred I shall perhaps truly have reached the level of the marvelous and divine. When I am one hundred and ten, each dot, each line will possess a life of its own."

Many things can knock our confidence but only one thing – continual practice can achieve it. We have to go through stages of training in our work, similar to the Scales of Training in schooling horses, and depending where we are at in those stages may dictate where our focus lies. Gradually we start to achieve confidence in one area and our focus is free to move on. This is not a straight upward line. It is more a series of steps, plateaus, leaps, set backs and falls but all is experience and experience leads to confidence.

I find that working on my drawing enhances my painting and vice versa. Working in different mediums gives me the confidence to experiment in other mediums. Life drawing, en plein air work (painting outside from life), sketchbook work, learning to look, all contribute to my work's development and my confidence. My life drawing mentor Andres Jaroslavsky described me as “confident”. Well Andres, in some things yes, but there are many strands to art, confidence can be fragile, and that confidence soon disappears if I don’t practice for a few weeks. In art there is LOTS to practice. Always. Drawing, control of various media, colour mixing, tonal balances, proportion, composition, perspective…. The list goes on and it is a mighty task to be confident in all.

And then one day there is suddenly a seed change - a seminal moment, and not one necessarily in the studio. I am more naturally a draftsman than painter. I have had to learn, read and practice at colour and application of paint. One day last summer I was fetching horses in from a summer paddock - a bit of a walk from the yard. I was leading two and following another leading two horses as well. Idly musing about the lovely shadows cast by the trees over the horses’ backs and the track surface, I suddenly realised that I was seeing and thinking of the shadows not as ‘dark’, ‘black’, ‘purple’ or ‘grey’ but ‘oh, that is a mixture of cobalt blue and vermillion’. Like learning a foreign language, you know you are getting there when you start to think in that language and there I was, confidently thinking in the language of colour. You can’t bluster or force that, and there are no shortcuts. That confidence comes from time, experience and practice. Getting it wrong (a lot) but knowing that the leaps forward are worth it in the end.

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The contents of this article or blog are not intended to amount to advice and you should not rely on any of the contents of this article or blog. Professional advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from taking any action as a result of the contents of this article or blog. Ruth Buchanan disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on any of the contents of this article or blog.

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