A couple weekends ago I went to Berkeley to experience the very thing I recently wrote about many of you experiencing as you try to figure out how to actually implement the design principles as you learn them. You know that middle ground where you logically know a concept, like design principles, but the actual implementation part is still difficult?
It doesn’t matter that for the past five years I’ve helped students in school to identify how the greatest masters of art used design in their work. It doesn’t matter that I’ve been using design principles, myself, and teaching them to scrapbookers for almost as long. I felt like many of you when I was at Flora Bowley’s art workshop, but it was a beautiful and enriching experience that I’m so excited to share with you!
I’ve had very little experience with composition and design when it comes painting, where you create every aspect of the piece yourself. With photography, the subjects are already there and it’s just a matter of arranging them through your choice of angles. With scrapbooking, the main subjects are almost always the photos themselves, and even the other pieces usually come pre-designed.
It was good to put myself back into a situation of remembering the fears you must ignore when you understand a concept in your head, but don’t have experience with the actual implementation. The best opportunities for growth come by trying new things, and Flora Bowley and the girls at the Teahouse Studio made it such an awesome and wonderful experience!
Here are a few of Flora’s recent paintings…
I love Flora’s art. Her art itself is one of the main reasons I wanted to take a class from her. But in reading about her, and in taking her two-day workshop, I found that her painting process and her teaching methods are phenomenal, no matter what your tastes in art are.
Fine Art vs. Folk Art
By definition, folk art has a purpose, whereas fine art is for the sake of the art itself. Scrapbooking is folk art. It’s purpose is personal story-telling or memory-keeping. In scrapbooking I emphasize one thing: know your story before you start. That way your design and supply choices can help you tell your story visually. This makes sense for a scrapbooker.
Painting is fine art. The artist doesn’t have to have a story or direction at the beginning, or even at the end. So in that way, Flora’s process is opposite of how I scrapbook. With Flora’s process, the point at the beginning is to get all kinds of color, texture, line-quality, shapes, lots of variation, on the canvas. In this stage there is no unity, no focal point, no visual path, no regard for where you will go with the painting. You don’t worry about what your painting is going to look like in the end, or whether you have a point or purpose with the piece. It’s very freeing!
In many ways, it’s like art journaling over and over again in multiple layers on a canvas — on the same canvas. You just keep playing and layering. As you do so, you discover techniques, textures, designs, and color combinations you like. You let those things be your inspiration for your painting as you continue to layer.
In Flora’s words:
- Let go of expectations.
- Focus on the process, not the final piece.
- Allow the painting to emerge naturally through your own process of discovery.
- Trust yourself.
Even though I believe in identifying our stories at the beginning of scrapbooking, Flora’s philosophy resonates with my philosophy of focusing on building your foundation before thinking ahead to the detailing of the embellishments: trust your foundation — the placement of your photos and the creation of lines through the anchoring pieces, and then you will have natural homes for the embellishments to come later.
I’m so used to working with my focal point first, though, that I was constantly thinking ahead to how my first stage might effect the end result, and after floundering, I finally found that Flora was right when it came to the painting — with her process, thinking too far ahead is disabling. Once I let go of that desire to plan ahead, it all came together in the most magical way!
Here’s the crazy beginning stage I had on one of my canvases, along with my attempts to plan for the end result.
By the end of the two days, I was nowhere near finished and I didn’t have a clue where I was going with this painting. Flora gave us a few last seconds to do something big on the canvas so I grabbed a brush, put some blue color on it and swiped it back and forth about five times. And then I thought, “Uggh!”
But I did what Flora teaches: I put it away for the night and the next morning I pulled it out so I could find something — even if it was just one thing — that I liked.
Identify What You Like. Find the Image In the Clouds
And I did find something I liked. It was the top few inches of part the canvas!
When you identify something you like on the canvas, your task is to do more of that. So I knew that would be my direction as I continued to add and layer.
Flora also says to step back and look for accidental images — much like how we see images in the clouds. As I was looking at my painting, I found this…
Doesn’t that look like a dove? It did to me.
After I got my painting home I worked with those two things: the top three inches and the dove, and started working with them to bring them out around my painting. I was timid at first, afraid to touch the dove. In fact, I toyed with letting it become a tropical fish, because I was afraid to give her a beak or change her coloring to bring more of her out! You can probably see how thinking of her as a fish influenced the other things on my painting. Do you see any octopi that grew out of my subconscious…?
I also thought back to some crazy awesome flowers I found walking around town in Berkley. I took a picture on my iPhone for future inspiration, but didn’t actually refer back to the picture when making my own. I didn’t need them to be exact replicas.
I’m not quite done with the painting, though it’s getting closer. I will be “spiraling in,” as Flora teaches, to work with abandon to achieve more of that accidental goodness that results, and I’ll be “spiraling out” to work more thoughtfully to bring balance and more unity to the painting so the eye moves around it in a more purposeful way until it feels finished.
Experiment To Find the Painting
So basically, Flora’s process is to experiment (and she teaches lots of techniques to try as you experiment) on your canvas, all the while identifying what you like and finding the images that show up by accident (or adding your own in if you don’t come across any accidental ones). As you continue to add layers, you can leave windows into the earlier layers.
The awesome thing about this workshop is that it works for any level of painter. I think there were more beginners in our class than there were experienced ones. I’m a beginner and I loved this free-form process! I plan to take her workshop again, and if you have any interest in art and paint I recommend you try it! She is such a great teacher and her paint process is accessible and so much fun! She travels around, so here is her schedule.
I can’t leave out the experience of taking a workshop at the Teahuse Studio, itself. Steph, Mati, and Tiffany of the studio were awesome hosts. They made us all feel comfortable and welcome, like friends. They accommodated my vegan diet and provided us with amazing catered lunches that were fresh and delicious! They made it easy to find a hotel within walking distance. There is a Dick Blick brick-and-mortar just down the street!
Teahouse Studio hosts regular artful workshops on writing, crafting, photography, and other topics. So if you can see yourself venturing into Berkeley (it’s a fun place to visit) you should check out the schedule! There are some fun workshops coming up!
Have you ventured out of your comfort zone recently? I can’t think of a better way to enhance your creativity and enliven your soul than to try something new!