Personal Questions about Style and Technique

Recent 8 x 10" commission completed

Recent 8 x 10″ commission nearing completion

The man who is forever acquiring technique with the idea that sometime he may have something to express, will never have the technique of the thing he wishes to express. . . . The technique learned without a purpose is a formula which when used, knocks the life out of any ideas to which it is applied.

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit

A considerable stretch of days has elided since my last blog post.  Art history has held my focus for nearly a week now, as I’ve sought to strengthen my Advanced Placement classes during this stretch of Baroque, Rococo and Neoclassical units.  A Vincent Van Gogh biography has also kept me engaged, with attempts to rewrite stronger Post Impressionist units for my regular art history students.  All of this has been most enjoyable and restorative for me personally.

In addition to the classroom preparations, I have spent quality time in my watercolor studio.  I have posted above the last picture I took of a commission I finished last week (but forgot to photograph the completed work, which has already been delivered).  The larger 20 x 20″ composition of Hermann, Missouri I have also resumed, but so far have only some vague “blocking” to show for my efforts–large washes that don’t photograph too well at this point.

For several weeks now, I have been focussing on matters of style vs. technique.  Last week, while teaching a watercolor workshop to art educators, I realized that my objective was to help them load their “technique toolbox” so they would have a number of options to explore while experimenting with the watercolor media.  As it turned out by a show of hands, none of them considered themselves watercolorists, and they were present to give it their first serious stab.  I am always more than happy to demonstrate various techniques I have picked up over the years from my own reading, attending of workshops, and serendipitous moments.

Style is another thing.  I don’t want to say I am obsessing over this, because I don’t believe that I am.  But at this point in my life, after years of enjoying the watercolor experience, I still have no clear sense of identity, or style.  For awhile I worried that I was just illustrating, but thankfully I read enough about Edward Hopper and Andrew Wyeth to learn that critics accused them of being mere illustrators, and they themselves worried about that.  So, I no longer wonder or fret about illustrating and whether or not it labels my style.  But still, I would like to obtain a notion of what I actually am accomplishing in my watercolor output.  I want to be able to talk about it, to understand it, to be able to share some sense of vision.  For years, friends have told me that they recognize my “signature style” and that makes me laugh, because I myself cannot see it.

I love this statement from Friedrich:

The artist should not only paint what he sees before him, but also what he sees within him.  If he does not see anything within him, he should give up painting what he sees before him.

Caspar David Friedrich

I honestly cannot say that I “get” this, but I do know that I have a passion to make art, and that I want to explore watercolor further, that after all these years, I feel that I have gotten nowhere near the bottom of it, and that indeed I never will.  But I still want to dig deeper.  And as I dig, I hope to find out more about myself and what I am trying to accomplish in this enterprise.  There is no doubt something “within me” that pushes me to paint what is before me.  But that inner life, or style, is what I am still trying to understand and articulate.  In this past year, I have become much more interested in reading art history, biography and interviews with the great artists throughout history.  When I read their words, I feel that I am entering into a Great Conversation over the arts, and cannot wait to hear more.  And what makes the experience so lovely is the reality that I am not doing this to earn a grade, or another degree, or even to earn accolades as some sort of Super Teacher–I am doing this for my own enrichment and personal growth.  And I hold out hope that these great creative spirits will aid me in my own personal quest for a sense of style.

Thanks for reading.  Sorry if this meditation is wandering and incoherent.  I am still searching . . .

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

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4 Responses to “Personal Questions about Style and Technique”

  1. Bonnie Says:

    Oh…you have a style! I could pick out one of your paintings in a”line up” any day, I think. I don’t see my style either…but others tell me just what I’ve said about your art….unless I purposely set out to do something really different. I think style (and art) comes out of the heart. It’s one of the reasons art touchs people and speaks to them, not? I recently sent one of my prints to a friend, and she wrote back in an email that she felt “love and hope”. That was an encouragement to me…for that’s how I try and face life…with love and hope. (I love the painting, btw.)


    • davidtripp Says:

      What an inspiring comment, thank you! I’m getting excited the more I think over these stylistic and technical matters. It’s making painting even more fun than before.


  2. djdfr Says:

    I think our style happens in spite of ourselves. 🙂


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