Only I can be me
About five years ago I was at a gallery reception for a show of some of my oil pastels. The gallery director introduced me to a regular client who was intrigued with my style and my working methods. After exchanging some pleasantries, the gentleman started to ask me some questions about my techniques. He seemed a bit surprised when I started to give him some detailed information about my materials and techniques.
After we chatted for about 20 minutes he asked me if I wasn’t afraid that someone else would be able to copy my work. It was a very flattering question but I told him that I didn’t see that as a problem. I told him that I didn’t think that anyone else could be me, or even want to be me. I had learned a long time ago that you can teach someone materials and techniques but you can never teach anyone to be an artist.
When I taught I did not hesitate to show students exactly how I achieved my results. I would bring in my own supplies and paint along with the students giving constant demonstrations. It was not my techniques, or color choices, or subject matter that made my work unique or my own, it was me. To quote Eileen Clegg, “When you begin to act on your creativity, what you find inside may be more valuable than what you produce for the external world.” There is uniqueness to every artist, to every person.
When I showed my methods to students and watched them try to duplicate it I always got a smile on my face. As they tried to use my tools I could see their creativity begin to slowly open up. Each person was creating a variation on the methods. This was not because they were trying to vary it but because they were bringing who and what they were to the methods. They were finding how these tools worked best for them and creating a variation that worked best for each one of them.
No one can really duplicate the path that my life has taken. Even if someone else experiences the same things that have shaped my life we will each see it in a different way. Where I may be fearful, another may be excited. I may be passionate while another is indifferent. As all of my experiences shape my life they also shape my art. So when I try on the colors, or styles of other artists I usually find out much. What I usually find out is what doesn’t work for me. When I do find something that does work then I also find that I have to modify it to make it work for my particular needs, hopes, and desires.
It also causes me to look deeper into myself as an artist and a person. I wonder about what drew me to the elements of another artist. I wonder why when I try to duplicate it that it may not work all that well for me. The colors, the shapes, the compositions may not be the right fit. Sometimes when I try these things on and look in the mirror I find I just don’t like the way it looks on me. This leads me to discover just a little bit more of who I am.
These two pieces are both oil pastel on panel. They are titled, "Strong Sunlight", measuring 15" X 15" and "Little Red Barn", measuring 8" X 10".