Jerry Lebo, 2007Well, I have come to the end of my latest series, which I am calling "Bite Me". "Cherry Pop-Tart" is the final of these paintings (a series of six small paintings) that I have undertaken over the last few weeks. If you missed any of them, look at my previous postings or click on the "Gallery of Paintings" link on the right of my blog. I will be posting "Oreos", "Snickers Bar" and the Pop-Tart painting on Ebay for sale in a few days, if you are interested in a purchase. I really enjoyed doing this series, and it has gotten me thinking about whether there is any benefit to painting in a series--or working on multiple paintings at once. I think the answer, at least for me, is "yes".
The first advantage--which definitely came out in the "Bite Me" series, was that working on a series allows you to "feed" off of your own work. While I was painting this series, I kept the others around the easel to give me information and ideas that might inform the painting I was working on. For example, there was a point where I felt I was struggling on the Oreos painting a bit. It was nice to be able to go back to the sense of light and marks of the "Fig Newtons" painting, which allowed me to think about how I might introduce something similar in the Oreos painting. Of course, the Oreo painting is different in that the tonal range is much narrower--but just having the Fig Newton painting nearby as a reference allowed me to think about simplifying the marks and sense of light in Oreos--and help me make a much more interesting painting. Several times when doing these series, when a part of one (say, the background) was not working well, I could go back to the others and see if there was something I could draw on.
I think most painters, at least those who have the time, will work on more than one painting at once. For instance, one of the most common reasons I see artist working on multiple paintings, is that it keeps them from having to continue to struggle with a particular painting that is not going well. Then they can come back to the problem painting later. But, I think that even those painters who are "time-constrained" can benefit from this approach. For instance, if you just hang four or five paintings around your studio and work on each one for a set time, say, 30 minutes (or sixty) and then move onto the next one--I think you will see a benefit. The first thing that will happen is that it will reduce the time you spend painting "in circles"--which can happen if you have a lot of time with one painting. But, perhaps more importantly, if you know that you only have 30 mins. with a painting--you will be much more decisive in your painting. You cannot paint all the details if you only have 30 mins--you will need to see the overall big changes that need to be made to bring it towards completion--and make these first. Try it sometime. Try even shorter periods of time--say, 15 minutes--if you only have sixty minutes in the studio--this will allow you to work on four paintings at a time.
The other benefit of working in a series is that it forces you to focus on what you are trying to achieve in your work--and to develop that particular element. Progress in painting is very slow, so if you can achieve one small thing in a series of paintings--that is progress. If you paint many individual paintings--it is hard to see what you are achieving or what to focus on. Running from still life to landscape to figure painting, can lead you no where. How can you find a thread or consistent vocabulary when your work jumps from one genre to the next? On the other hand, if you plan to do 10-20 landscape paintings in a series, working on the same subject or location, will force you to consider both the elements of what you are seeing in more detail--but perhaps more important, what you are trying to achieve. You cannot paint twenty paintings of the same subject without seriously considering your painting vocabulary and what you are trying to say.
So, I am a great believer in painting on many paintings at the same time. If you only have a short time in the studio, the same effect can be achieved by working in series or on multiple paintings at once. I plan to apply this approach in my next period of work--which will be a series of landscapes of the southwest--based on my recent trip to Santa Fe. Although, I will be traveling for work over the next few weeks--so I am not sure how far I will get. I will need to be flexible to keep up my sixty minutes a day while traveling.
In the end, one of my goals in doing six paintings in series was to try to bring them all together in a more cohesive statement of work--which was both a challenge and fun. I hope you have enjoyed and have gotten something from my postings around this series.
All the best, sixtyminuteartist.