Creating a Body of Work

I was talking with the artists in my last workshop, and the questions came up:

“How do artists get all their work to look the same?”

And “How can I get my work to look like that?”

Of course, what we were referencing was the creating of a body of work; and the question being posed pinpointed the issue we have as students of art, which addresses our love of experimentation in the classroom, and then, I think, the lack of follow through in our home studios.

In the classroom, you see, it is a requirement to experiment. You will never learn or stretch enough as an artist if you don’t experiment. But it’s a delicate balance between experimenting and going deeper into your work.

At some point, it would behoove us to leave the road of experimentation and find the more singular path to ourselves, toward our own voice. We need to apply our experiments and move more deeply into those techniques which excite us. Our voice will emerge in the process and our work will begin to hang together.

So the real question is, “How do I move out of experimentation and into creating a body of work?”.

For the answer, I’ll make a nerdy left-brained list of the process of moving into a body of work:

Phase 1:

  • Try out different mediums (different art forms). This is the phase where you get to medium-hop.
  • Settle on a medium that you like (you like encaustic painting? Good choice!). Stop hopping.

Phase 2:

  • Experiment within that medium. Apply all that knowledge you have gathered from hopping around, and try out every technique within your new specialty.
  • Zero in on techniques that resonate with you, and stay with those techniques for a while. This is where you start to limit yourself, hedge in a boundary and play within it.
  • Push these techniques even deeper, getting more personal with them, letting them lead you to new discoveries.

Phase 3:

  • Apply your discoveries to a Subject of your choosing.
    • In school, art students have the luxury of having the instructor set themes for them to work within, like say, “Metamorphosis”. Then the student would think of a subject that defined that theme for them personally. Eventually, the student created their own themes, just from working long enough under the guidance of caring instructors. But you can do this completely on your own, with some thought, some meditation and some diligence.
  • Choose a subject you find interesting. Then look more deeply that subject and apply it to yourself and your life.
  • Stay with the subject you pick for a period of time, long enough to make a series of work.
  • This then is your body of work.

For instance, choosing a subject like “Botanicals” might lead you to look more deeply into Leaf structures, which makes you think about patterns. You then might apply your look at Patterns in nature to a look at Sidewalk patterns all around you. Thinking about “Things that fly”, which is a random subject, might lead you to make a series on how you would look if you were to fly, or what you might see; which might lead you to what you would see as a fly on the wall. “Entomology” might lead you to look into the leg attachments of beetles, which might lead you to what else in nature attaches in that way, making connections between subjects, and on and on, with you always bringing your subject under scrutiny, moving deeper into a more personal realm of investigation.

By following these steps, and moving from phase to phase, you will find yourself moving more deeply into your unique voice, into areas of yourself that you never knew you had. I bet you’ll find healing there, as well as some fun!

So let go in your experimentation and begin the dance toward your own body of work.

In short: Experiment > grab hold of technique > grab hold of a subject > let loose into the realms of yourself.

So when do you start showing work in galleries?

My encaustic students, I would say, fall in Phase 2, with experimentation within wax being the calling for the day. Artists in Phase 1 will bounce in and out of class, or only come once. I know they landed somewhere else. But I also know that if my Phase 2 artists stay in class long enough, they will probably move into Phase 3. This is the phase where I would expect them to create a home studio, and begin sending their work off to galleries. In college we were taught adamantly that you never show your student work in galleries. We were expected not to show our work until the ideas we were generating were our own, and this, after we had mastered our chosen medium, and conquered a set of self-defined techniques.

The interesting thing is that we are, as artists, scattered across this playful grid of experimentation, each of us in different phases, yet working side by side in the classroom. So enjoy where you are at on your path, keeping your eye on the horizon- your future path- looking to where your work may take you; or better yet, where you may take your work.

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About Linda Lenart McNulty

I am an artist with a spirit to share, inspire and heal others through my work, which is currently exploring the Awakening of the Santos Cage figurative form in sculpture and intaglio painting. My quest is to channel art through Spirit, while bringing others into connection with their creative selves, using the joy of life, the gift of color and the discovery of form as vehicles to expression. Find me at: lindalenartmcnulty.com
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