Reflections on Creating an Artistic Body of Work

Inkhead by Patricia Watwood, 2009, oil on canvas, 29 x 16. Dorothy by Patricia Watwood, 2010, oil on canvas, 14 x 14. Anakin Padawan, 2009, oil on canvas, 44 x 28.
Inkhead, 2009,
oil on canvas, 29 x 16.
Dorothy, 2010,
oil on canvas, 14 x 14.
Anakin Padawan, 2009,
oil on canvas, 44 x 28.

I have blogged previously about preparing for my exhibit, “Myths and Individuals.” I worked on the paintings, and planned this show for almost three years, so needless to say, I was just a little bit excited when the big moment arrived.

I had the “out of town opening” in St. Louis, at the St. Louis University Museum of Art. I included over 30 oil paintings and 6 drawings on view.

In reflecting on what I have learned through this journey, there are two takeaways that I want to share with you.

First: “If you build it, they will come.” This reflects the principle that in working toward a goal, sometimes you have to build it first, and then the opportunity will fall into place. I have been envisioning my goal of a large show in a New York venue for a long time. Three years ago, that goal seemed elusive, but I began to create the work anyway and trusted that the road would rise up to meet me. When the opportunity came, last year, I was already well underway to having the body of work I needed to have the exhibit at Forbes. In the words of Dorothea Brande, “Act boldly and unseen forces will come to your aid.”

Waiting for Supper, 2010 oil on canvas, 18 x 35.
Waiting for Supper, 2010
oil on canvas, 18 x 35.

The second lesson: Consider your artwork as a whole—what are the large themes, the connections, and the persistent vision you are expressing? My work is almost all figurative, but sometimes it is mythological, sometimes there are portraits, and sometimes simple figures. I needed to reflect on the whole group and see what common themes they shared. I had to think back to the very first ideas I had in creating a composition, and consider what the original motivations were. Then I began to see similarities and connections in intent and philosophy between paintings, and see the common threads that had been there all the time.

Oftentimes young artists are given the impression that the artist must start with a vision, the grand theme, and then you find the tools to express your big idea. I’ve come to another conclusion through my personal journey. The artist excavates the vision out of one’s body of work, out of the long process of becoming the artist and creating the work. Like a refiner’s fire, the artistic process clarifies the vision, and shapes the artist.

So, take a group of your paintings or drawings, and consider them all together to see the underlying themes in your own work. Make notes of your strongest impressions, or even write a couple sentences about each picture, asking yourself “Why did I make this painting?” and “What am I trying to express?” Even if your notes are more word association than sentences, you will see themes emerge. You could also gather a few trusted artist friends, and do this together.

Next, you can ask yourself, “Is this what I wanted to do?” And, moving forward with your artwork, you will have more ability to consider how you shape the underlying themes you express in your work.

–Patricia

For more painting instruction from Patricia, check out her latest DVD, Figure Painting: Realistic Skin Tone.

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Patricia Watwood

About Patricia Watwood

Patricia Watwood has studied painting with Jacob Collins at the Water Street Atelier, and also with Ted Seth Jacobs at Ecole Albert Defois. She earned her MFA with honors from New York Academy of Art.

Watwood paints nudes, figures, portraits and still lifes in the classical tradition. Her paintings draw on allegorical, mythological, and narrative themes. She continues the classical pursuits of representational painting, with an eye on the contemporary world. The recurring theme in her paintings is the spiritual human presence. Watwood states, “Formal training is the indispensable underpinning of my practice. I seek to follow and build upon the artistic intelligence and traditions of the past, and bring them anew to my own generation.”

Watwood has exhibited in group and solo shows in New York, Paris, Houston, San Francisco and Long Island.  Her work is represented by John Pence Gallery in San Francisco. Her figurative paintings have been included in several museum shows, including “Enchantment” at the Hartford Art School, “Slow Painting,” at the Oglethorpe Museum; “The Great American Nude,” at the Bruce Museum of Arts and Sciences; and in “Representing Representation VI,” at the Arnot Museum. Her work has been featured in numerous art publications including International Artist, and a recent cover article in American Artist magazine.
 
Watwood also does portrait commissions, and is represented by Portraits, Inc.  Her recent projects include a portraits for Harvard University, Kennedy School of Government, and the former Mayor of St. Louis, for St. Louis City Hall.  Watwood is currently teaching at the New York Academy of Art, and at the Teaching Studios of Art in Brooklyn. 

Watwood and her husband and two daughters live in Brooklyn, New York.

4 thoughts on “Reflections on Creating an Artistic Body of Work

  1. A very insightful article here, lots of tips and inspirational fodder to keep us young artists going.

    I myself am a developing artist, and it is often a struggle to not dispose of a piece of artwork or a project simply because it wasn’t working how I planned. It’s not always a means to an end, in fact the whole artistic process is one learning curve. ‘Considering your artwork as a whole’ is a great philosophy. Perhaps in a month, a year, or ten years time, those scraps and half-painted canvases could be our new exhibition masterpieces!

    Keep up the great writing!

    Chloe Waterfield
    http://www.canidaeart.com
    Journeys into Nature

  2. This is wonderful work Patricia. You may view your big step as the road rising up to meet you, but you’ve overlooked the obvious. Your work is excellent, well-executed, consistent, and demonstrates your skill and proficiency. Yes we can act boldly, but if the work does not stand on it’s own merits and reflect quality, no one, no unseen force will come to your aid. Thanks for the lesson – Do it big and do it well. Congratulations on doing both of them exceptionally.

  3. Thank you for your comment about an artist’s vision unfolding.

    “The artist excavates the vision out of one’s body of work, out of the long process of becoming the artist and creating the work. Like a refiner’s fire, the artistic process clarifies the vision, and shapes the artist.”

    I really needed to hear this. I frequently find myself getting stuck before I even start. Your words are very profound.

  4. Great article !! Shows hot hard work and guts can pay off and I especially loved the idea :
    So, take a group of your paintings or drawings, and consider them all together to see the underlying themes in your own work. Make notes of your strongest impressions, or even write a couple sentences about each picture, asking yourself “Why did I make this painting?” and “What am I trying to express?” Even if your notes are more word association than sentences, you will see themes emerge. You could also gather a few trusted artist friends, and do this together.

    I often wondering what I am trying to say. Sounds like a good excercise.

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