Variation By Subject

6 Aug 2014
Emma Twice, 2009, oil on canvas, 48"x48" by Daniel Maidman.

Emma Twice, 2009, oil on canvas, 48 x 48.
All works by Daniel Maidman.


Over my past posts, we've been discussing shocks to the system as a way of avoiding growing complacent and thoughtless in your art. I shared two of my own tricks—varying my mark-making, and varying my media. But there is another, broader trick I use: varying my subject.

I'm not going to lie to you. My favorite thing in the world is painting nudes. But just because I like doing it doesn't mean it's good for me to do it all the time. Over the past couple of years, I've been working on expanding my oil painting subject matter. Each topic I tackle has forced me to see freshly—to study my subject with new eyes, to evaluate my media with new goals, to refine my vision to make something worthwhile from my new subject.

I have been working on a series of paintings of heavy industrial parts. I decided to restrict my palette to white, blue, gray, and black paint, and to work silver leaf into my compositions.

I've also been working with photographs of pond water taken through a microscope to make paintings of the microscopic life that surrounds us. I took a crack at cityscapes, and I've also been messing around with paintings of animals and flowers.

Industrial Object #1, 2011, silver leaf and oil on canvas, 36 x 36. Microbiota #1, 2011, oil on canvas, 24 x 30. Jade Street, 2011, oil on canvas, 30 x 24.
Industrial Object #1, 2011,
silver leaf and oil on canvas,
36 x 36.
Microbiota #1,
2011, oil on canvas,
24 x 30.
Jade Street,
2011, oil on canvas,
30 x 24.

I learned two things from these explorations:

1. I was worried that if I painted different subjects, my oil paintings wouldn't look like "me"—like my work. But I think that no matter where I look, my own personality influences how I see. No matter how diverse the subjects, when I look at my paintings, they look like my paintings. That's pleasing to know, isn't it?

2. Once again, shocking my system brought new insights and a fresh approach to my "ordinary" work—figurative nudes.

Blue Leah #2, 2011, oil on canvas, 24 x 36.
Blue Leah #2, 2011, oil on canvas, 24 x 36.
Life is long and the world is full of interesting things. Trying something new is a risk—it could always turn out to be a waste of time—but I think it's better to see it as an investment. You can bank on what you already know you can do, or you can sink your artistic "savings" of talent and skill into new ventures. The minute you "get good," I encourage you to start considering something you're not good at yet, and work on that.

--Daniel


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