Saturday, December 27, 2014

"Finding Beauty"

"Everything that is beautiful is not always pretty.” This is one of the little reminders that I carry with me always as I am searching for good subjects to paint. It’s an all too easy mistake to assume that if an object or scene is not immediately captivating or visually pleasing, then it is unworthy to be painted - that there is no “art” there. This is far from the case. In truth, sometimes the most scenically perfect places may offer more to a photographer than to a painter who’s real task is to interpret - not just imitate or illustrate - what is seen. More to the point, we try to express the feelings we have based on what we see. There are paintings just as fantastic to be had from the most humble and commonplace objects on your kitchen table, to the most bleak industrial landscape, to the most glorious mountain or seaside vista. It’s all in how you choose to see them. As painters, most of us have heard the saying, “There are no bad subjects, only bad paintings”. And while that may not be off the mark, I’m actually saying something a bit different. I’m suggesting that it is not the subjects we see that are beautiful or not - rather the beauty is in how we interpret what we see, and in how we learn to look in the first place. It’s fantastic to be able to travel to exotic and far away places in search of inspiration for paintings (and I wouldn’t turn down many opportunities to do so!). But it’s good to remember also that it is not just a simple matter of a beautiful sight being “inspiring”, it is the artist that has to see - and more importantly feel - that inspiration. Then we must “find the art” in that scene and convey the story - the compelling idea or feeling that we have had - to the viewer in our work. What is truly beautiful to me in any given painting can be found not so much in the specific object or scene the artist has depicted, as in the vision and feeling displayed in the interpretation of that sight. So in a very real sense, it is not simply an amazing sight that bestows inspiration upon us, but rather the other way around. We find the inspiration within ourselves to be able to react to that scene as an artist might. We then set about shaping that reaction - that feeling of inspiration - into the work of art to result. That process is truly beautiful to me. I often ask my classes to try not to paint the subject of their paintings so much as to try to paint the light that illuminates and gives them life. Thoughts of, ideas about, and reactions to the vast array of the effects of light are consistently what causes that sense of inspiration to rise within me. I try to see the world in patterns - compositions - of dark and light. And using my case just as an example, when we can begin to look at the world around us in a different way - realizing that we are the architects of our own inspiration - then literally, good paintings can be found anywhere. Outstanding works of art are all around us, everywhere, always - just waiting to be discovered. There is very little of the real world depicted in my quick painting “Industrial Landscape in Green" that could be described as actually “beautiful” in any classic sense. Much of the painting shows little more than forgotten objects in a state of decay on a gloomy afternoon. But it was in the pattern of lights and darks, and in the almost abstract juxtaposition of forms that I found inspiration and real beauty.


  1. I love your work and check your website almost daily to see if you have posted more. Your work has become a model for my own. I'm a new painter having only started learning less than six months ago. Most of my class are doing what I think of as photographic painting. I thought that if I wanted a photo I could google one. But your understanding of the beauty being in the interpretation of the ordinary and common place as well as the spectacular is something that really works for me and something I observed while watching water colourists at work - they managed to turn what I thought of as a ho-hum scene into a work of beauty. As you have in the scene above. I love it.

    I also especially love the painting you have for the header to your blog. And please keep this blog going as I prefer blogs to Facebook.

  2. Thank you so very much Harriet - I'm very moved by what you say.
    It's all a process - no less so for me than any other. Each painting is a new adventure:))

    Blogs seem to be trailing off a bit in popularity - but I will continue posting here as else where - for those who still care to read and think as well as look.

    Many thanks - and Happy New Year!! Tom

  3. BTW Harriet - I'm a bit lax at keeping my website up to date. Too much travel - not enough time - But much more work from this past year will be added soon

  4. Well put Tom. It's so easy to waste time looking for subjects to paint. I often paint alongside a good friend on Sunday mornings where one of us drives to wherever they want, the passenger has no say in where we go. Sometimes you aren't keen on the location but find once you get painting, and you have to find something, it's often one of the better ones.

    1. i love that idea colin! in my classes, i'll sometimes take my groups outside - ask them to choose a subject - tell tell them to turn 180 degrees - and paint that - whatever it may be!! some aren't too happy - but so often amazing things happen ! cheers, tom