Are your layers showing?

layers post

I don’t know about you, but I would love nothing more than to be able to sit down and in 1 hour create a masterpiece full of depth and significance. I often approach my faith in this way as well. Who wants to spend hours, days, or even years in God’s refining grace becoming the masterpiece He insists we are.

We want instant – well, I do anyway. Can you relate?

But instant just isn’t possible.

So much goes into the process of creating a painting as well as having a beautiful life – things that aren’t necessarily seen in the end result. Not readily, anyway. The many layers of color and texture, heartache and experience that makes up an incredible work of art takes time and persistence.

A true artist is always working the layers to develop something more beautiful than what they are looking at in that moment. Just as God is constantly refining us with lessons and daily experience, so do we as artists constantly refine our techniques to reveal the beauty that we know is possible.

My abilities are constantly developing, as are the things that I create.

I find immense joy in the process itself:

exploring different mediums

finding what works together

and yes, even making mistakes.

All of these things work together to weave a canvas of beauty in both our life and our art.

Everyone’s experiences are different, as are the tools that we will choose to use, but some rules even though quite often broken, can serve to guide the artist and seeker to success.

Here are 5 things to keep in mind while working on your project that can take you from ho-hum to a masterfully created work of art:

  1. Start with the right foundation. Building anything upon a substandard foundation can cause weaknesses in the structure of your art. You wouldn’t paint with watercolors or acrylics on printer paper because eventually the paper below would turn to mush and rip, buckle or disintegrate as you add in more and more layers.

In faith, this foundation is Jesus. Without this secure footing, our life would be unsteady, changing with every tide that washes up on our shore.

Similarly, as an artist we must choose the right foundation for the job. If you are going to create using paper, glue and heavy bodied paint, use mixed-media paper or a heavyweight watercolor paper 240lbs and up. This will hold up to the gluing, painting, and anything else that you want to throw at it. On the other hand, if you simply plan to sketch and color with pencils or charcoal, a much thinner paper will suit that process just fine, although Bristol paper or others made specifically for graphite pencils and pastels will give you a much nicer surface for blending. Research the type of mediums you plan to use.

There are many product sites that will offer suggestions on how to use their products.  I’ve found that this is the best place to look for advice. They want you to succeed, so giving the proper information is vital. There are also many artists who offer great tutorials on the use of various mediums. They are more likely to think outside the box when it comes to creative uses for products. But always remember that their experience might not end up being yours. By all means take their advice, but explore on your own. Who knows, you may end up creating your own tutorials from the experiences.

  1. Use color creatively.

I love to use a wide array of colors in my work…and then sometimes not. Building up separate layers of cool and warm colors sounds like it would become quite busy – and it does. But as the layers build upon each other, something magical happens in the interaction of strokes and color. They begin to hold hands companionably and although the busyness that occurs can be a bit much, something is created within these layers that cannot be made any other way.

Then there are those times that limiting your color palette to a few, and even one color can yield impressive results. Some of my favorite paintings were created simply using one basic color, black and white. Try it! Often, the process of limiting colors will get you to think more creatively about how to use them.

  1. Be transparent.

If you are always using opaque mediums, you will never have the opportunity to show the beauty of what is beneath the surface. There are many beautiful colors that will give an almost sheer view of what is underneath, yet enhances what might otherwise fall flat. I love the transparent colors that Golden Fluid Artist Colors makes – particularly Nickle Azul Gold, which is a dirty gold hue.  While it’s certainly not the cheapest paint I’ve ever purchased, a small amount washed over a surface of various layers can change the whole feel of a painting, giving depth of color and tone.

Similarly, when we are transparent in life, especially with the dirt of our past, its overlying effect can be glorious. Hiding everything under a mask of perfection will just make us look flat and one dimensional. But if those hurts and failures are covered in gold, even if the gold is dirty, it gives depth and meaning to an otherwise bleak existence.

  1. Don’t forget definition.

Unless you are creating a washy abstract, defining areas in your piece will help to give it a focus. The layers you spend time building will create the depth that you need, to give the impression that there is more to it than meets the eye. But without a focus, somewhere for your eye to rest, the observer will have a hard time figuring out what it all means.

If all you show people are the painful experiences of your past without defining what those experiences have created, it will simply look like a dirty mess.

Even pictures without a definable object have meaning. Sometimes it is the color, or lack of it that will tell you what the artist is trying to say; the story behind the art. In that instance, the color is carefully chosen for a specific purpose, it is placed right where the creator wants it in order to have the greatest effect on the observer, and to create the most profound beauty. We see this not only in art, but also in how God defines our visible selves. We are far from perfect, but even the imperfect places color us with salt and light that shines and flavors the world around us. It is the mistakes we make that allows us to have better perspective.  I don’t want to be defined by my choices or mistakes for sure, but if they can be used to make my future self, more beautiful, I am all for it!

  1. Finish well.

Completing a picture, or even knowing when it is done, can be one of the most difficult parts of our creative projects. Unlike our lives where we aren’t done developing that canvas until we have gone to be with our Savior, a painting at some point needs to be completed in order for the rest of the world around us to appreciate it.

But it’s the knowing when that stumps us.

Sometimes you just know when it’s done, and other times we simply have to let it go. And that is a different kind of knowing.

Knowing when enough is enough.

Knowing when things are getting muddy and we need to just walk away before things get ugly.

Knowing when our piece has reached maximum impact, and even though it’s not perfect, we allow the imperfections to speak a whole new story.

The point really is to finish the race, both in life, and in art. Create something that will impact and change the world around you. And when it is done, there will be a beautiful picture of your accomplishments both creative and experiential.

Remember: Each day is a canvas of possibility.

Create something beautiful!

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