I have been considering a question for quite some time and decided to post about it. Often, when I share my thoughts and am in need of an answer, one comes to me as I verbalize with others or write about the question. Today’s question concerns artistic mediums and whether or not an artist should chose one and stick with it indefinitely or explore multiple mediums over time. The reason I bring it up is that I wonder if people liked my early watercolors better than they like my current acrylics. It seems like watercolor sales were better in past years than acrylic sales are currently. Maybe it has nothing to do with mediums at all–maybe it’s more about the economy, the audience, the subject matter or other as yet unidentified factors.
Historically, I’ve “dabbled” in many forms of arts and crafts during my lifetime–coloring on the pump house at age 2, and moving on to painting, calligraphy, drawing, stained glass, sewing, quilting, knitting, crocheting, and others. In college, I filled my needed elective units with classes in watercolor, oils, acrylics, and fiber arts. Then I didn’t paint at all between 1968 and 2000 but at the turn of the century, I signed up for an adult education watercolor class. I started painting again then, loved it, and continued with watercolor for several years. I still consider it my “drug of choice”.
By the time I opened the gallery in 2011, I had added collage and mixed media to my watercolors.
So, why did I change mediums over time? Partly to explore and learn more about acrylics and partly because they are usually done on canvases or wood panels rather than on watercolor paper under glass. This makes them less difficult to present and travel with and less expensive to create.Sometimes a large acrylic can be priced lower than a large watercolor. I’ve always enjoyed experimenting with new materials and techniques and exposure to a new medium can lead to enjoyment as well as artistic growth. Working in a new medium can be very inspirational and exciting and can bring new insights gained through the new materials and techniques used with them. In addition, acrylics are a lot more “forgiving” than watercolors and collage works especially well with acrylics. Plus, I like a challenge. I know I can be successful with watercolors, but I felt like I was doing them on “automatic pilot” and just doing what I knew I could do well and what people seemed to like best. Sometimes we keep using symbols, materials, and techniques again and again, rather mindlessly, because we know they work. Using a new medium (or technique, or symbol) can bring us back to a more thoughtful level of awareness because we aren’t as familiar or comfortable with them.
I did some research on why other artists change mediums and they often mention the same reasons and other ones which are logistic, physical, emotional, age-related etc. I read an article by Matt Fussell in “The Virtual Instructor” (November 9, 2014) called “It’s Time to Try a New Medium”. One part of the article really resonated with me: “Your artistic voice is found in your message, not in the medium that you use. When you expose yourself to other mediums, you may find that you actually have a lot more to say.”
Your artistic voice is found in your message, not your medium. If this is true, and I believe it is, my work should be identifiable whether it’s a watercolor, an acrylic, a collage, a quilt, a drawing, or a piece of wearable art. As long as I let my normal “style” or “voice” prevail, people should recognize and appreciate my work (if it is also THEIR preferred style) no matter what medium I am using.
So the next thing to consider is this: What are the features that make my art identifiable as my own? What is the message that I want to send, regardless of the medium used? My list is below and I’m hoping that some of you will help me add to this list in your comments on this post. I think my art is easily identified due to these factors, more so in the best examples of my work:
- My use of vivid, clear colors and strong shapes in a bold, fearless way
- My failure to use earth tones, grayed tones, or muddy colors
- My use of strong value contrasts–dark darks against light lights
- My non-traditional approach to design: quirky compositions, often abstract, all with evidence of a good understanding and application of the principles and elements of design
- My inclination toward non-traditional choice and use of subject matter
- My love of using letters and words in my paintings
- My love of mixed media, layered applications, and modular, quilt-like organizational plans
- My paintings lean toward being illustrational, some more than others
- My paintings rely heavily on texture, pattern, and line
- My love of painting and passion for painting colorful, joyful paintings
This blogpost may not be meaningful to you, as readers, but it has been a very helpful reflection for me, as the writer. It is a subject I will explore again and I hope you will comment and add your thoughts on the subject of “The Medium or the Message” and when and why YOU change mediums, if you do.