Joyce Hicks has always been able to visualize places and things in a very idealistic way, but it wasn’t until she discovered painting that she was able to express this personal view of the world. Travel helped her see and define what her heart was drawn to; not in the grand or extraordinary but in simple unassuming beauty. Painting gave her the opportunity to unite visual images with a montage of personal memories stored over my lifetime. This approach to painting has earned Joyce dozens of awards and Signature Member status in the American Watercolor Society. Learn more about her three excellent video workshops here.
Could you walk us through your process? What are your goals for each stage in it?
I created a personal painting process for myself very early on in my journey to becoming an artist. My process consists of 4 simple steps that I still follow before starting any final painting. (1) First I find my landscape inspiration in the most ordinary and unexpected places. I am inspired by subjects that are able to evoke strong emotional and visual responses within me. (2) With a small sketchbook in hand, I mentally define what it is about the scene that most attracts me as well as how I felt about it at the moment of inspiration. I transfer my thoughts and feelings into my sketchbook before creating a small sketch to determine composition and value. (3) Once I am satisfied with the sketch I have developed I use it as a guide for painting small color studies. I do as many as necessary until I am pleased with the results. (4) By following these step and getting potential problems behind me I can finally step up to a large sheet of watercolor paper with the kind of confidence needed to create a work of art.
Why is it important to find a process that works for you as an artist? What does a repeated process give a painter that doing it differently every time wouldn't?
We can usually get pretty good at the kind of things we do often, but will, most likely, remain mediocre at things we seldom do. The repetitive actions we do in our every-day life often become so familiar that they can eventually be done in a spontaneous way without a lot of how-to technical thinking. When an artistic process becomes built into our subconscious then we can execute the technical aspects of painting in an intuitive way allowing us to reach that special place that resides within each of us; a place where our creative spirit resides. Once you reach this level of mastery with your chosen medium then your true signature style will begin to emerge.
What kind of decisions are you making from a composition and design standpoint in your landscape paintings before you begin? Could you give us a few examples of the kind of choices you’re making?
Even though I thought painting could be a way to express the joy I was feeling for the landscape my work remained bland and uninspiring. After several years of dedication and hard work, it dawned on me that the artists whose work I admired obviously knew something about making quality art that I didn’t know. I felt disappointed in my artistic progress and wanted to be able to paint and share the joy I was finding in the landscape. Why were some artists able to express their message so beautifully while others could not? What I soon learned was there’s a lot more to creating art than merely applying paint to paper! I luckily stumbled upon the words and teachings of Edgar Whitney and the role he played in bringing back the importance of the time-honored Principles and Elements of Design. From that point on I became passionate about learning and using the power of these concepts and it wasn’t long before my work began to earn recognition and major awards. Once you can make artistic decisions based on the strength of the knowledge you have for the Principles and Elements of Design your choices for creating great art will be in proportion to your understanding and the spirit of your own unique creativity!
Why is it important to simplify in watercolor? What challenges do artists face if they try and put everything in?
The old adage of “less is more” could not be more applicable than it is when creating a work of art. It is important to remember that your subject’s power and importance is diluted when competing with too many irrelevant parts and pieces.
Along those same lines, if a student is facing a reference photo or a real-life scene, from a composition standpoint, how does one simplify that busy scene?
When you are trying to decide whether an object, element or shape should stay in your final composition ask yourself this question: Does it contribute to the message or theme of your painting? If your answer is no then leave it out.
Color: How do you approach color so that your work can be energetic without being overwhelming or busy? What’s important to decide about color before you begin a painting?
One of the most powerful ways an artist can communicate is with the use of color. Color offers huge diversity when used to create works of art. It has the ability to evoke a wide range of emotions within the viewers to make them feel happy, sad, excited or somber. Make value and temperature changes as you paint to create energy and visual interest and at the same time, remember that such decisions must be based on where a particular shape resides in the landscape and its relationship to the other values and temperatures it accompanies. Color is an irreplaceable ingredient for making grand statements and once you begin to fully understand the power of color, it can be the path to your own signature style!
What is the danger of painting things? How does someone work to move beyond painting things? What will that give someone as a painter?
Don’t paint things. Paint shapes and relationships instead! Think of a brick wall and your brain will see all the bricks. Think of a tree and your brain will imagine a million leaves. If you imagine the tree’s trunk your brain will see its bark. Thinking of “things” is what leads to information overload in our paintings. Some artists overcome distracting detail by squinting their eyes. My method is a bit different but it accomplishes the same outcome and has contributed greatly to the success of my work. Practice this new way of seeing elements in the landscape as shapes minus all the detail and before long you will begin to understand the value of the concept.
What is the biggest challenge you see your students facing, what advice do you have for them? (If it’s color, in that I already asked about that, could you speak to something else like design, composition, or paint handling, etc? I can change the question to reflect that.)
One of the most important skills an artist can develop is the ability to see and simplify subject matter. Sometimes in our excitement for a beautiful scene, we want to paint immediately and begin mindlessly covering the paper with too much unnecessary clutter and detail. The purpose of our painting should not be to act as a human camera recording everything in a photographic way but to translate the character and essence of the place in simple terms. I have always remembered these words I read long ago; “a painting isn’t good because it looks like something, it’s good because it feels like something.”
What does a reference photo need to have to make a good painting? How does one use a mediocre reference photo to make a good painting? Or can they?
I never paint from my photos and don’t recommend doing so to my students. However, I take many photos of the subjects I see and use them strictly as reference points. The photos I take are very mediocre and are only used to jog my memory and take me back to that moment in time when I was first inspired. When I’m ready to recapture the scene in a painting I go through my simple four-step process of designing a composition and value plan in my sketchbook by borrowing the shapes I need from the photo. The resulting sketch will now serve as a reference for future color studies and final works of art.
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