Saturday, July 15, 2017

Guiding Principles revisited

Today my Facebook "Memories" brought up a blog post I made four years ago and in rereading it, I found I still like the advice I gave myself back then. I had been struggling with this piece.

Actually it doesn't look that bad to me now, but back then the blue house in the foreground was just not working for me and I had overworked it to the point of having lost any sense of freshness and spontaneity. After all that and some anxious anticipation, I did what I knew had to be done.

I have not regretted that decision, and the real value was in defining for myself, my artistic values. They still work for me. So I am glad to share them once again, and again, reiterate that you may disagree, but perhaps in agreeing or disagreeing you will discover what your personal guides are.

So—the post from 2013....

Guiding Principles

I am cutting it off. The only logical solution, really.

Thanks for all the input and comments. Some of you got what I was after, some did not. The more I looked at it, the more I realized the basic flaw in the blue house part of the composition was that the blue house was just too dominant, too big and too much of a distraction from what were my favorite parts of the piece. Suggestions for adding things like vines and paint and layers of stuff were well-intentioned, but those things would not solve the underlying problem, and would probably only make it worse. I appreciate those of you who said to cut it off. I knew that was the best route to take and it was nice to hear support for that. The suggestion to put it aside and deal with it later was sound. I had already done that. This was the "later."

Less is more. Really it is. I keep forgetting, I guess. So I am making myself a list of rules—no, I won't call them rules. They are "guiding principles." You can ignore them in your own work, or argue with them if you like, but I think defining my own principles is a good way to remember what I already really knew.

1. Composition is the first and most important element. Once you are well into a piece it is hard to change the composition. Spend the time at the beginning to work it out and save yourself some grief later. Composition, composition, composition.

2. Color is important, value is even more important. Exciting art has deep darks and sparkling lights. Too often we are bogged down in the middle tones and that is the way to boring work.

3. Be true to your materials. Fabric art should look like fabric. Paint should look like paint. Paper should look like paper, etc. etc. Fabric cannot do all that paint can do. Paint cannot do what fabric does. Let the materials speak and listen.

4. Doing more is usually not the answer. Less is more. Simple is good. No amount of paint, glitz, buttons, beads, embroidery will fix a bad design. Embellishment should be part of a plan, not a band-aid.

5. Know your strengths and work with them. Just because other people love to make grand, immense work, doesn't mean I have to. Smaller and more focused is my place of greater strength. Large is not my best way of working.

6. Be authentic. Let your own style evolve by paying attention to what works best for you, what feels most honest and the feedback you get from trusted colleagues. Being inspired by the work of others helps you define yourself, but copying others just masks your own voice. Know the difference.

7. Filter what you hear from others. Advice is nice, but consider the source. Praise is lovely, but realize that most of your friends tell you what you want to hear. Questions are often more illuminating than answers.

8. Don't let the work become too precious. Always be willing to throw something away that isn't working. Or cut it up. Or give to the cat to sleep on. Some things are just practice. Not everything needs to see the light of day. But before you do any of these things analyze it and learn from it.

9. Base your analysis in sound practice. Go back to the elements and principles of design and ignore the theories of the proponents of "winging it."

10. Don't be lazy. "Good enough" is lazy if you can work a little harder and actually make it better. Do it right.

This is a start. I'm sure I will remember or discover others. Maybe I need to print them and post them in my studio. Do you have rules or guiding principles you try to incorporate into your work? I'd love to hear about them.

Posted by Terry Grant at 3:23 PM, July 14, 2013

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


  1. If something isn't quite right, I have to fix it. I remember my grandmother's saying, "Once to make it, always to LOOK at it." If someone told her, about a small error, "Nobody will know." she'd reply, "I'll know." Dot

  2. Still sound advice 4 yrs later... Have always loved your rooftops and buildings, strong and graphic with great colors. Are you still working with these types of images?