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  • Writer's picturecarolyn land

Creation vs Replication

“It is all very well to copy what one sees; it is much better to draw what one no longer sees except in memory. A transformation is affected during which the imagination collaborates with memory.  You reproduce only what has struck you, that is to say, what is necessary.”  Edgar Degas

Creation is at the heart of pure artwork. Replication may be technically good but will lack the essence of time and place.  I frequently talk about editing your reference material, so when you are creating your work of art, it contains more of you and your feelings about the subject, than the actual objects that are in it.  As artists, we want to capture a moment in time, a mood, an emotion. Whether you are painting realistically or abstractly, mood and emotion are key to success.  If you tie yourself to the reference material, you are going to lose that.

It takes great skill to put these important feelings on paper.  Often, we use a photo reference for both realism and abstraction, and it becomes so easy to just copy what we are looking at.  Or, we are in out on location. The scene is right in front of us, and we copy what we see, rather than finding the essence of what we are looking at.  It requires a discipline and skill, to learn to let go of what we are looking at, and express the vision welling up inside of us.

We need to use our memory more, because our memory retains only the essential elements of the scene. The non-essentials are forgotten. Also, the memory retains the emotional response to the scene. An artist who can tap into the most important elements and the emotional connection to them, while eliminating the superfluous, will create more powerful works of art.

Paint by FL artist Carolyn Land

Moment in Time                    Pastel over Watercolor

Robert Henri said: “Reveal the spirit you have about the thing, not the materials you are going to paint.  Reality does not exist in material things.  Rather paint the flying spirit of the bird than it feathers.”

Alternative surface painting by FL artist Carolyn Land

Times Bounty         Textured Surface

Having recently finished my textural series, for my upcoming show “What Lies Beneath: Geologic Abstracts”, at the Founders Gallery at the HUB on Canal, in New Smyrna Beach, FL, in October. I started working on some pastels for a pastel show in March.  I had started a painting of Key Biscayne FL in the Spring. When I went back to my reference material I was shocked at how well I had copied every blade of grass.   My memory was of the spring blooming flowers in the lowlands, with storm clouds way out over the bay. The opposition of natures forces.  The picture I took out of the folder of unfinished work was an over worked copy of the photo reference. It has done me well to get away from the pastel work for a while.  I realize now, how tight I was becoming.  It was a replication rather than a creation. The feeling of what I remembered was missing.  It needs to be redone to capture the feeling.

Sometimes we look at our work and wonder, what is wrong with this?  We know the composition is strong, colors are what we wanted to use, but it is not speaking to us.  Did we get too caught up in the composition, the process, the reference material, or did we not have a clear feeling of what we wanted to say?

I love these lines from Robert Henri’s book, The Art Spirit“Pretend you are dancing or singing a picture”. “All real works of art look as though they were done with deep joy.” That is the essence of what we need in our paintings to connect to our viewers.

“If I create from the heart, nearly everything works; if from the head, almost nothing.”                  Marc Chagall

This week let us all paint from our hearts and with joy!

I am starting a course at the HUB on September 14th about “Being a Better Artist”.  It has to do with making our paintings speak to the viewer. Fridays at 1:00.  If you are interested in learning more, contact me at:

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