The advantages of creating artworks in a series

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I know that most people who read my blogs are not professional artists. In fact, most of you are watercolour painters who want, and try from time to time, to work in oils and/or acrylics. Taking part in local art group shows, most of you simply paint for pleasure. I am delighted that you follow me.

However, there are some of you who aspire to be professional artists and a few more who are just that. The advice I am going to share here applies to all of you but is primarily aimed at those who want to take your art to the next level. Please remember, this is my advice. There is plenty more out there from others which may make more sense to you and the way you like to work.

One of my early watercolours

When we first start out making art we spend as much time trying to decide what to paint as we do actually painting it and, in my opinion, the starting point should be to spend a little time picking a few themes that mean something to us. What do I mean by that? Well, like I suspect all of us here, I have portfolios of my early works which include sea-related subjects, flowers, children, and…vegetables. This diverse range of subjects was necessary so that I could learn which type of art filled me with joy, on which I could hone my drawing and painting skills.

Personally, I love blocks of colour and how they sit next to each other along with shapes, particularly circles and lines and I love creating fish, too. It may be very different for you and if you are just starting out you may not yet know what subjects you like best, but you can still benefit from this one small piece of advice. Produce your work in multiples or, in other words, as a series. I’d suggest at least five pieces.

Why does this help? Read on and (hopefully) I will explain. For watercolourists starting out, work on all the pieces in the series at the same time. If your chosen subject is your local church, for instance, get your rough drawing down and place your first wash across all five pieces. Then, going back to the first, pick the next area you want to work on, say the building itself. Get the wash down on all five. Don’t think about it too much. Just get those initial washes down.

Completing all the pieces together like this allows drying time between each layer. You may not always want this, preferring to work ‘wet in wet’, but the same technique still applies. Simply use more water so that you still have wet paint to work with when you rotate back to each piece. What you will achieve is a looseness in your work, giving it an air of confidence. When you are not feeling precious about creating just one piece, because you are moving between several, you don’t have time to get bogged down and overwork it.

For those of you who are emerging artists wishing to go from simply painting for pleasure to taking part in more exhibitions you will be taken more seriously if you produce a body of work which looks similar, hence working in a series will help you to create that body.

For those of you who are already out there making and selling art, by working on a series of pieces at the same time you will create a looseness which is so much more appealing than single pieces that have been laboured over. Again, you will be able to easily produce a series of pieces which all hang together in a cohesive fashion. This is especially true for those of you I know are trying to loosen up on your artwork.

For artists working in acrylics, the same approach applies pretty much. You already work with paint which dries quickly so maybe spend a few more minutes on each piece before moving on. When I have a studio set up in place (my new one is currently under construction) I tend to work in nines. That is nine large, nine medium and nine small. Nine is not a magic number; it is just a number which works for me.

Choose your colour palette picking a red, a blue and a yellow along with black and white. Decide if your series is going to be warm or cool and start with the opposite of what you are aiming to achieve, using those same colours across all your series so that they will all sit comfortably together and will bring cohesion to your work.

If you want your series to be warm, start your first layers with cool colours, bringing your warm colours in towards the end of producing your works and vice versa. Regardless of the type of work you produce – portraits, still life, cityscapes, landscapes – the same approach applies. To create more interesting pieces, it is advisable to work in layers, something watercolourist do all the time.

For oil paint this approach is even more relevant as it takes a long time for each layer of paint to dry, so working on a series simultaneously makes even more sense. Oil paint never fully dries but forms a hard skin which allows you to paint over it. The term ‘fat over lean’ is used to describe how oil painters, in particular, need to apply paint in thin layers so that they don’t have weeks to wait before applying the next layer. If thick paint is over painted, cracking will occur over time causing you a nightmare and affecting the longevity of the artwork. Layering and glazing (transparent paint) is what creates the interest in oil painters’ work. Look closely at oil paintings and you will see what I mean.

For pastel painters, starting with a coloured ground (pre-coloured paper for pastels) is like making the first layers in a painting; it sets the final overall colour of your piece. If you start with a cool coloured ground and then use warm colours you will finish with a warm and vice versa. Adding large sweeps of colour whilst allowing the ground to peep through here and there, you will create interest.

there are eight in this series of hand painted linocuts.

As a printmaker dabbling with lots of different techniques, working in multiple layers of colour is my preferred method although some printmakers, including my favourite – Norman Ackroyd – tend to work in either black and white or have just one additional colour.

Ackroyd’s work is about tones, and he is hugely skilled at preparing the copper plates to give the appearance of layers, rather than printing in multiple layers. He is so accomplished and knows exactly the effect he will achieve. When I am printing, I will often prepare a foundation colour, often a light one, on which to add my additional layers. I prefer to print white rather than using the white of the paper, but not always.

You need to find the system which works best for you but working in a series will help your work to be more free and more interesting. Try it; I don’t think you will be disappointed.

NB Just for the record, I do not get paid to endorse any of the people or brands I have mentioned above. These are all products that I use and genuinely believe in and people I truly admire.

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