Whether you are just beginning your artistic practice, or you have been at it for decades, working in series helps you focus and bring clarity to your creation story. Even if you have no intention of showing or selling your art, working in series will help you become a more accomplished artist. No one likes to be continually frustrated while learning a new skill. Success encourages more practice, which in turn leads to more success.
You may think that while you are learning you want to explore all mediums and genres, so you dabble in watercolor landscapes, oil still life’s, encaustic abstracts and acrylic portraits. Yes, this may be helpful when you are just beginning, but at some point, you need to focus. You can continue to do one-offs, meaning you can do different genres occasionally, but to really grow you need to understand the medium you choose. Mixed media is very popular now, but I recall decades ago having to educate judges as to what it entailed. The lure is that you can pull in other mediums to get your message across. But think about it, you really need to understand what those mediums do and why you would select them to tell your visual story.
I used to be an oil painter, but I also was a sculptor and a silversmith. I have always practiced multiple mediums; they just weren’t all in the same piece. Now they can be, and I love it. As an oil painter I knew how the paints moved and mixed. When I was in art school, commuting daily, I needed to put my rather large paintings in my car to take back and forth. I quickly learned this wasn’t a good idea since they were still wet, and I couldn’t stack them. I switched to acrylic rather than painting small pieces. I thought it would be the same, but it is quite different. I went on a mission to learn about acrylics, and decades and six books later I think I can say I am getting the hang of it.
But how does working in series help you become a better artist? When you work in series you focus on the creation. Working in series can also be helpful to your viewers. They can understand your message. If you are in galleries, they know the importance of a cohesive body of work. What if you made this fabulous painting but it was a fluke and you couldn’t figure out how to repeat it? What are you trying to say? I recently asked a student what her story was for the piece she was working on and she said there was no story. At first, I thought she was just dismissing the idea but as we continued to search, she said that there was no story was her story. This is a concept, which can be the basis for a series.
A series can be a grounding point for you to begin creating. Many times, a person feels intimidated by the blank page or canvas. When you have the groundwork and/or guidelines for a series, you will always have a place to begin. So how do you come up with ideas for a series? Brainstorming or mind mapping is a great place to start. Even word association can be fun. Mind mapping is kind of like visual word association. Begin with a word, idea or tangible thing and write that in the middle of a piece of paper. What is something that you associate with this word? Draw a line and write that word inside another circle. Is there another word or idea that you associate with the original word? You might have 5 o 6 words branching off from the original idea or word. Then do the same thing with the second words. You will end up with associations and cross associations. Visual idea association, or mind map, is a great way to begin.
I used to paint circles. I did this for years without really understanding why in the beginning. I kept having circles appear in my paintings. After a few years I was talking with another artist friend and he had been doing the same thing. He wasn’t sure why he was painting them either. We began to share our paintings and explain them. In this process we both began to understand why we had been painting the circles. We were telling a story of evolving vision. Our own and a word view that was evolving and changing yet staying the same. The perspective was changing even if the shape wasn’t. After a few more years I stopped painting circles. They still pop up occasionally and I have learned to pay attention to what I am creating repeatedly. I ask the piece to tell me the story.
Have all the pieces be in the same format, shape, medium or color scheme.
Is there a conceptual cohesion? Go back to your idea map.
Dig deep into the idea. The more you learn, the more ideas you will have.
The more knowledge will help you understand your subject more.
Here are a few ideas and guidelines to get you started:
color- bright or neutral, texture, grids, materials like paper or ink, collage, teabags or layers
same size, use only certain materials, take a part of the first painting to begin the next and so on, each piece can stand alone but together they tell a bigger story
think deeply about something you are passionate about. Learn as much as can and keep going deeper. The art will deepen too.
Create a body of work for a show based on the title of the show