Until a few years ago whenever I ran into difficulty with some part of a painting, I had to pull out art books, magazines (or whatever else I could lay my hands on) to look for ways in which other artists had solved the same problem. I would often end up going back to the same few pages of a book over and over again because I could find little else to help me.
Things are different today because my painting career has developed in parallel with affordable digital cameras. After 16 years of painting full time, I have my entire portfolio at my fingertips to use as a reference.
That means whenever I'm stuck for ideas or solutions to problems, I can use my own work to help out. I often reuse ideas and themes from older paintings to navigate my way through the maze.
Lowlands. 16x28, oil on hemp linen. 2018.
This painting contains lot of recycled ideas and picture elements that I'd developed in previous works. I couldn't have done it without first experimenting with my color palette, new textures and trying different ways of rendering animals in the landscape.
I think of this as maximizing my return on effort. Every time I develop a solution to a problem I'm not just using it once then forgetting about it, I'm adding to a knowledge bank that I can tap into time and time again. When an idea is reused, it gets refined and added back into the portfolio. It becomes a virtuous circle.
A close up showing paint textures
Once upon a time, before Facebook and social media got off the ground, someone asked on an art forum what was one thing that differentiates professional artists from amateur artists. It stuck with me because I couldn't think of a simple response.
I don't believe the answer is anything that's technique related, because we're all so different. But I'm starting to realize that the size of the portfolio is the biggest difference between full-time painters and hobbyists. And having ready access to a library of things that can be called on whenever needed is something that I'm only just starting to fully appreciate.