Giving is Good
"The point is, ladies and gentlemen, that greed - for lack of a better word - is good. Greed is right. Greed works."
So said Gordon Gekko, the fictional financier played by Michael Douglas in the film Wall Street, in his address to the shareholders of Teldar Paper. It isn't the most festive of messages and may not be the most obvious starting point for a blog post on the subject of landscape art, but with Christmas steaming rapidly towards us and the spirit of giving coming into closer focus it is a useful, if not slightly tenuous introduction to several discussions I've had recently relating to my artwork.
Over the last month or so, several of my followers and fellow watercolourists (on social media sites, and also subscribers to the blog) have asked me a range of questions on different aspects of my work, in particular how to achieve certain techniques and effects. Most of these requests have been accompanied with a statement that goes something like this: 'Of course, it's on the understanding that you don't mind giving away your secrets. I understand if you don't want to.' It is a thoughtful and courteous consideration, and one that I hear surprisingly often. Having delved into this a little with some of you, it is evident that in your quest to become more proficient artists it hasn't always been easy to prize help, tips and advice from some established artists, dare I say the Gordon Gekkos of the creative arts? It would be unfair of me to speculate on why other artists have adopted a rather closed stance, since each has their own story, motivation and business model. All I can do is give you the reasons why I'm always delighted to provide you with as much help as I can:
Writing, painting, discussing the landscape, chatting about watercolour and why we put ourselves through the trauma of painting with it......these are a few of my favourite things. One of the reasons for establishing this blog was to create a forum, a resource even, away from the large social media platforms where I could interact with those who follow my work and share similar interests while having complete control over the content they would get to see (no pop-ups and annoying ads) and the way in which it is presented. It's working and my hope is that you will continue to use it to be in touch with me, and other subscribers to the site too, discussing not only techniques but anything landscape-related that we can all enjoy. I love the landscape and painting it is a wonderful way to respond to it; the blog allows me to share these moments and experiences with you and if you are able to use it as a window through which you can view our beautiful landscapes and also learn about painting them too, then it has achieved its goal. I may not always be able respond immediately, but I will as soon as time allows - keep those comments and messages coming, it's great to hear from you.
My business model as a full-time artist is simple, and my primary motivation and source of income is the sales of original paintings and prints through galleries and the commissions that I undertake for clients. Teaching watercolour techniques through demonstrations and workshops is another welcome source of income, and I have several well-developed initiatives for teaching that will be new in 2021. Providing tips and advice on my technique doesn't compromise my business in any way. If I was bombarded by requests and the time responding took me away from my core activities then I might want to find some way of addressing that. That is not the case at present so please continue to ask. You might make the point that I'm a little naive and people will take advantage of that; I would disagree. This isn't just about the opportunity cost. I have always maintained a positive view of humanity based on my experiences, where despite the exceptions, an open and approachable attitude is rewarded. Give it away, and you'll be surprised at what you get back.
The resistance to giving away technical secrets makes no sense if you truly understand the nature of painting, especially in watercolour. I try to avoid the categorisation of artists into 'formally-trained' and 'self-taught'; the perception is that those who are formally-trained look with condescension at those who are self-taught, while the self-taught view their formally-trained contemporaries with a 'I didn't need training - I taught myself' air of smug self-congratulation. The material point is that every artist is self-taught. No post-graduate Fine Art student will ever assume that they have arrived immediately at the summit of their technical and stylistic prowess (and if they do, might I suggest giving them a wide berth?) Artistic competence is not an intangible concept that you either have or you don't, nor a badge of honour that comes clipped to your graduation certificate, but is rather achieved through years of practice and development. Watercolour, more than any other medium requires years of practice, trial and error to hone a skilful control of the medium. New equipment, books, tutorials, workshops and hints and tips from your favourite artist will get you a little further down the track but it is the practice and the self-teaching that will take you to your destination the quickest. The idea that there are trade secrets to be carefully guarded starts to look rather silly; I could spend many weeks showing you everything I know but without your practice it would be a meaningless exercise. If, however, you take that knowledge and practice your painting more than I do, becoming a more successful artist into the bargain, then you will have thoroughly deserved it and I will view your work with much enthusiasm.
When I was learning to paint I tried to access as much advice as possible from those I thought were able to help me. Some artists were generous with their time and knowledge, others not so much. Those positive interactions were a great help in moving forward and if I can play that role for others then I will be delighted to do so. I should say that the seeking of advice and ideas never really stops; I still do it and know a number of established artists that continue to be a great source of encouragement and help (I won't name names, but some of them are featured on the blog from time-to-time.)
If you can take some time out of your day to study, appreciate and support my work, contacting me to ask about a particular aspect of it, I feel that to respond in a less-than-generous spirit would be rather churlish. No one benefits form that.
Does this mean that an artist shouldn't charge for their advice? Absolutely not. Producing well-prepared workshops, insightful demonstrations, interesting books and professional online tutorials based upon years of experience is to provide quality products that are in much demand, where payment is the appropriate compensation for the skill of the artist. However, doing so should not preclude the artist from giving out advice or tips when asked. Ultimately, it is a false economy; I contend that someone is far likelier to attend my workshop if I have been helpful on a smaller matter before. Does anyone really say "Well, I've had a couple of paragraphs from Olly about the merits of Cobalt Blue versus French Ultramarine, so there's no need to attend any of his workshops?" On the other hand, this scenario seems entirely plausible: "Do you know what......that Olly Pyle, don't bother with his workshops. I asked him about how to achieve those reflections but he was rather cagey and didn't want to help out.....said something about finding out for yourself. Can't imagine his workshops being of much use."
These two paintings were designs for my Christmas cards this year - slightly different from a gallery painting as they need to be a little more obvious in their style to stand out on the shelf. I hope you enjoy them and, more importantly, I hope you all have a wonderful and restful Christmas. Keep the questions coming, and if I can give you some pointers in the right direction then it will be a pleasure to respond.
Mr Gekko, you can keep your greed. Giving is always the better option. Wait a minute, I might have to revisit that - the mince pies are ready!