Artists’ view: Creating a large body of work

Every artist in the Little Van Gogh network creates a unique collection of eleven paintings. But how do they go about achieving this vast creative task?

Creating a large series of artwork – with a consistent theme and style – at first sounds like a huge challenge. For many artists, however, it’s simply a natural next step as part of a lifetime of creating art.

Understanding and defining personal artistic style is arguably the most crucial requirement for any artist in being able to create a solid collection. A strong style ensures the works hang together well – both figuratively, as a body of work, and literally, when exhibited together in situ. 

At Little Van Gogh, we ask the artists in our network – over 100 in the UK alone – to provide us with 11 paintings in each of their collections. Each collection is then exhibited as a complete body of work in workplaces throughout the country on a two-month rotation, giving it high-impact exposure to an ever-changing audience.

“I saw creating my collection for Little Van Gogh as an invaluable opportunity to get my name out,” says Andrew Halliday, who paints what he describes as ‘archipainting’, depicting the contrast between old and new architecture in a soft, figurative style.

Andrew completed his series of eleven paintings, each a metre square, within five months. “The commission was perfect timing as I’d just found a thematic anchor to my work. In a certain sense, it was easy – I just went to London, took pictures of old churches and went for it.”

Approaching the challenge of creating a series of work can be an exciting and inspiring moment in an artist’s career, offering a chance for creative evaluation and representing a stylistic journey.

Says contemporary still life painter Marcus Bolt: “As I go through the process, my style develops – it changes and improves, and so each picture informs the next. When I like the way I’ve done something, I’ll do more of it in the next painting.”

Sometimes a collection presents itself naturally out of an existing body of work, as Orna Schneerson Pascal found. Her distinctive style features colourful shapes conveying movement and energy. As such, Kyle  from Little Van Gogh visited Orna’s Brighton studio and they worked together to select the paintings to make up her collection.

A prolific painter, she describes putting her paintings together as a fun process – although says that finding enough space to house them all is a challenge!

Creative dedication

Sustaining energy and enthusiasm for the subject matter while creating a set of 11 paintings takes dedication and a focused creative mindset. It can be a long process, and requires a lot of commitment.

“For me, creating 11 large paintings represents more than a year’s work,” explains Lorraine Benton, who builds fantastical, playful and geometric paintings often inspired by landscapes and mountains.

Her process is fluid but structured. “I focus my interest on a subject matter that intrigues me, and then explore different ways of description. Many of my more successful pieces have happened more by accident than design. After having collected several ideas that I would like to incorporate into a composition, I often just let the rest happen, and change elements along the way if they feel unbalanced with regard to contrast, shape or colour.”

For Marcus, painting by natural light is an inherent part of his process. This means that the time of year is important in how productive he can be. “Sometimes I can paint for over nine hours without realising it as the weather improves and the days get longer and brighter.” Certainly something for artists about to start work on a collection to consider.

Anna Dora, who has created two collections for Little Van Gogh of abstracts inspired by the fire, ice and drama of her native Iceland, agrees that time can become a moveable concept when deep in a series. “I go into my studio, I close the door and I don’t know how many hours have gone past and I’ll have just worked on one picture. Then all of the other pictures just follow.”

Controlling a theme

It may seem that settling on a theme for their collections would be tough, but commonly, artists describe defining it as something that ‘just happens’. It’s often drawn from their instinctive thematic cues. For Orna, this is “Repetition, energy, shapes, movement. Anything hypnotic. I sometimes illustrate this by using a visuals like fish or flowers.”

Andrew adds: “Know what you love – and flaunt it! You have free reign,” highlighting the unique opportunity creating a series represents in its potential to showcase an artists’ true style and identity.

Bringing a theme to life through art can also be an emotional experience: “Each piece I do is representative of a certain time in my life – I see a series almost as a photo album of my heart,” says Anna. “I take a quite spiritual approach to painting and feel that it can nourish the heart during a hard time.”

At the same time, getting external perspectives as the collection develops can be very useful for thematic development. “I posted my pictures and their development to my Facebook page for live feedback,” Andrew says.

In fact, Facebook can be really powerful for artists with a series of work to display, explains Anna. She started posting images of her collections to Facebook when she made the transition to becoming a full-time, professional artist. “And thanks to Facebook, within five days, I had commissions from interior designers in London,” she says.

 

Overcoming challenges

“Keeping your nose to the grindstone and avoiding displacement and distraction activities is definitely hard,” says Marcus. “There’s also then the sense of panic to overcome when you’re stuck for ideas, in a fallow mode.”

All artists agree, though, that the best way to push on is by continuing to paint, whether on a new piece or by revisiting and tweaking an older or unfinished piece. Marcus invokes Leonardo da Vinci’s quote: Art is never finished, only abandoned.

However, spending so much time with a painting destined for a series does raise another challenge. “Some paintings I get really attached to, so I can’t let them go,” says Orna.

 

Releasing the finished series

When the collection is almost complete, it’s common for the artist to continuing refining the work until the very last minute.

“I did have to revisit a couple of paintings at the end to update the narrative slightly – such as adding a figure or putting the moon in the sky,” explains Andrew. But there is always a risk of over-working, or holding back work until that elusive point where it ‘feels’ finished. “Don’t forget, art isn’t art until it’s on the wall being seen,” is Andrew’s mantra.

Once the series is exhibited, the months of hard work become history as the art comes to life in its new setting. This is often an emotive moment. “How do I feel when my work is displayed? Exhilarated!” Lorraine explains. “It gives me an immense feeling of achievement and satisfaction to see a collection of work in an exhibition.”

A huge achievement for any artist, completing a collection can be a truly defining point. For Anna, creating a series has been one element of the career-changing effect of art in her life. “It’s all been a massive adventure – and a journey that I feel lucky to be on!”

At Little Van Gogh, we’re passionate about showcasing the work of talented emerging artists to people in their workplaces – and we always welcome contact from up-and-coming artists who could be strong additions to our network.

If you have developed a strong personal style and would like to submit your work for consideration at the next Little Van Gogh art committee meeting, we’d love to hear from you.

 

Please send images of your work and/or a link to your website to Luke at l.baker@littlevangogh.co.uk