SPECIAL FEATURE: “Celebrating a Messy, Wonderful, Intuitive Painting Process” by Angela Fehr

As an intuitive painter, I sometimes feel a little shamefaced about the way I prepare for painting, because a lot of the time, I just dive in wherever I feel like, and do whatever I want! And in a world where most artists are talking intensely about technique, composition and skill, my approach comes off as profligate. How wasteful and casual to just paint whatever you feel like without spending time in planning or preparation! Wouldn’t that time be better spent in research and planning so I could be confident of a good painting outcome every time?

But the truth is, I do invest a lot of preparation, planning and skill in my art practice, even if it’s not highly structured or always evident in a casual glance. What I have learned is that I reap better results by inviting diversity into my planning than in stringent discipline to develop technique. My technique is developed in an environment of spontaneous creativity.

Recently I was watching a reality show featuring fashion design, and the challenge given to the designers was to create something high fashion in swimwear. And I tried to imagine what I would design, and came up completely empty. It just seemed to me that everything one could do with swimwear had already been done. How could anyone think of something new, functional and fashionable?

But every one of those designers was able to find an angle that brought something fresh to the subject, and it got me thinking about the way that skill informs creativity. When your mind is focused on a subject, and you have a toolbox full of strategies, colors, shapes and design profiles, there are almost limitless ways in which you can arrange your knowledge and vision and come up with something new. Even though I love fashion, design, shape and line, my limited understanding of the fashion design world means I don’t have much to offer in the way of creative expression in fashion design.

Instead, as I watched the series, my mind would turn to painting. How could the shapes and colors I was seeing in fashion translate to watercolor painting? The little pops of red one designer added to the zipper pulls made me think of the spatter and dots of contrasting color I like to dash into a painting, and the way the designers saw the body as a canvas for their fashion art is the way that I visualize and translate subjects for an abstracted landscape painting. I saw shapes and rhythms in the movement of fabric and the contrast between textiles that made me think about the rhythms and movement I bring to painting.

At Water’s Edge, watercolor by Angela Fehr

We need to stop thinking that the only time we’re painting is during a painting session. As a watercolor artist, painting is a part of me, it informs my life and vice versa. I’m taking in visual information and imagining how I would paint it. I’m holding in my memory paintings from the past, impressions of my environment, textures, shapes and colors that I bring forth when I pick up my paintbrush. I can come to the studio and just start painting because I have been priming myself for this moment for my whole life. I want to be a conduit to beauty that pours out what I’ve been drinking in, and the painting sessions that start with just a sense of “this is what I want to paint right now” are the freedom avenues that let me unleash without worrying about whether it meets expectations or not.

I often pivot between a more literal approach to my subject, wanting to get to an “Angela Fehr style” representation of my subject but also wanting a version that is truly abstracted and doesn’t really lean on the reference photo at all. In order to have my unique style take priority over the realism of the scene, I need to learn what to edit out of the painting. Sometimes this is supported by research; by value studies, color exploration, sketching and planning, but those studies are designed to help me learn what to let go of more than anything else. When I let go and let my intuition take over, it’s amazing what bursts forth!

Traces of Eternity, watercolor by Angela Fehr

I’m willing to be considered a little casual, silly or wasteful with my process, because it has taught me how to trust my instincts. It has invited me to make my whole life an exploration that will inform my art, and it’s freed me from feeling like the main thing that matters is whether or not I’m technically accomplished. Galleries are full of artists who had something beautiful to say and said it powerfully with simple, strong shapes and colors, because they focused on what was important to them. My priority is on self-expression and freedom, giving myself the leeway to create whatever I want and trust that the outcome of a beautiful process is a beautiful painting. I get to edit out whatever doesn’t serve that purpose.

The #worldwatercolormonth prompt I’m painting from today is FRAGMENT. In so many ways, my intuitive process seems fragmented, scattered, a little chaotic, but I’m realizing that really, all art is about putting the pieces together. Taking the skills you’ve developed, the things you see and care about, the little inner voice that wants to make something beautiful and resonates with joy when glimpses of inspiration shine through. I’m living in glimpses and glimmers and I’m okay with that.

Fragments – watercolor by Angela Fehr

Watch the painting inspired by the prompt FRAGMENT here: 

What pieces of your artistic practice are you most engaged with right now? Leave a comment below! 

Recommended3 recommendationsPublished in World Watercolor Month

7 thoughts on “SPECIAL FEATURE: “Celebrating a Messy, Wonderful, Intuitive Painting Process” by Angela Fehr

  1. Your sense of light and movement never cease to amaze me. LOVE the additions of your carpenter pencil and crayon. It’s like being a kid again, only better! The “Angela Fehr” signature color of Cobalt Teal Blue is present in a most polished way at the end. I began watching you when Verditer was your blue of choice. Beautiful process, Angela.

  2. You have exactly described the way writers prepare for writing. I walk around with stories percolating in my head, picking up a scene from a window or an overheard phrase or the dress my mother wore to church this morning and on and on. When I pick up my pen, I am ready to create a story. Maybe that’s why I was drawn to your work when I started painting. Thanks for your generous sharing.

  3. Thank you for writing this. I’m newer to painting and have felt constricted n less inclined to paint because I don’t want the formality of rules. Thank you for writing about your way. 😊

  4. I like that freedom. And such a mess. This creativity in combining colors. I myself have a short internship with watercolors. I used to paint with oils before. I am learning just such a more lavish combination of colored stains. Your works are a great inspiration.

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