Working in a series
To create a series of paintings for an event or gallery is usual but a collection of similar art looks great and has benefits for the artist too.
For a series of paintings to look good together, they usually fit some pre-set limitations. This might sound off-putting but limitations can lead to new discoveries. Instead of spending time and energy playing with endless possibilities we are pushed to practice and get the most out of what we have.
What does it mean to work in a series
A series uses a theme and other boundaries to create a collection of paintings that work together. Setting some limitations on the theme or materials is essential to keep the series cohesive. The series could be a few pieces or even a hundred.
It helps to choose limitations you are reasonably comfortable with. There’s a difference between challenging yourself to make 20 paintings of something that inspires you and making 20 paintings you find uninspiring or unpleasant.
What I consider when starting a series
I set my
- format and composition,
or other rules before I start. This means having a clear idea about what the art is “about”. Of course this could be something deep and meaningful but in my case it is often something simple like a favourite beach view in a particular colour palette.
Below are examples of the kind of boundaries I set when starting a series.
When deciding on my ideas for a series I sometimes have to “try it on” for a few days before I settle on something. I recommend you choose an idea that excites you but also challenges you a little bit. Then have a play with these ideas in a sketchbook and see if they feel good to you. Is this something you can play with for a while or will you get quickly bored and uninspired?
This can be anything you like from your colour palette to the subject matter. My latest series is based on wild ocean waves, using photos I have taken where I live. You can choose to keep your theme very simple and open or very defined but being specific will help you stay on track.
Think about the size and scale of your art. I’m creating a series of acrylic paintings on postcards and small square canvases but you might create larger works or a series of tiny art on paper. They might be all the same size and shape but they don’t have to be.
Materials and palette
Which materials, colours and tools will help to express your theme? Getting this clear will really help when you start. Of course it’s good to have a little flexibility if you need to change things up but make these decisions before you start and have your materials ready to hand.
Create a limited palette for your series and have fun mixing up colours. This will keep your paintings harmonious. I’m choosing Cyan blue, Magenta and Cadmium orange hue with Titanium white. I have a Pthalo turquoise on standby if needed.
I’ve also chosen a few pencils, paint markers and water soluble crayons for mark making.
Working on multiple pieces
Having several pieces on the go at once is really helpful. Skip between them, keeping them all in step with each other. It allows some drying time and you can see how the group are working together.
I’ve mentioned before that I work in a small space so painting many pieces at once can be a challenge. It’s one of the reasons I choose postcards or the 8″ or 10″ square canvases. I can lay a few of these on my table to work and then swap with another three or four on the floor as needed. You might want to think about how many pieces you can practically work on at the same time.
How I develop previous work so it still looks like mine
I’m always curious about trying new things and ideas. This doesn’t mean I can’t keep my art recognisable. After all I’m still painting them. But it does help me and the people who buy my paintings when it’s relatable.
Developing my art means creating something new that follows on from the previous paintings. I’m taking what I’ve learned and something that’s worked well, dropped something that hasn’t and added some new elements.
By continuing to use colours, marks and tools that you love, your style will show through in the art and create consistency.
How to stay on track
It’s no secret that creative people are easily distracted. There’s so many things to try! So how do I stay on track with a series that might take several weeks or even months to finish?
I like to write my series limitations down on a card when I start and keep it where I can see it. It’s too easy for me to get side-tracked by another idea and then the series quickly goes off course. This reminder is not a guarantee it does help!
I’ve seen some artists label the back of each painting with clear rules and some that name their paintings before they start them. This hasn’t worked for me but it might be worth a try.
Putting away other materials also helps. I’m less tempted by other materials if I can’t see them. (I know, it’s hard when our creative mess is so exciting!) I surround myself with things I can use in the series and mix up colours.
I also keep my sketchbook nearby so I can write down or try ideas that come along. If something is not part of this series I can keep a note of it for later.
The overall aim for me of creating a series is to have a collection of paintings suitable for a gallery or event. But I would encourage all artists and makers to do it. It’s fantastic painting practice with lots of benefits. And yes, there’s no doubt that a series looks good on social media!