“A Good Sign,” encaustic and ink on panel, 5″ x 4″
A series is a set of individual artworks connected by a theme. A series can be short and immediate (all the monotypes made in a single day). Or it can unfold over a period of years. Either way, working in series is a way to go deep.
A handful of pieces from One-Hundred Flowers. When I work in series I’m working with ambition and thinking about scale.
The simplest way for an artist new to working in series to get going on one is to choose a single format – a single canvas size, or size and color of paper – and stick with it and see what happens. The more limits you set, the more interesting the results you get will be.
Learning the Rules
There are as many ways to set limits and work in series as there are artists. I start with an image in my mind’s eye and go through a process I call learning the rules where I teach myself how to make it through trial and error. Like a memory of a dream, the mind’s-eye-image morphs as I add details in an attempt to pin it down. That is OK. I am working to join the imagined with the real at this point. Some give and take is fine.
In the two test images above I’m asking questions about overlap. Which degree of overlap moves the image closer to the one in my mind’s eye? Is overlap relevant to what I’m trying to do? Once I have an answer I can make a rule/set a limit about overlap. (I know this sounds deliberate but in practice the process feels intuitive.) Moving forward, I can keep limits or break them. But I absolutely enjoy being able to articulate them. Limits enable consistency. And on another level, they help me understand what my work is about.
What LImits Mean
The thing that excites me about limits, and part of what I hinted at in Art Practice vs. Play, is how the process, or practice, of setting limits is meaningful. Each limit you choose provides a glimpse into your interests, and into what you value as an artist. As the limits you choose for your work accumulate, what they signal becomes more compellingly specific. If you’re working intuitively (as I do with mind’s-eye-images) then setting limits is a way to bring the unconscious to light. And finally, by setting limits for your work, you are making your values visible. Your viewers may not be able to articulate what they are, but if you’ve thought about it, you will be able to. This will deepen what you understand about your work. And it will help you talk about it.