Evaluating a Series

When does your work evolve into something else: a show, a series, a project? When I retreated up north, I planned to have some work to show for my time. Well, that time has come, and I need to decide. Do I have something here? And what is that something, exactly?

I started working on some 9″x12″ watercolor paper, playing with several ideas:

  • Using both paint and collage
  • Trying new mediums together: watercolor, gouache, paint pens…
  • Balancing values between dark, medium, and light

I worked one at a time, until I had a few, and then a full nine pieces. I’d leave them on the table to dry, walk away, or pop them up on the wall to peruse at leisure. The hall bathroom tiles made for a perfect popup exhibit!

A very exclusive, limited popup show!

Early versions were quite different, and then I started to pull them together with a palette of orange, purple, and green, varying which hues were dark, medium, or light. That helped build similarities among the work, but also reduced the sense of experimentation. When the changes on each piece got smaller, I knew I was coming to a decision point on the set as a whole.

So, what do we have here? I’m seeing some cohesion, but also some room for exploration. There’s a lot of reference to the landscape, plenty of texture, and some efforts at adding interest.

One of the best quotes I’ve seen for evaluating work asks whether I’ve learned all I can from the work (from A Soft Manifesto, by Cortney Cassidy). Thinking about this from both the whole set and the individual pieces, I have learned that I like:

  • Hard, varied lines between at least some of the areas. It can’t just be a straight line, or too gradual a change.
  • Details to draw my eye, whether from line, map notation, or text. While I’ve leaned on photography for this in my previous digital work, I’m backing down from representation, to try other options. Going forward, and back into the digital realm, abstract photography works too!
  • Layers that peek through. These tell me about the previous choices we’ve made, and how some of them persist more than others.

And yet, there’s more to learn here: color, minimalism, complexity, texture… While this process has been much condensed from my usual months-long development, with fewer options at hand, it still asks the question: is this enough? Can I draw a line here, continue to explore, or start something new? I think so: I got enough cohesion among the pieces to keep them as a unit. Taking them further might start a whole new project, eek!

So, time to take stock. Just like hanging work on the wall to evaluate it, my next option for gaining perspective means filing these pieces away. I would usually scan high-quality captures of each one, to preserve this point in the compositional journey. That would let me experiment by hand, knowing I have a digital copy. But I’m still far from my trusty scanner, so for today, they are tucked into a portfolio to rest: a small start at a potential series.

Chime in!