Art and Self-Discovery

Watercolor painting of sugar packets and a creamer.

Lately I've been reinventing myself and moving away from more traditional watercolors—at least, as defined by Western/European standards. It's not that I dislike watercolor's wonderfully semi-chaotic washes—indeed. I view much of watercolor as being about coping with what the water gives you, and that's a fun and unique element of the medium.

But one of the discoveries I've made about myself is that I have a preference for bold strokes. My favorite watercolor pieces I've done utilize distinct areas of color in delinated shapes, which is one of the loosest definitions of a stroke. I often employ concentrated paint or colored pencils to add texture as well.

Watercolor, ink, and colored pencil painting of a blue jay.

And yet my approach developed into neither photorealism nor naturalism (a style one step removed from photorealism). The stylization I use is close to that used in old Chinese and Vietnamese paintings I grew up with. My parents had no interest in art, but did leave me as a child alone in a Chinese mall many days. I had little to do other than walk and stare at art being sold, or marvel at incidental screens and decorations on the walls.

Sanguine oil pencil drawing of a grey wolf.

Lately my exploration has extended into mediums I never thought I would tackle: pencils and oil pastels. I have no desire for the smooth shaded planes found in many pieces, so I work a lot with strokes—the palette of line that is most often found in pen and ink work, except that I have much more flexibility with line width and color depth from a single instrument rather than a series of pens, inks, and brushes.

Light sepia oil pencil drawing of a baby.

I can certainly do naturalism, as in this fun little portrait sketch of a friend's baby—but it's not something I wish to do. And ultimately I feel that's part of what an artist has to find for themselves—to create art their way, whether that's the art of painting, or animation, or writing, or even board game design.

Oil pastel painting of a still life with false fruit.

I think I've always veered away from naturalism. I would set lotuses and daffodils on fire, and these days I work more subtly with false plastic fruit. There aren't any rules in art that say you have to paint real fruit, after all.

There just aren't any rules in art at all.