Strategies: The In’s And Out’s Of Painting

Edited and republished from May 2012

Charles LeClair, in his book, Color In Contemporary Painting  (Watson-Guptill), talks about the “strategies” that contemporary painters employ to create their work. Chapter headings include, among others, Color As Visual Idea, Color As Gesture and Advanced Color Games: Transition And Counterpoint. Here the artist chooses how he will proceed based on the color strategies he decides to use.

Adrift 40x30 acrylic on canvas MTMcClanahan

I compare the process of using one of the above intellectual strategies with painting directly from life (though the one does not negate the other, in fact, direct observation goes hand-in-hand with many of the books ideas), whether still life, figurative, en plein air, etc. The painter here is led by what’s before him; this is a strategy in and of itself but seems counter to the idea of using internal criteria for producing art. This has long been the argument between the realist and the abstractionist, i.e., where does the inspiration for art come from; from external subject matter or from the internal, from the soul of the creator?

My own method is usually a combination of strategies, as in the book. I paint from life and I use other ways of thinking that I find valid. But, for me, everything is predicated on direct observation. I’m not a non-representational artist.

The voyage of the best ship is a zig-zag line of a hundred tacks.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Self Reliance

I vacillate between strategies too (or I could say my focus changes). I may move from, say, a textural focus to a color preoccupation, and then to something else. Sometimes I wonder if this is good, that maybe I need to stay on a narrower path.

Will my approach to painting become naturally straighter as I go, I don’t know? I guess I could decide to make it so at any time. But painting for me is a searching out and I’m not sure there has to be any goal other than expression for the moment.

MT McClanahan

An artist and perpetual thinker, MT McClanahan finds inspiration through connecting ideas across a broad range of topics. He especially enjoys philosophy and how art and life interconnect. He is the founder of TPT and his paintings can be seen at

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2 Responses

  1. Elena Roush says:

    It is nice to read your new article, Marcus!
    The painting is wonderful! You are one of that impressionist, whom I really appreciate.
    The size if this painting is really impressive.
    I would love to see this painting in real life to get closer to your brush strokes…
    What i can tell more? Amazing job!

    • Hi Elena! Thank you for your comment! You know I’m realizing how important the brushstroke is to everything. I think it’s overlooked by artists as one of the primary elements for creating a painting. And I rarely see anyone teach about it. Hope you are painting and enjoying life!

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