When an Artist becomes the Muse

As artists, we all look for inspirations and find them in the most unimaginable places. We are like magnets that attract towards us, people or objects that can become our muses.

 Many a times, creations of another artist may also act as a muse. But this is treading on dangerous ground as the line between just getting inspired  and copying the other artist’s work is very thin.  Before we know it, we fall so deeply in love with the work of the ones we idolize, that we start imitating them and end up producing replicas of their work.

It’s one thing to try and learn from another artist’s work and hone our skills, but we should be careful not to get so absorbed in his work that we forget to develop our own signature style. As artists, we have to be honest with ourselves and not get caught in the honey trap of imitating other’s work. If we fail to break out of this trap, we’re neither being fair to ourselves nor to the one we idolize.

I am not saying there’s anything wrong with copying. There are enough artists around who are doing a great job with it and producing some excellent imitations which are accessible to those who can’t afford the original works of the masters. It is also a good way of practicing the finer nuances and technical aspects of a particular art style if you are an apprentice to an established artist or just started taking art lessons.

There are many artists who themselves offer their mentor ship to upcoming and emerging art enthusiasts and permit them to use their own creations as learning guides. The internet has proven to be a huge platform for not just established masters, but also upcoming artists, who want to share their knowledge with the rest of the art world.  All thanks to Google and You tube, it has become so much easier for us to locate and learn from artists whose work we love!

One such muse for me is an artist called Leonid Afremov, who also happens to be my all time favorite. He was a Russian–Israeli modern impressionistic artist who worked mainly with palette knives and oil paints. Using his unique knife painting technique and unmistakable style, Afremov created paintings that seemed to explode into millions of bright colors.

Known for his individualistic style and unconventional approach to showcasing his work to the public,  Afremov didn’t believe in the concept of art exhibitions, dealers or art galleries. He in fact sold his work online as he liked the notion of it being accessible to all. For this very reason, he regularly posted video lessons on You tube, where he taught art enthusiasts how to paint using his exclusive palette knife style.

I personally have learnt a great deal from Afremov’s lessons and have tried my hand at reproducing his technique in some of my artworks. In order to learn his technique, I picked up a couple of his compositions and worked with them, but with a difference. Instead of using a palette knife, I used flat brushes to reproduce effects similar to those produced by palette knives. In doing so, my objective was to take his technique to the next level and see if it gave my art individuality in terms of style, while retaining the same quality as an Afremov painting.

On completing the paintings, I realized that my work was distinctly different from the original. I decided to stick to the same color scheme as the original piece because I was attempting this style for the first time. The subject was also the same, as I wanted to master the technique thoroughly. Even though the final product was somewhat similar to the original, I managed to achieve an entirely different effect with the brushes as compared to that obtained with a palette knife. Sharing my observations below:

  1. While a palette knife produces thicker strokes, my brush strokes were flatter.
  2. There is more intermixing of colors when a palette knife is used, whereas the colors are individually more defined when using a brush.
  3. The palette knife strokes give a slightly raised effect as they involve the application of thick blobs of paint. On the other hand, a paint brush will result in a more two dimensional effect.

The paintings I chose were – “She Left” and “Winter”. I have shared below, images of the original artworks(the top two) as well as my versions(the bottom two). If you compare them, you will realize that my renditions are not complete replicas of the originals. So, in a way, not only did I manage to explore his signature style, but also invented my own style (or at least I hope I did!) All in all, it was a great learning experience that helped me practice Afremov’s technique until I felt confident enough to apply it to my own art.  I thoroughly enjoyed it!!

Next, I decided to be a little more adventurous with another composition. Since this too was an experiment, I picked up an image of Radha and Krishna for reference. Once again retaining the same color palette and silhouettes, I applied Afremov’s style to the background of the painting. I hope this is visible in the image below on the left, which is my version of the original artwork on the right.

I do hope I managed to impart originality to my work at the cost of being “influenced” by Afremov. Being inspired by artists or being influenced by their style doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to resort to copying. Even if you have not reached the stage of creating original art, there is always scope to brush up your skills and develop your own style. In fact, it is an evolutionary process that happens naturally over time.

But how does one retain originality? The trick lies in carefully studying the work that’s inspiring you and deciding what exactly it is that caught your eye. Was it the color palette, the composition, the concept or the subject matter? This will be a good way to start and will help you realize which aspect you love the most.

Try to incorporate this aspect into your artwork in your own unique style instead of replicating it exactly like it is in the original. This will happen when you have pushed yourself beyond the boundaries of creative thinking until you enter your very own personal domain of innovation.

When you are exploring and experimenting with the various elements that seemingly inspired you, some of them may turn out to be monotonous while others may suddenly ignite your imagination, so, look out for these sparks. Your body and mind will react to these stimuli and give you a sign. These beautifully intuitive cues will pave the path to discovering your muse.

Here are some pointers to help you transform your favorite artist’s inspirational works into your very own signature style, thereby aiding  your evolution and progress:

  1. Experiment and Explore – Love an aspect your favorite artist uses? Try using it in as many different ways as you can think of. Use different painting tools. For instance, Afremov used a palette knife, while I tried out the same technique with flat brushes. Use a different medium – if the original is with oils, try acrylics, mixed media or even collage making. They may enhance your art and make it exclusively yours.
  2. Modify the Color Palette – Google your favorite artist’s works or look them up on Pinterest. Take note of the color palette he or she generally uses and chose your own colors taking inspiration from this.  Use the image as a guideline for the palette and modify the shades.
  3. View the Subject Matter Differently – Sometimes even a subtle alteration of the subject matter goes a long way. The subject should excite you enough to explore further and possess the ability to go through the evolutionary process. Painting it in different color schemes, from different angles or changing the perspective can open doors to infinite new possibilities. This is what will make your work stand out.
  4. But, be prepared for the worst.  Sometimes the most favorable things may turn out to be boring. On the other hand, you may be pleasantly surprised by something you considered mundane. As they say, expect the unexpected!!

To sum it up, wade through works of art that interest you and invoke your creativity. Don’t play safe and tread water. Experiment, explore and awaken the artist in you. 

DISCLAIMER –The paintings that I have displayed in this post are my personal reproductions of original compositions by Leonid Afremov. I have tried my best to alter them by adopting a different approach in terms of technique so that they do not look like imitations of the original. However, they still resemble the original to some extent as I painted them purely with the aim of teaching myself Afremov’s style, hence I do not claim them to be my original creations.   

Sources and Photo Credits –

https://afremov.com/when-she-left.html

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