Painting is a fine balance between spontaneity and control. To spontaneously allow a watercolor wash to mingle on the paper, or leave a composition unbalanced, or create a playfully random contour line is always a gamble. Many seasoned artists learn to create perimeters in which randomness can wander, while staying within the confines of their final vision. For many of us, however, spontaneity is a difficult quality to harness. It often works against us rather than for us, and it’s easier to just do without it altogether. I struggle with insecurity when it comes to taking risks during the painting process, but constantly admire the work of those who do. Here are some examples.
I love this composition by Bernie Fuchs, a 20th century commercial illustrator. Both tennis players are nearly tangent to the edge of the painting, and your eye would fall off the page if it weren’t for the strong horizontal lines repeated across the surface. This painting is energetic and captivating for the very reason that it teeters on the edge of control.
Here’s a composition by Rakusan Tsuchiya using a similar method with the focal points riding the edges of the composition. Having to search for the subject becomes engaging.
Bruno Liljefors was famous for his charming and random compositions that mimic the spontaneity of nature so well.
Along with compositional design, creating spontaneity in mark-making is another skill that creates energy in a painting. This is one reason why children’s work is often so charming. They haven't learned control, making their art fresh and unexpected. Many veteran artists are the opposite. They’ve mastered control and then attempt to override their mechanical programming in order to create unexpected strokes. Cy Twombly built a career on this concept.
This watercolor painting by Andrew Wyeth perfectly portrays the randomness found in a child’s painting combined with the obvious control of a seasoned artist. He knew how to harness spontaneity and make it work for him--from the stabs of watercolor paint that suggest the clouds in the sky, to the random spots of pure blue and yellow scattered throughout the painting, to all of the combined marks that form a grassy field without mechanically repeating vertical lines. It's the willingness to take risks that gives his work such visual impact.