The Clarity of Concept

Armand Cabrera

(All Paintings by Armand Cabrera)

Good paintings are conceptual. A center of interest must dominate in the painting. Everything else should be subordinated to this idea.

Painting is the expression of an experience lived or felt by the artist and captured for the world to see. The incident can be anything the artist is capable of sharing. To do this an artist must have a clear understanding of his materials and a mastery of their use.

They must also have a Concept for the thing depicted. Your concept contains the aesthetic decisions you make before you start to paint. It is the ‘Why’ that drives the design and composition and it is the most creative part of the process. Concept is the inward engine that guides your decisions of how you react to your environment through your chosen medium. It is essential to understand its importance. The concept strengthens the impact of your work. The conceptual idea allows you to transcend the mundane and depict what you paint as a personal vision, not as it is in reality but as you wish it to be.

It is more than just composing the picture in a certain way. It is infusing the picture with a single idea clearly conceived and executed. Brushwork, value, edges, color; all must come together in support of the impression felt by the artist at the time they experienced the scene. Nothing must detract from the focus. Drawing must not weaken the depiction. Color must not overly distract from the whole.

This is where good visualization is indispensable. It keeps you on track while still allowing you to take advantage of moments that might improve the overall idea. At the start of a painting I am constantly looking at the scene or model for visual information, but only in support of my idea. Once the idea is established you should spend most of your time looking at the painting and only occasionally checking areas against what is in the scene. The last minutes spent on a painting should be about preserving the concept and making a great painting and ignoring everything else.

4 thoughts on “The Clarity of Concept

  1. Do you find that you always commence your painting with the concept firmly in mind, or does it come to you as you're working?

    For me, in both plein air and studio paintings, the concept sometimes develops a bit as I go along. Sometimes it helps to jot down words describing the mood or a thumbnail defining the center of interest in the design, and the task is often to leave stuff out of the picture that takes away from the central idea.

  2. James,

    Usually the experience is an emotional one for me. Something grabs me while I’m looking and says paint me. Once that happens I try and spend as much time as possible building the idea of it in my head. When I first started painting outdoors I was driven to paint anything I could; very little thought went into concept, but as the mechanics have settled for me there is more of a “Why should I paint this?” “What can I say about it?”
    Everybody has a different process, but for me the paintings that form concepts while I paint tend to be too much about exactly what I am seeing; the old saying ‘nature abhors a vacuum’ in this case the vacuum being in my head at the time I am painting. In those cases I usually come back a second or third time until I have the Idea firmly planted.
    The scene of the hay bales is a good example I looked at that scene for almost a year, walked around it and tried to find the idea but couldn’t. It kept nagging me and I would drive by it at different times of day and weather until I saw it on a sunny day after the snow. Everything fell into place and I could now manipulate the scene towards my idea.

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