Artistic Variations on a Theme
Painting in a series is a popular artist’s method. Have you ever created similar paintings using the same subject matter? Then you’ve worked in a series! Claude Monet’s famous Haystacks Series (1890-1891) may first come to mind. Monet created twenty-five paintings for Haystacks, each using the same landscape. He painted the scene directly outdoors, allowing each painting to reflect the changes in quality of light and atmosphere that varied according to the time of day and season. Monet painted several series. Even though Haystacks is the more notorious, his Water Lilies Series includes an impressive 250 canvases!
What is a Painting Series
A series can be as simple as painting on three or more surfaces during the same painting session or in succession. These images will usually share one or more aspects such as color palette, subject matter or size. A series allows a single idea to expand in scope. At the top of this page are two examples from my painting series of the New Mexico landscape where I live. One is at sunset while the other is broad daylight. Similar to Monet, I used the same subject but with different qualities of light and atmosphere.
How to Create a Series
There are many ways to work in a series. One of my favorite ways reminds me of speed dating – it’s fast paced! Gather together several small surfaces of similar size. Arrange them so they are all accessible on your worktable at the same time. This way you can paint on all of the surfaces during the same painting session. Find an idea that inspires you. It could be something realistic such as a landscape, portrait or still life. It can also be something abstract. Be spontaneous and go with your first idea. Don’t spend too much time planning or you may risk never getting started. Gather any photos, drawings or other references you like to work with. Plan to paint on all of the surfaces in the amount of time you have to paint. You don’t have to finish them all, just plan to add something to each surface. Keep time intervals between canvases short. You can set a timer or just move from canvas to canvas by feel. Switching from one surface to the next encourages working fast and being more spontaneous. This process gets your creative juices ﬂowing to work through many ideas quickly. As an alternative, and if you like moving at a slower pace, follow the above instructions but only work on one surface per working session. The main idea is to not feel you have to finish one painting before moving on to the next, but instead allow yourself to spread your working energy out on several at the same time.
Why Paint in Series
There are many benefits of working on several paintings at the same time. If you have a show scheduled with a deadline looming, working in multiples can relieve any deadline pressure as well as give your show a big jumpstart into production mode. Another benefit is that the paintings inspire each other. Even if I’m not working in a specific series, I noticed that a painting I just finished, if left hanging up for me to see it, will often inspire the next. Working in multiples will also allow me to delve more deeply into an idea. Instead of trying to get all my ideas about a certain topic onto one canvas, it can play out more effectively on several.
Did this inspire you to try painting in a series? If so, or if you already work in series, please add your experiences or ideas with series in the comment section below. It will be fun to read about how other painters work with this idea.
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Another wonderfully layer-rich set of introspections that allows us to unearth in the spirit of abandoning to manifest what calls the colors into living and dancing. Soulful Wisdom beyond the canvas. Thank you, and Encore, Maestra Nancy!
Hi Beate! Thank you for your beautifully articulated (and complimentary) comment. I appreciate it!
I really like the idea of multiple painting surfaces all out at the same time. This sounds like a better chance for something to be worthwhile, maybe more than one painting! Less pressure with more possibilities. Will definitely set this up for myself today.
Hi Darleene, Exactly! Thank you for adding yet another benefit of painting multiples. I agree there’s a better chance for something to turn out better than we expected this way.
Hi and thanks for this very interesting Blog post! I love your work, and quite enjoyed seeing your series of paintings from New Mexico ??.
I am currently working on a series I call The Bridge Series, where the common theme is bridges.
I explore the symbolism of bridges, and put them in a similar, kind of fairytaleish landscape in each painting.
There are also one or two small, abstract figures on each bridge, and a larger semi-abstract figure somewhere in the foreground, creating an interesting tension and depth in the artwork.
I work on one painting at a time, and they have become quite popular. Sold one to the States recently! Now I’m working on piece number 8 in the series. ?
Nina from Sweden
See my bridge paintings here:
Thanks for your comment and your website. Just from your description I got super excited about seeing your current bridge series. As expected I thoroughly enjoyed seeing them with their gem like color palettes and magical aura. They are beautiful! Congratulations on your sale, and best wishes for another success in the series, your #8!
Nancy, your creations and your wise advice inspires me to paint regardless of the medium. So here is one of my watercolour paintings in a series.
Thanks so much for posting here. I’d love to see one of your watercolour paintings in a series. I don’t think it’s possible to post an image here at this point, but you can post a link to see it online. I will look into changing my blog to allow posting photos in the comments for the future.
Thank you Nancy. As always your generous and thoughtful input is inspiring. I often work in series and I consider each painting a valuable and stand alone part of the whole of my intention. I hope that makes sense. 🙂 I have your book, Acrylic Revolution, and I also enjoy your YouTube videos. I often tell fellow artists about you and your kind and helpful offerings. I attended one of your classes many years ago at Arizona Art Supply and it was fantastic! Thanks again!
So nice to hear from you! Thank you for your comment. I agree (yes makes total sense) that in doing a series, each piece needs to stand on its own, yet gains even more meaning when viewed with others in the series. Just like a person in their family. Individual yet part of a clan. Thank you for your generosity in sharing to your friends about my work, videos and books. I appreciate you!
Lake Tahoe has become an obsession, and I continue to add to this series. Tahoe has deep meaning for me. The first horse I ever rode, a golden Palomino, went out to pasture on a ranch above the lake. The clear air, the gorgeous views, different times of day and night all inspire this series.
I am familiar with your work (lucky me!) and now that you mention all the personal stories you have attached to Lake Tahoe I can appreciate your work even more. Thanks for posting your comment!
Your post supports my favourite way of working. Since I started to work in a series I know the content of my work has improved as well as my use of time. I also like to have an imposed deadline to keep me moving. Thanks for the link to Art Calendar which looks very interesting and I will pursue.
I find your blog very informative and I’m glad you’re posting again.
Great post Nancy. You warm my heart. You are so kind and generous.
The paintings are lovely. I hope your exhibition is a huge success.