View Full Version : Do You (Or Have You) Paint In A Series

Kathryn Wilson
05-17-2006, 03:47 PM
As previously posted, Robert Genn puts out a twice weekly newsletter pertaining to topics on art (not medium specific, but more in general). In his latest newsletter, he talks about painting in a series. http://www.painterskeys.com/

Robert explains that it is thought that galleries like to see consistency and series painting does that. He also suggests that it strengthens your painting skills.

What are your thoughts?

Have you painted a series of paintings on a similar theme?

Were they successful sellers for you?

What topics/themes did you use?

Post here any suggestions for a series of paintings.

Do you think using a special palette of pastel colors in set of paintings would be attractive to buyers? How about technique, rather than subject matter?

I think we have had some members post series paintings - it would be fun to see them all together, in thumbnails please, so that we can see what you are or have been working on.

Kathryn Wilson
05-17-2006, 03:50 PM
Apparently, this newsletter has not made it to his archives yet, so here it is:

Monty Python alumnus Terry Gilliam was recently bemoaning the
current sad state of British film comedy: "The worst thing that
can happen to anyone in the movie business," he says, "is
success. It takes away the desire to strive. At the same time
it makes one prone to repetition--which is the death of

In my modest practice as art mentor (I do it for free), I
frequently get letters that say, "Please take a look at my work
and tell me in which direction I should go--and, by the way,
how do I get into galleries?" I often find myself replying,
"You need more consistency. Your work is all over the place.
You need to develop one style or another and go in that
direction." In other words, I'm advising, "Repeat yourself."

In the painting game, repetition is one of the disciplines
needed for self-realization. Variations on a theme, however
subtle, lead to development and refinement. I'm a believer in
the concept of "set." Making a set or series of any subject or
idea is the way to further invent and codify style. The
unification of set can be managed by subject matter--for
example, all you ever wanted to know about peonies, or pumas,
or Pontiacs. As well, format, size, medium, colour and time
development are just a few of the other set-makers that invite
creative repetition. The benefit of set is to draw an artist
along on a purposeful voyage of discovery. Often, when I look
at an artist's collection of works, particularly in early
career, it reminds me of a flotilla of unique rental boats tied
up at a pier. Any one of these boats could be rowed off in any
number of felicitous directions.

Fine art is not like the movie business, where huge amounts of
capital and a variety of skills are needed to keep pace with
accepted norms and financial risk. Fine art is generally a low
investment, individualist industry, where private sweat pays
dividends to a self-directed, exploring soul. This takes place
with a combination of courage, stick-to-it-ive-ness and
character. Not everyone can pull it off. These days there are a
lot of distractions. There may also be too much information out
there. The current rage for diversity and the perceived need
for exploring new materials have spread the virus of
dilettantism. Jack of all trades--master of none.

05-17-2006, 04:19 PM
I have tried painting in series, usually after pulling off a successful painting :) Unfortunately, when I carry on to work on the next painting inthe series - thinking it will be spectacular as well, it almost always fails.

That being said - I look at my portfolio and I do see a wide variety of subject - many that I don't even LIKE painting - and it makes me realize that perhaps I should tie myself to a subject or two for a while and work at it until I am more proficient in both.

Kathryn Wilson
05-17-2006, 04:34 PM
Cori, why do you think the second painting fails? I would think that the work on the first one would pass onto the second one - interesting.

I would like for my style to settle down a bit into something consistent. I seem to be all over the place, trying new things, new techniques, practicing my skills - it would seem to me that by now I would be settling into a style, but I don't see it.

If you do a show for a gallery, is it necessary/desirable to have a set or series of paintings to be consistent within the show?

05-17-2006, 04:43 PM

I guess that my preferred theme is landscapes/seascapes.
However I also like still lifes alot and trompe l'oiels.
I never thought about doing a series, but I think that if one day I have an exhibit, I'll try to make it coherent.
I don't worry much about having a certain style or pallete, but it's possible that one has it and doesn't notice it.
Besides I like to experiment several themes.

Kindest regards,


Bill Foehringer
05-17-2006, 05:08 PM
I can certainly see that painting many different versions of a common theme, say midwestern fields and river valleys, would be helpful because familiarity and practice should yield good work. Any number of the more successful members here are good examples of fruitful repetition. I don't think repetition is necessary for growth or success but it is a path that can lead to growth for the artist. Good work repeated, regardless of the subject, should be the goal.
This positive form of repetition should be balanced with the need to avoid stagnation. 50 nearly identicle images of the same bridge in one year might be too much.
Could someone do a picture of the same bridge once a week for a year and keep the paintings interesting, probably. Would a gallery want to try to sell all of them at once? unlikely.
I can also see that once one has developed a good eye the subject doesn't matter as much. The subject becomes a starting point for what the artist's eye and mind see and communicate.

05-17-2006, 05:08 PM
I don't know. I have a feeling that it comes more from sheer dumb luck on the first and then the struggle to repeat it results in my not letting it just flow. My style is getting a real consistency to it (at least as far as my animal paintings go).

As for shows - I think that if the show has a theme - the jurors will make their selections based on that. Otherwise - just represent yourself the best you can.

This summer, I am planning to take a fair few photos out in Langdon and create some paintings from those over the winter. If I plan to have my open studio at the annual garage sale there next year, I should build up a stock of local images (mostly the surrounding farmland and some of the old-fashioned buildings). Then that can be my series! :)

Kathryn Wilson
05-17-2006, 05:44 PM
hmmm . . . it could be quite challenging to paint the same bridge each week for a year . . . the seasonal change could help, then people on the bridge, or cars or horse carts

I am thinking trees or scenes around town . . . I just sold a painting of an island, so a beach theme could be good . . . but how many would be bought away from the beach.

How about themes surrounding color, rather than subject. Although I would think this could be quite monotonous on a gallery wall.

I have a chance of being a featured artist at a local gallery and have about six months to paint. Although my favorite theme is the southwest, I don't think they would be big sellers here. Another thought, could you mix themes in a gallery show. Say 8 paintings of two themes or sets.

K Taylor-Green
05-17-2006, 07:22 PM
Well, you know me! Most of my paintings neigh! I guess specializing in a subject is a theme. I don't have a desire to paint other subjects, though there have been times I felt that I should. But I wasn't happy. So I will keep painting horses, and other animals if I need a change a change. I'm an Equine artist and a pastellest.

05-17-2006, 07:27 PM
I was a portrait painter by profession for about 35 years, and when not doing commissions, looked for faces that told a story. Beginning in 1992, until 2005, I painted an eight piece series of one man. He was a real life cowboy and had the most interesting face I've ever seen. You may visit my art blog listed below, and scroll down to "Gunslinger" which is the second one down. This is the final piece I'm going to do of him.

Some of the pieces were head and shoulders, some full-body, with varied settings and lighting. They all won top awards in any show they were in, and all sold for decent money. Lucky me! (grin) Actually, it was very hard to part with my "chilliun's." I'm sure a lot of you understand what I mean by that.

The theme behind those paintings, as well as other character studies I did during that period was of men - indian braves ("Warrior no more" for instance, on top of blog) who suddenly find themselves to be useless, their skills and knowledge no longer needed in a rapidly changing world. You guessed it! That was exactly what I had been living through for a few years.

It was a thematic series, as well as a series of one interesting face I guess, but I finally got it all out of my system. If you care to, let me know what you think of those efforts, which are posted at the blog. BTW, the beautiful little indian girl is part of the thematic series also.


Kathryn Wilson
05-17-2006, 07:33 PM
Oh, yes, I have visited your blog - portrait painters have my utmost respect. I can't imagine the room in which all these paintings were at one time - I would be awestruck.

05-17-2006, 07:42 PM
I think Tom has a wonderful example of a theme collection of work. He specializes in local countryside scenes but keeps them all fresh and new by varying the season, the individual subject (brook, old barn, deserted road, first snow, approaching change in season, etc.) and focus. They're all wonderful paintings, related, but different enough from each other to keep the viewer's interest. The theme he concentrates on adapts flawlessly with his changes and experiments in technique, etc. Group almost all his work together and you'll see they're all genuine Tom paintings...intimately related, but each reflecting his personal relationship with the land around him. I would think this would make his work highly collectible and sought after by galleries.

I've also seen other painters who can juggle two "themes" such as floral/still lifes and garden landscapes. This works well, too, and is probably the type of theme I'll eventually follow...altho as yet I have no idea what that theme will be.

As to paintings done around, say, a coastal theme and others on another theme entirely, I would assume the coastal related work would sell best near that locale while the other stuff might sell better somewhere else?

05-17-2006, 07:49 PM
I took from that article the idea of the "paint what you know" . Wlhatever the subject, if you continue to "see" new things, you are growing. Look at Monet, the last years of his life were basically in his back yard, so, yea, you could paint that bridge for a year, and make it look totally different each time!! I think it is a fundamental thing to explore new subject matter, but be true to yourself, and your painting style. I think is is difficult to jump from portraits to landscape,to abstract, to fruit, etc...

Kathryn Wilson
05-17-2006, 07:50 PM
Sooz, follow that theme! I can just see a series of garden paintings, coupled with macro paintings of flowers.

Tres, I think jumping around from subject type to subject type can be difficult to establish a style - maybe that's why doing sets would make that easier. You could do paintings of florals for one set, then hop over and do a series of animals or landscapes.

In looking at my signature line, it sure does look like I hop around quite a bit. Gotta fix that!

05-17-2006, 08:59 PM
Kevin MacPherson has a book(it was actually featured in the new AM) on doing exactly this.
It is called "Reflections on a Pond". He painted the same pond each day for a year.

Karen Margulis
05-17-2006, 09:32 PM
Great discussion! I find that I do tend to jump around as I try to learn all I can about painting and pastels. I try to paint things out of my comfort zone so that I can learn and push myself. But I always find myself returning to my favorite subject....the seashore and sea birds. I feel that I do my best work with the subjects I am most passionate about. It would be nice to live in an area where there would be more of a demand for seashore paintings...so for now they just pile up in my studio!

05-17-2006, 09:48 PM
Karen, surely you could find a gallery or even a hotel lobby near the seashore where your lovely paintings would fit right in? Wouldn't have to be in your home town. I know I've often looked around the shops of a place I've been hoping to find a mini painting or drawing of the area to take home with me...

05-17-2006, 10:54 PM
Khadres, point of interest. In 1983, I had a studio on Ruxton street in Manitou Springs. It was kind of a laid-back artist's colony then, surrounded by beautiful countryside.

Kyle, I love the broken color and the mood of:

Colorado river bluffs, Trees in late winter, and Spring runoff. You're an inspiration to me.


05-17-2006, 11:39 PM
perhaps if you are trying to recreate what succeeded in the first painting rather than try and achieve something new but in the same vein as the first, that spark of creation is not generated.

Just a thought

05-17-2006, 11:52 PM
For a couple of years I painted the same five or six still life objects- a pitcher, a fat vase, a couple of cups, etc, over and over- drawings, etchings, paintings, even pastels.... they ranged from a few inches on a side to 5 feet by 7 feet. It did help me alot to understand my development and what I wanted to do. But each painting has to feed the next one and so on no matter if the subject stays the same or not. If you keep developing what is important to you in your work the consistency will come through.

Kitty Wallis
05-18-2006, 12:24 AM
(written after reading Cori's first post)

I believe doing a series offers valuable lessons, both in skill and in looseness. However, it's a matter of attitude.

Cori, I'm not surprised the second one failed, if, as I suppose, you were trying for a similar success with it. I think creativity depends on the willingness to fail. If we expect an easier time of it, or think we know 'how to do it' I would be surprised to see a good piece. The stuggle to find our way is the energy of the painting IMO.

So painting a series is hard to do. since most of us use the novelty of a new subject to carry us thru the hard work of creating our expression. To see the subject as new, while painting the same thing again, isn't easy but it can be done.

I saw a show, years ago, of the same room, done in B&W!, 80 times. all the same size, about 14x17 or smaller. I didn't particularly like the artist's work but I was very impressed with the huge effort. as the images progessed I could see the renewed attention to the subject, the new experiments at seeing. They got looser as they progressed. Not jus
t more energetic, or more abandoned, but maintaining strong attention to the work.

05-18-2006, 10:44 AM
Absolutely fascinating discussion! Thank you Kat for starting it! Many words of wisdom here and I am trying to process them. As a "beginner" (have only been painting on the flat surface for 1 1/2 years) my first response was - it depends on where you are in your art journey. I do agree with painting what is closest to your heart and it will show. I have made myself paint other things to learn technique and/or familiarity of other subjects and I struggle. Not to say it isn't a valid effort - especially for one who is just starting out! I will watch this thread and listen carefully to everyone's good advice here.

Kathryn Wilson
05-18-2006, 11:48 AM
Hi Kitty and Karl! Thanks for your words of wisdom - I always learn new things when you both post - not having a mentor, or someone to talk over my career with, this is the next best thing - listening to those with more experience and having gone through all these stages in your careers.

Barbara, you are so right - if we don't try many things when we first start out, how do we know what direction is best? I guess you would say I am at a cross-roads - not firmly convinced which road to take just yet, but the more I do, the more firm in my conviction that I am headed in the right direction.

I love discussions like this - it makes for many thoughtful hours while I am painting.

Kathryn Wilson
05-18-2006, 11:52 AM
Kyle, I love the broken color and the mood of:

Colorado river bluffs, Trees in late winter, and Spring runoff. You're an inspiration to me.


Blushing . . . it truly is the other way around for me, you are the inspiration.

Mikki Petersen
05-21-2006, 01:10 AM
This article really caught my attention when it hit my mailbox too. It was particularly relevant because it had been one of the discussion topics in my weekly class with Margot Schulzke, PSA, PSW-Laureate. She maintains thta if you want to paint a subject well, you must do at least 100 paintings of that subject in the same medium before determining if you are successful at that subject/medium. Not necessarily paint the same pond 100 times, but do 100 paintings of woodland ponds, for example, to really learn all the nuances of pond water, reflections, pond banks, background trees, etc.

My mother-in-law once took an oil painting class at her community center. She was curiously intrigued by a fellow who was taking the same class for the 20th time and who had painted the same barn scene each time. "why don't you try painting something different?" she asked him. "I will", he said, "as soon as I get this one done right." Now that might be stretching things to too fine a point...but I'm on my 38th landscape of 100 that I promised to do before giving up on landscape paintngs.


Deborah Secor
05-21-2006, 03:57 PM
I like Genn's advice to repeat yourself, but to me it may be about something other than subject. I find that 'landscape' or 'still life' still allows the artist to "row off in any number of felicitous directions," to quote him. Sometimes it requires more specific goals.

He mentions that "format, size, medium, colour and time development are just a few of the other set-makers that invite creative repetition." When I need to freshen things I'll sometimes set limits on myself. I may do 10 paintings 6x9" in a horizontal format, and mat them all the same so I can look at them as a body of work. Or sometimes I'll limit colors--forcing myself to paint all white subjects, all green things, or all high key or low key. I will do 10 9x12" paintings limiting the amount of time painting on each one to a maximum of 30 miutes. Rarely do I want to paint the same place over and over. (I'm totally puzzled by someone like Elizabeth Mowry painting the same field for a year, for instance. She pulled off not only the paintings, but a big show at a gallery--so obviously it works for some!)

For me 10 paintings is usually my interest limit. After that I get repetitive or I'm so bored that I simply never finish. If I set the limits so that I can be creative within a 'set' it can help me see in a new way.

Night scenes have interested me lately, so I've done a series of little ones. The images are all painted on 6x6" paper, and matted with dark blue black-core mats. It's been instructive and fun. I'm adding three of them for you to see.

One thing I want to add is that I don't believe that practice makes perfect. A friend of mine said that practice makes permanent, and I think he's right! We discussed this quite a bit and the question is if you were practicing a piano piece and you made a mistake, should you start from that point to make right what you blew, or do you need to return to the beginning and practice the entire piece so that it is learned correctly? A lot of it is about the intention you bring to the practice. Likewise with painting. If you intend to perfect parts, you get perfect parts, but perhaps they don't yet form a cohesive whole, a body of work that hangs together.

Good topic, Kat! Thanks. :)


05-21-2006, 04:10 PM
One look at my website, and you'll know there is no way I'm ever going to "settle down" to one style of painting. I prefer to paint what I know in the style that interests me at that particular moment. Does that mean every gallery that represents me wants every style that I paint? Absolutely not, but I don't care because my first interest in painting is satisfying myself.

That being said, I do think painting in a series is useful to anyone. I believe painting what you know over and over helps one to strengthen your understanding of the whole process. Once you "know" how to form that flower for instance, you can then concentrate on different color combinations or lighting situations, etc. Each time is a new adventure until the "whole" becomes second nature to you, and the next series is easier to accomplish. I've done tree series, seascape series, tulip field series, abstract series, moon/night sky series (that I can remember at this point), and each of them was a new learning experience of one type of another.

Kyle, I suspect you are correct in thinking a southwest theme won't go over as well as a beach theme in your neck of the woods. I remember a gallery owner in Raleigh telling me that they wouldn't accept paintings in a competition I chaired there that have a subject matter that was so obviously southwest or western because they couldn't sell that type of painting in Raleigh - just a hint for you in your consideration of what to paint for your show in six months....


Kathryn Wilson
05-21-2006, 06:46 PM
Deborah, what a lot to chew on. I think you could make an article on it for the Pastel Journal. Very interesting stuff.

Peggy, LOL, I know exactly what gallery you are talking about. That gallery is in a very traditional, conventional part of town and I know southwest would not get it there.

Darn, I wish I had a photo of the beach scene I did - but it sold before I thought of it.

Can I paint sand dunes in red, purples and blues - :)

05-21-2006, 09:41 PM
[quote=kyle] Peggy, LOL, I know exactly what gallery you are talking about. That gallery is in a very traditional, conventional part of town and I know southwest would not get it there.

Really? traditional/conventional? Maybe that part of town is, but what I saw of their permanent painters' work didn't look at all conventional - more modernistic to expressionist. I for certain didn't see anything that would say it was from west of the Mississippi though...:lol:

Can I paint sand dunes in red, purples and blues - :)

Of course you can if you want to. Now that would fit into that gallery's venue :lol: :lol: :lol:


Kathryn Wilson
05-21-2006, 11:13 PM
Well, it's a very "money" area and they all cow-tow to their designer's whims and they do whatever is hip, whether they like it or not. I despair of finding a gallery in this town that will like my work -

05-22-2006, 07:04 AM
Paint a series of Clay Aiken, Raleigh's "hometown" boy....:evil:

Kathryn Wilson
05-22-2006, 08:44 AM
Tressa, now that's mean - :)

Deborah, I love those night paintings - all those twinkling lights. Cool idea.

It's been suggested that a series could be of sizes, or that tonal values could be a good series. The last show I was in sure did point out the fact that people like color, abstract, impressionistic rather than realistic paintings. Is that a trend everyone is seeing across the country/world? One painting was all blue, one was all reds and yellows - no matter the subject, it was about color. Also, the bigger paintings sold better than the smaller ones.

Would love to see what others are doing for a series - this thread is not about what I am doing, but what you've done/are doing - whether you found series paintings successful. Did you sell a whole series? Did a buyer buy more than one out of the series?

Deborah Secor
05-22-2006, 11:56 AM
Years ago I did a series on hillsides. The premise was that I would explore color in the grass of a hillside, with a sky and tree(s), but be very loose and expressionstic about it. I did different sizes and different colors, and they sold VERY well. If I cna dif up the CD with the ancient pix I'll show you. Most of them were shot with my old SLR, not the digi camera. I have a feeling this image would still do well in any area of the country.


05-22-2006, 03:17 PM
Sorry, it was a joke, cuz I actually love him!!!:lol:

I have been doing pottery as a series, and it started out as a way to get better at Peggy's favorite pet peeve, elipses...and I found I REALLY liked working with those subjects..

05-22-2006, 03:24 PM
Sorry, it was a joke, cuz I actually love him!!!:lol:

I have been doing pottery as a series, and it started out as a way to get better at Peggy's favorite pet peeve, elipses...and I found I REALLY liked working with those subjects..

AND you've gotten quite good at them too Tres! :clap: Still can't say the same for myself - thus I stick mostly to landscapes... :o

Deborah Secor
05-22-2006, 05:15 PM
I found them! Here's some from my hillside series from back in the 90s... I loved doing these. I was really having fun with color and line, edges and shapes. I think it helped me to limit what I was concentrating on, plus I figured these could sell all over the place. They don't look 'regional', you know?

1--A larger size, about 24x30"
2--very small, maybe 9x12"
3--about 10x24"

I had a lot more colors, too--about everything in the rainbow!


Kathryn Wilson
05-22-2006, 07:33 PM
I like these alot! I love the looseness in the first one; the red in the third one is stunning.

Now I have to figure out what jingles my chain - I love doing water reflections and that is easy enough to find here. The beach I have to travel quite a bit to get there; same with the mountains.

05-22-2006, 09:32 PM
Kyle, you live in the Piedmont, so a lot of flatland, so what about all that beautiful sky up above you? or the farm fields? And some very stately old homes around there...gardens, cafes..streams, ponds, lakes....:thumbsup:

Kathryn Wilson
05-22-2006, 10:07 PM
Kyle, you live in the Piedmont, so a lot of flatland, so what about all that beautiful sky up above you? or the farm fields? And some very stately old homes around there...gardens, cafes..streams, ponds, lakes....:thumbsup:

Ponds and lakes we have -

no beautiful skies, no farm fields left, gardens or cute cafes - nada, nope, no sureeee.

no wonder I love painting the southwest

05-23-2006, 07:05 AM
LOL, Has Raleigh gone cosmopolitan??? I remember the last time I was thru there, a lot of nice scenery, but it has been a couple years.

Kathryn Wilson
05-23-2006, 07:11 AM
Yes, DH and I went out a few weekends back to paint and photoshoot plein air subjects - ha, more people and houses than you know what to do with in a 50 mile radius. My beef is with all the greenage - there is no break in that color here.

So, to move on from here - I will try painting water - at least there are some degrees of different colors here and there in the water.

But really, this thread was not about my painting - but the experiences of those who have painted in series, or who want to paint in a series and need guidance.

05-23-2006, 10:22 AM
I saw this and had to comment. Given all the european, especially french scenes I've been doing lately, I'd say OH Yeah!. Diane's european vacation. Or how about Diane getting in touch with her roots.....lol.

Mikki Petersen
05-23-2006, 02:52 PM
Deborah, I love your hill series, especially the pink one.