I had a lot of fun painting Iron White Man. He was Lakota Sioux and a member of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show at the turn of the 20th Century. A black and white photograph of him by Gertrude Kasebeir leapt out at me one day while surfing the Internet and I really wanted to try to capture him in watercolor.. With this painting, I feel like I’ve totally broken free and am my own artist now.
What do I mean by that? Well, as an example, I grew up loving the watercolors of John Pike. He was, in my view, the greatest watercolorist of the late 20th Century. His watercolors, like the one he did of the Kybher Pass, were an inspiration to me. Just do a Bing or Google search for John Pike Watercolors and you’ll see what I mean.
So I spent a lot of time painting watercolors that looked like John Pike paintings – I even flat out copied his paintings to try to capture the style and understand the technique he used. But they never really looked quite right, no matter how similar they were to John Pike’s painting. In the end, they weren’t my picture. They were just a copy of somoene else’s picture.
Over the past year, I’ve really dedicated myself to painting my own way and have completely stopped worrying about whether my paintings look as good as anyone else’s. Now it is more about seeing if I can capture the essence of something that I am personally attracted to. This has lead to a year of painting portraits in watercolor.
Most recently, I’ve been painting portraits of American Indians who were photographed in black and white by Edward S. Curtis or Gertrude Kasebeir. I am so really fascinated by these amazing black and white pictures and have been painting watercolors of my favorite images to try to “bring them to life” in a way that only watercolor can do.
So this all leads to the title of this post. I have decided that I am not John Pike and I never will be and I am 100% ok with that!
Trying to be or paint like another artist is just a lost cause. Sure, you can pick up some tricks here and there by doing a copy, but it is really unfullfilling, in the end, becasue when you get done it’s not really yours. A great copy of someone else’s painting will never be as compelling as a poorly executed painting that is entirely your own.
When I look at this painting of Iron White Man, my new insight and understanding is that it looks nothing like a John Pike painting. And, yet, I am entirely proud of the result. It is wholly and completely a Mike Blaylock painting. And even if John Pike were alive today, his painting of Iron White Man wouldn’t be very good if all he did was try to copy what I did.
Lessons learned on the artist’s path.