why work in a series?



Reason #1: Explore an object as subject

working in series to learn more about your subject

The subject is tangible and in front of you. Developing your knowledge of an object as subject might be about helping you to develop your artwork generally or it might be the reason behind the series you’re developing.Knowing how something works is one step nearer to knowing how it can be represented in a more shorthand way if you work in a more abstracted way.

Reason #2 – Explore an idea as concept

working in series to explore an idea

The subject is in your head, it’s an idea and it may be philosophical and/or conceptual.What the artist has to say may be represented in any number of different ways – detailed and realistic or abstract and metaphorical – but if the paintings are ‘on message’ then they all form part of a series. Having them all in the same style may help to convey the idea of a ‘series’.

Developing a series based on a concept is akin to ‘working through a problem’ – and outcomes from developing a conceptual series can range from very positive and very negative.

Reason #3 – Explore a story

working in a series to tell a story

The subject is known to you and may be tangible but can be an imaginary story or a story which has to be visually imagined.Well known ways of using a series of artworks to tell a story range from
* history paintings associated with a particular place, event or person
* portraits of an individual during their lifetime eg Velaquez’s paintings of Philip II and his family
* visual depictions of the stations of the cross
* illustrations for a book or a comic

Reason #4 – Explore one motif

working in a series to explore an idea, pattern, image, or theme.

A motif is a repeated idea, pattern, image, or theme.
Repetition within an artwork and across a series of designs lends unity to the whole.
In exploring a motif, you identify all the different ways you can portray it. Single motifs are often associated with particular artists – while others can crop up in the work of a number of artists* Paisley patterns are one example of a pattern repeated within a cloth and also repeated in cloths in many different colours.
* Islamic patterns often take one or two motifs and then repeats them throughout
* Architecture often has motifs associated with particular periods of building or particular types of building
* This is a list of visual motifs often used in patterns.

Reason #5 – Explore colour

working in series to explore colour

In order to explore the impact of changes in light or colour you need to keep other variables (eg the subject matter) the same.For example, Monet to explored the colour of light at different times of day. He painted the same subject over and over again – changing canvases as he worked through the day to the one appropriate for that time and that type of light.

Using a series approach you can also explore the impact on adjacent colour of combining colours in different ways. Josef Albers didn’t paint squares – he painted different colours combinations which he always portrayed within squares.

You can also take one subject and explore different colour combinations in printmaking (eg Warhol’s series of Marilyn Monroe)

Reason #6 – Explore design

working in series to explore design possibilities

Using a series approach you can explore the impact of change on a composition or design by
* arranging different multiples of the same objects in different sizes and position
* using different values for the same design of shapes and lines.
Exploring the impact of different arrangements of values relating to one subject can be a technique which is adopted prior to starting any painting rather than an end in itself. For example, developing several thumbnails of different value patterns for the arrangement of big shapes within the subject matter. See Composition – why tonal values and contrast are important.

Reason #7 – Painting what you like best

working in series because of a strong emotional attachment to the subject matter

I think that to be able to get out of bed day after day and paint, one needs to have a feeling for a subject. It’s really great if the subject continuously feeds your emotions and makes you feel good. Plus you never get bored with a subject if you always paint what you like best.

Painting what you like best can then provide a jolly good reason for painting – period! There is only one difficulty – deciding what you like best!

Reason #8 – Feed an obsession

an emotional reason for working in series

An obsession is a persistent or dominating thought, idea, or feeling.

Some artists have to paint about the specific thoughts, ideas and/or emotions which absorb them – and associated subject matter. This can be obsessive. This is largely an obsessive emotional response if they find themselves unable to paint anything else.

Whether they are good or bad obsessions rather depends on why they started in the first place.

Once you know your subject then it’s possible to develop more imaginary treatments of the same subject. The range and size of your series is only limited by the limits of your subject.

Reason #9 – Achieve artistic credentials

working in series to acquire an artistic status

Working on a series can enable some artists to achieve a status which has value to them as artists and in terms of marketing their work.

For example, the RHS only awards Gold Medals to Botanical Artists who develop a series of paintings about a specific species or collection

Reason #10 – Develop an artistic identity

working in series to develop your art career and business

Artists can work in series to help make their work a more marketable commodity and/or create a reason for people to buy and then collect an artist’s work. These reasons might be subsidiary to the reason why an artist creates the work but they can also be a legitimate part of the business life of any artist.

It’s much easier for an artist to ‘sell’ themselves to a gallery or a client if the artist knows what their work is about and that work has coherence in both subject matter and style – it has an identity.

It then becomes much easier for galleries to describe an artist’s work and market it to clients who have a defined interest in that sort of work.

Reason #11 – Create an exhibition

working in series for an exhibition

Exhibitions which have a big impact are ones which have themes for the work displayed.

Works which are linked often work extremely well together when displayed. Combining paintings from a series in one exhibition often creates a very powerful visual impact.


Reason #12 – Create a collectible

working in series to help collectors buy your work

People like collecting art and a good reason for creating a series is it makes it easier for people to collect your art.

If people like the subject and the way the artist treats it then they may seek to make repeated purchases of anything they produce.

There is a downside. Artists often cannot afford to stop producing such paintings – even if they now hate the subject matter – because of the financial benefits attached.

A tip from a professional artist who works in a series – NEVER EVER start painting a series about a subject which does not not absorb you! If it becomes popular, linked to your name and financially worthwhile you might have to paint the subject for a very long time to come!

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