Journal Prompt — February 2022 Edition


Based on the book Trust the Process (Read the book review here)

 Emanation is the process of one thing emerging from another, and this quality of creation reinforces the importance of working in a series.  P. 40

In Trust The Process, Shaun McNiff writes about the benefits of working in a series, which can take many forms. For instance, a series could be built around a concept of forms (rectangles, circles) or, as McNiff suggests, start with a gesture and build on it. You could choose a theme or one subject.

Degas Ballet Dancers on stage


“Nothing will happen unless we start working and allow the practice of our particular disciplines to mix with the streams of ideas and experiences that are constantly moving through daily life.”


Artists throughout history have used working in a series to explore a variety of elements and ideas. 


The sunflower series completed by Vincent Van Gogh was an exploration of the colors yellow and blue. He completed  4 paintings of sunflowers within a week’s time in August 1888 starting with 3 flowers and adding to that number until the final painting which had 15 sunflowers. With each painting the artist made changes in composition, flower structure and color until satisfied with the results.

The author outlines a process using working in a series to discover qualities in your work that may not be apparent from a stand alone work. This is an important tool for uncovering unique aspects of your work and deciding how to incorporate them into your process.  Here is a list of things to keep in mind to allow emanation to develop:

  • Look for the unplanned results that emerge from consistent work.
  • Respect what takes place autonomously and in its own time
  • The control factor (ego) has to step aside and let the other faculties of creation exercise themselves.
  • Tap into your strengths
  • Be open to adding and removing elements



Concepts in Practice

Objective:  Discover the path to unpredictable magic

Journal Prompt

Complete a series of work. 

Follow along as I work through a series of studies to discover aspects of my art.

This is a study I did on location. I initially wanted to focus on the small pier as the focal point. I didn’t give much thought to composition, but I did try to get the values correct. But they aren’t! 🙂


oil study of a lake scene

In this attempt (right), I divided the canvas before I went out to paint so I would have a better idea of where to place things while I was painting. I was working on fitting the elements I saw in the scene into the composition I had in mind for my work. I think this helped me edit what I was looking at instead of trying to fit everything into the study. Compared to the first study, there is less material, and I experimented with shifting the focus to the trees instead of the pier.

Lake scene 4

With this attempt ( on left ), I removed the foreground path , I thought it didn’t add much to the overall idea. Gave more thought to the drawing ( straightened the horizon and the lake edge) , but the composition still needed work.

Lake scene study 3

Here on the left is the fourth study of the lake scene. Again, I divided the canvas before going out to paint using the golden rectangle. Continued to try to simply the information and get good color notes for use in the studio when I get ready to paint the scene.

Working in series, I discovered that dividing the canvas into compositional grids was very helpful for me when editing the scene.  Looking at the series highlighted my tendency to be a bit sloppy with my drawing and value, something I wouldn’t have noticed looking at just one study of a subject, now I keep that in mind as I work.

I found that working in a series helped me to understand how I was not giving enough attention to the fundamentals of my chosen style of art, landscape painting. Somehow, seeing the same subject painted several times highlighted these tendencies. As Shaun McNiff says, ” find a gesture that is characteristic of your work and build on it “, I did find some characteristics, but not ones I want to build on, and that’s okay. I think this was really worth doing and I plan to continue to work in series.

Give this a try and see what you discover about your art!