June 3, 2012

Why Artists Work in Series

I am often asked why I tend to paint in series . It is not usually something I set out to do.

On the contrary, I often have so many ideas for a particular subject matter or concept, that I can’t make a final decision. When that happens and I’m feeling pulled towards a multitude of ideas, I tend to work in a series .

It does take quite a bit of time to work through them all however there is a great benefit for artists working this way. Here are my top 5 reasons for working in series…

1. Painting What You Love

Most artists have that one subject matter or style that they are repeatedly drawn to. And when you love something, you seldom become bored with it. Hence why my portfolio has an entire category devoted to “eggs”. However, artists also have a passions for specific messages that they wish to communicate. So though the subject matter may differ, the message is the same. Working in series allows artists to explore this further.

2. To Tell A Story

Many artists will use their work to tell a story, where each piece depicts parts of a message. Artists will also fuse a multitude of similar works that all share the same story. I often find this to be quite powerful and inspiring. I recently completed a series of work in this manner entitled “Bag Lady”. The series focused on the “baggage” that many people carry through life, most times unconsciously.

3. Exploring a Medium & Style

Often, when the subject matter is the same or similar, an artist can more comfortably explore how changes in colour, light and application affect the final result. When an artists works for an extensive period of time with a specific colour range, the concept of colour mixing and application of the medium are understood better.

I tend to use series to explore the impact on adjacent colour combinations or the effect of layering colours in different ways.  The famous artists, Monet also found value by workign in series. He explored the changes in colour and light throughout different times of day. Monet painted the same subject over and over, simply changing canvases as the day progressed.

4. Seeing More Than The Obvious

When working in a series using the same subject manner, artists often find themselves seeing more than the obvious. They start noticing details that you normally wouldn’t upon a few glances. You’ll see within my portfolio, eggs have a special place. I paint them often, and yet I’m never tired of them. Each though similar has something different whether it be how the shape is interpreted, how the light falls, how it relates to surrounding objects etc.

Knowing more about the subject manner through such practices allows artists to not only recreate what they see much more easily, but also allows them to understand where departures from the subject are needed and how far a piece can be pushed without loosing it’s style and recognition. There are millions of ways to paint an egg believe it or not!

5. Creating a Collection

Artists will often work in series for months or years simply to create a collection of work. Viewers whom identify with the subject matter and/or message of the work,  will appreciate this as it enables them to collect similar pieces.

And with all of that said, I’m working on a new series as we speak. There are four in this series and I’ll begin posting them next week. Art lovers, do you find yourselves more drawn to work that is done in seres. For my fellow artists, how has working in series helped you on your creative journey?



  • Kisha June 3, 2012

    Great explanation! I’ve actually realized later that I had been working on a series without setting out to!

    • Vanessa July 20, 2012

      It’s interesting how that happens subconsciously huh? Perhaps there is a subject matter or concept that you’re drawn to and it shows in your work.

  • Susan Gainen June 10, 2012

    Whether painting my geometric abstracts (nanoscapes) or whimsical creatures (small friends), I often paint in series. Right this minute, I am working on “The Lost Cave Paintings of Saint Paul,” painted on gesso-on-paper. So far: Two Rhinos, A Cape Buffalo, Reynard Rhino (finished); A Rooster, three jungle cats, two dinosaurs and a dragon (in progress); an owl and other random birds, whimsical fish (planned).

    Fact: We really do have caves in Saint Paul, MN, and they were famously used by bootleggers during Prohibition.

    Whimsical Speculation that is a current research project of The Small Friends Research Institute: The newly-discovered cave paintings may show that many pre-historic and slightly-historic creatures lived here in the upper-midwest.

    • Vanessa July 20, 2012

      Wow Susan, you are quite busy! Best of luck with your series work, they make a wonderful collection. I really love how you have tied in research initiatives with your work and allowed the viewer/reader to have an appreciation for the culture and history!

  • Jaime Howard June 11, 2012

    This is good information for artists and aspiring artists. Working in series helps keep you focused & you’re ready when it’s time to mount a show.

    Since I’m interested in painting lots of different subjects, I have several series going on at once.

    My major series is The Sunrise Project, painted at sunrise as many mornings as possible.

    I addition, there is the cemetery series, the childhood series, a series of collages and a series of pen/ink & watercolors.
    Wow, I didn’t realize how many series I had going on!

    Thanks for posting.

    Jaime Howard

    • Vanessa July 20, 2012

      Hi Jamie, thanks for popping by! I do find that working in series forces you to be a bit more disciplined while allowing you to remain open enough to learn about various techniques and colours. Your sunrise series must be exciting. I can imagine those colours must me great to work with. Inspiring to hear that you are balancing so much, keep it going. I shall be popping by your blog to peep the updates, good stuff!

  • Leave a Reply

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.