Evolution of Koi

When artists are juried into a show, one of the standard requirements is that the piece contain “the hand of the aritst,” or sometimes, more directly, “the fingerprints of the artist.” What juries are looking for is evidence that an artist has a personal viewpoint, an original take, a fresh viewpoint. That concept was one of the great lessons I learned in the collage class I took this weekend.

I started with a traditional Japanese koi painting, done by many artists:

Koi_black_orangeFrom there I did the underpainting, trying to keep to the original shape. But already the chop, the red-square signature block was gone,  the image was rotated to make it horizontal, and the traditional poem was gone. The painting also gave the fish a lot more background.

koiorangeblackIn class, there were problems to solve. To keep the original background smooth and even, I’d have to apply a single sheet of paper over the board, re-apply the fish, then collage them on. While that’s a choice, it didn’t feel like collage to me. I wanted to show movement, ripples, even waves of active fish swimming.

While in Sedona, I visited a gallery that was having a showing of the instructor’s work, and noticed that in a collage she did of koi, there was a distinct splash of ripples.

After some thought I decided to move away from a monochromatic background, and create the entire setting as a field of ripples, in blues and whites and ivories.

Not only that, but when I was working, the instructor told me that the koi did not have to be orange and black, that a more impressionistic view was fine, even desirable. She suggested several different pieces of paper that worked well, but weren’t orange or black.

In the end, I decided that the original placement of fish–orange on top and the shadowy gray on the bottom, was what worked best. The image isn’t complete, but this is where I am now:


It’s not the traditional koi, it’s the constant movement of koi, creating a push and pull of color and action. As artists, we interpret the world in our own way, and when we talk about it to others, we show them what we see through our eyes via artwork–collage, writing, idea presentation.

This evolution of koi is personal, my vision. Several members of the class didn’t like it,(which is fine with me). That’s the point of art–it’s not really meant to please, or to match the sofa or drapes. It’s meant to show a view of the world through the artist’s eyes, and satisfy the artist in some way. If it pleases others, well, then, that’s a great bonus. Had I decided to create a piece that pleased the majority of the class, I would have pleased no one fully. Least of all myself. In creating a piece that delighted me, I can explain a viewpoint clearly. For me, that’s art.

-Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach working on creative projects.