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.

26 thoughts on “Evolution of Koi

  1. Pingback: Letters as Tools | QuinnCreative

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  3. “As artists, we interpret the world in our own way.” Perfectly put. Make that ostrich purple, quadruple the number of feather eyes in the peacock tail. If I wanted a photo, I’d have taken one. Art is an interpretation, an impression of a fleeting moment in time. As the artist, it is our right to recall and document that moment as we see fit in put own heart and minds eye.

    Consequently, it probably will not match the couch.

  4. Love the koi dance. I particularly like the orange mid section.
    This year I chose a koi image for my dairy. There were many “zen” (that´s the line´s name) models so I read a lot about cranes, kois and the others.
    Fascinated by the “fact” that the koi turns into a dragon at the end of the journey up stream 🙂

  5. I love the movement in your koi, it adds another dimension to the subject. And I couldn’t agree more that we need to create to please ourselves first. In art and everything else.

  6. Wonderful post, Quinn! I love your interpretation and I fully agree with you. Art is personal and not everyone is going to like the same thing anyways so it’s always best to work to please yourself and nobody else.

  7. I love the texture and movement you created in the water, and the pattern on the orange koi’s back…no one knows what best should be in your pond but you 🙂

    • That’s a huge boost for my creativity! And Elizabeth told us about your mad skills in handling black–with any color except black. And I needed that to work on the black koi, which I knew didn’t have to be all black. So thanks go back to you–I invoked your spirit (OK, I also asked Elizabeth for help on that part) and it worked!

      • Don’t get me started on colors and blacks. he he he he.

        The thing to remember is that everything is relative. Don’t leap to labeling your darkest dark “black” – stop and ask if it’s just a very deep violet. Or blue. Or green. Or red. See where I’m going?!

        I’m looking forward to seeing what happens with further treatments involving dark shadows, Quinn!!

  8. I love the papers you chose for the Koi and I’m anxious to see the finished project. My daughter and I often comment on each others work, making suggestions and encouraging one another. it’s interesting because we often do not agree on what should be done with the others work. In the end it may be all one way or the other or a mix of ideas. What amazes is that no matter which direction we choose as an artist it is ours and each of us is pleased for the other when it’s done. I’m happy to hear you are okay with the fact that not everybody in class liked your piece. In the end you are the one that needs to be satisfied. Anybody else that might fall in love with it is a bonus! There’s a line in an old song (Garden Party?) that Ricky Nelson sang….”you can’t please everyone, so you’ve got to please yourself”.

    • As an artist, if you don’t please yourself first, you will wind up chasing down everyone’s opinion. It’s the same in life, I think. You have to ground yourself in your own philosophy before you set out to please others.

  9. You have beautifully captured a yin-yang quality not only in the shapes of the fish, but in the textural difference between the background and foreground. Nicely done!

  10. It looks like it was a great class. I like the movement you have created behind the fish. And I’m glad you made it the way you wanted, as too many times we do try to please others instead of ourselves. 🙂

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