The weather has been nice where I am lately so I recently found myself out on the grass looking up at white, fluffy clouds moving quickly past the trees.
When I was a child this was one of my favorite things to do. Watch the clouds zooming by. And if I wait patiently and keep looking… and looking… wait for it… wait for it… the clouds will suddenly appear to stop. Become stationary and then the trees and the earth (with me on it) will then seem to be moving. It feels like a fun ride racing toward the horizon. My perspective had shifted.
“I’m just a traveler on this earth…” – Chris Stapleton
Quite often online I see artists posting things like, “Help! I have artists’ block” or “I don’t know what to paint!” or the infamous “What should I paint?” I see these posts as less of a desperate cry for help and more as an artist that has become mired in quicksand. They are stuck in their way of looking at things.
I believe in three main elements of painting. And the manifestation of the actual work is the least important and very last on the list.
You need these three:
- Intention. Read this as Purpose. I personally feel that if there is not a clear reason for the painting to exist then the poor thing is doomed from the start. I hear over and over- “What do I do with the background?” “Why is this not working? And so I always ask a simple question, “Why are you doing this painting?” and I am always surprised when the artists get a very confused and befuddled look on their face. As though I just really stumped them. Focus equals a chance…..a very slim chance… to create a work of art. Without focus a painting is just a decoration.
- Planning. And please don’t tell me you don’t do thumbnails or color studies– I don’t want to hear it. No pain, no gain. This is where you ask “What do I do with the background?” This is where you find ways to channel your focus. And there are a million ways. Pick a few.
- Manifestation. This unfortunately is where artists spend most their time- without a plan! (Eeeek!) and you know what? This to me is the least important part of painting. It is so crucial to say something before you create something. THEN comes the manifestation where the actual painting can begin. If you think you can get away with just pulling out some paints and start a significant journey without directions you are going to get lost. Period.
So if in studying your work you become overwhelmed because you are seeing and creating the same things over and over again leading to empty frustration which arises out of not being sure how to break out of a rut, I find it helps to sit quietly. Stop and breathe. Watch the clouds go by. (figuratively) And sometimes, if I give over to the little girl in me, and if I am lucky enough, the world will tilt… and take me along for the ride.
Don’t be afraid of it. This may mean doing things in a completely new way. You may even need to get uncomfortable. I remember a quote that I had on my dorm wall all throughout college that I found very meaningful to me.
” I could have written the world’s best novel, but the last chair in the library was too hard.”
We need to get uncomfy sometimes. Create a mess. Scribble ideas. Dive into a new medium. Follow our gut and crazy ideas. Burn a few paintings. Getting complacent is the danger zone for an artist. In the past I have blogged about the tiny sketches that I have done when an idea hits me. In the car or at the stove in the kitchen cooking. It is never when I sit down to “create”. Here is the tiny sketch I just came across for the painting “Impact” that I wrote about a few weeks ago that won the Prix des Pastel International IAPS Award. I’ll let you in on a little secret- the technical part of painting it is the least important thing about it. I scribbled this idea down long before I painted it. Asking why? How?
Final painting: “Impact”
This sketch is valuable because it is mostly about the ideas… then I followed the ideas where they led. Then came many hours of planning on how to channel the focus. The impact I wanted the painting to have which then became the title. But I never just sit down and try to paint something pretty for a show. Man, we artists are silly. “Gotta create for a show!” Well, no you don’t. You have to create something for you. And then if you get it where you want it and all the sweat and tears pay off… share.
It is not a “pretty” moment when I scribble these down and they are not pretty sketches. I scribble with whatever is around. They are not done in a pretty studio with pretty lighting and a graceful voice-over. There is no perfectly laid-out sticks at hand and paintings perfectly framed in the background. Nope. This is real life. These are hacked out of my brain with a cleaver. It is like wrestling a new idea into the mud. It is a leap of faith. A shift in perspective. But that ugly birth can grow into something beautiful with focus, planning and THEN manifestation.
It takes time. Sit in the hard chair.
So if you are feeling a bit restless, look at the “clouds” in your work and see if you can make them stop… and get something else to move. Shift your perspective. Tilt your world.
And then go along for the ride.