number + subjects
September 23, 2018
Let me begin by saying that I think each artists' process is probably as unique as the artist. This is by no means a "how you should", but rather a peak inside my space and notes on what I've found helpful.
I have long been a big believer in working on multiple paintings. Part of this is to help with time and flow. I mostly work with watercolors and oils, both which like to have time for things to dry. When I'm really in my groove I can work very quickly up to a point and then have to wait. Rather than come skidding to a stop or overworking a good piece, I'll lay down washes or under painting on the beginning of new pieces or move on to use up as much of that good flow.
Alternatively, when I'm facing challenging pieces or just working through the boring parts, sometimes I need a break. I recently finished a piece that I started three years ago. When I began the piece, I had several challenges that I was setting up for myself intentionally. After laying in base colors and underpainting the figure, I stalled not knowing what to do next. I would pick at it every few weeks or months, get stuck and step back. Then one day, after warming up with some smaller pieces, I knew what was next and could see each of the solutions as I looked and worked that day. That's a pretty extreme example though.
In the last few years I've expanded this part of my practice to include "fun" pieces, something that I don't overthink, but just do for the joy of them. Whether a subject or color or form I enjoy; these can be a break from works that can be draining in a number of ways, and also safe places to explore and play where I don't have to be attached to an outcome.
Which brings me to subjects. Am I a figurative painter or a portraitist or an abstractionist? At times I've gotten hung up on 'should I paint' this silliness. When I was younger, a more spirit of rebellion made me label averse. With more years and seasons of inspiration and challenge under my belt, I just don't find them helpful. David A. Loffel said, "The subject matter is beside the point. The subject is there for you to explore the possibilities".
I'm in a season of holding tension between painting things that I'm drawn to and interest me and also just painting anything when I'm not feeling inspired. Sometimes the working of my craft or following a question has to take over when I'm uninspired or moving into a new area.
mindfulness + art
A few months ago I decided to sign up for a course at Manifest Gallery's Drawing Center. I was hoping to recharge my creative juices and break out of a rut. Drawing as Mindfulness is an eight-week series that is ongoing and is taught by Brigid O'Kane. The mindfulness piece, I wasn’t sure of; I’ve tried mediation in several forms without a ton of luck- I get distracted, panicky, or bored.
The format of the class integrates mediation, drawing, sharing, reflection and instruction. One of the benefits of this approach to drawing and art making is that it allows experienced artists, novices and everyone between to learn together and work at an individual pace.
Traditional drawing education focuses solely on developing the skills of rendering/draftsmanship. Brigid shifts this approach and balances it between attention to developing the practice of mindfulness (defined as : "a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique"). The idea being that being able to understand, process and cope with who we are and what we discover about ourselves through the creative process is just as important as those technical skills and creative problem solving strategies.
And I keep telling my artist friends about this because it is something that was totally absent from our education. We all have to face anxiety, fear, stress on the good studio days or those when the product is junk. This added a whole other set of tools for the process and for processing all that bubbles up from the inside or confronts you on the outside.
I'm now exploring how this approach of being mindful impacts my creative process. The first difference I've noticed is at the very start. Every artist knows the angst of beginning a piece or series because of the pressure of a good end result. By including mediations and blind continuous line contour drawings, it breaks that tension and resets into the basics of visual art- looking and connects hand to whatever medium you're using. It begins by allowing space/permission to notice those instinctive choices, preferences that make our perspectives as individual artists unique and distinctive in the vast history of art. And that seems to me like a pretty solid place to start.