Ok. Let’s try this again

A while ago I showed you this in-progress picture:

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with the promise that you would see it transform along the way into a finished painting. I lied. I didn’t mean to! Sometimes I just can’t finish a painting. There’s certainly something to be said for committing to a project; working until your idea comes to fruition; pressing on until the bitter end. But there’s also something to be said for stopping when you realize that what you’re working on just isn’t “you” anymore. That is not to say the same attitude should apply to every situation that bores you, or even to every painting, but of all the commitments you could flake on in life this is one case where the earth will not shatter, hearts will not break, and jobs will not be lost (unless, of course, it’s a commission- which this was not so I’m free to do what I want. So there!).

Now, let’s try this again with a painting I know I’ll finish- in part because I’m much more more in love with the subject matter. A portrait of my daily life.

To start I did a value study:

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Value study on Ampersand Oil Paper, 6″x8″

A quick laying down of the lights and darks of my composition. This is done on a small scale (in proportion to the size and shape of the finished painting) quickly and loosely, with no gridding, no drawing, and no blending. The purpose of this step is just to help you check the balance of lights and darks in your painting. For example, this composition stands alone because it is primarily dark with a bright white center of interest. When paintings edge too much toward mid-range in value, they get dull no matter what your colors or subject. Value studies are helpful, though because you don’t get distracted by the pretty colors or elaborate patterns and you can really see the bones of the picture. So far, so good. And I’m not a bit bored.

 

 

 

 

In a Rut?

A friend of mine is in an art rut. Man, do I know that feeling!! I’m sure everyone out there has at some point or another. You’re not excited about anything you’re doing, it feels like a chore, but then if you don’t do anything at all you get that stressed out, tight, sad, tangled up feeling. Do you know what I mean? Those are the best words I can use to describe it.

I’ve noticed, though, that if I just keep moving, once I come out on the other side of an artistic crisis my work is better for it. In Walking in this World (the follow-up to The Artist’s Way) Julia Cameron points out that often what we refer to as break downs should really be thought of as break-ups, like an icy river breaking up in the spring. Once I was able to think of it that way, these periods of creative drought didn’t feel so scary. These ruts are not permanent. They’re just bumps and valleys we have to pass through to come out on the other side. It’s like the Pilgrim’s Progress of the creative life.

But, in the meantime, while we’re in them, they stink. So, here’s a list of ways I’ve found to help me keep moving through artist’s block:

1) First and foremost- Relax! This is not permanent. You are not doomed to forever live in a desolate artistic valley, devoid of creativity. Forget about your “responsible” reasons for needing to create (“I have a show coming up,” “I need to sell some more paintings,” “I’m trying to build my portfolio,” etc) and remember your real reason for creating. I paint because I’m happier when I paint than when I don’t. Period.

2) Do something that’s not your style. I think there’s a lot of pressure on artists of all kinds to have a recognizable “voice.” To have a style that people see and say, “Oh, that’s Erin Hardin’s work,” or whatever. That can get stifling, though. When I got thoroughly stressed out and bored by my super detailed paintings on metal, I started creating these little, simpler paintings.

I didn’t care in anyone even saw them. I just had to do something. I had to paint because, like I said above, I’m happier when I paint than when I don’t.

3) Change your surroundings. Can you reorganize or redecorate your art space? If you normally paint in the basement, can you move it to the kitchen table for a while? This may also mean…

4) Changing your medium.  If you normally paint, draw. If you normally draw, try watercolor. Or do something completely different like writing a detailed description of the cashier at the grocery store, the smell of the rosemary by your front door, the vase you got as a wedding present. You have a zillion facets to your personality and to your creativity. Explore them.

5) Try thinking of life as art. If you can cultivate a creative mindset in things that you might not normally think of as artistic endeavors, not only will that mindset become a habit, but also it will spill over into your studio life. Explore a little bit. Take a different route to the grocery store and enjoy meandering. Beautify your surroundings. Plant some fresh fresh flowers and enjoy the feel of the dirt. Try not to be so goal oriented and enjoy the process. You’ll get the same end result but with a better journey. Notice and appreciate the multitude of things that make life beautiful.

Most of all, just keep moving. You’re committed to your art and like any relationship it will go through ups and downs. Weather the downs and you will be rewarded with higher ups. Would any relationship be rewarding if it was always placid and stagnant?

What about you? Do you have a favorite tip for beating artist’s block? Please share! We could all use a little help sometimes.

Baby Steps

I’ve been thinking a lot about the stereotypes typically ascribed to artists. Some good, some bad. The list includes flaky, unreliable, emotional, observant, imaginative, starving, unpredictable, and complex. One adjective most “non-artists” (a misnomer since I think everyone has some form of art in them) don’t normally use is “perfectionistic.” A little known fact about artists- we’re typically very hard on ourselves. We may not seem that way to those around us, but we are. In fact, I would propose the theory that the “flakier” an artist seems, the harder they are on themselves (yes, I’m aware that should  have been a complicated, “he or she is on him or herself,” but that’s cumbersome. See? I’m even kind of perfectionistic about my grammar). We can have extremely high, impossible even, standards for ourselves; letting “the perfect be the enemy of the good” (to paraphrase Voltaire).

Julia Cameron, author of the series The Artist’s Way says that “artists block” is not caused by lack of ideas, but rather by a log-jam of too many ideas. Too much in-flow without enough out-flow. How often have you found yourself discarding ideas left and right, “That’s stupid. That won’t work. No one will like it. That’s too complicated- I can’t pull it off,” only to find yourself sitting on the couch stymied, frustrated, and wailing, “I can’t think of anything to paint!” (or write or draw or sculpt, or whatever)? When I do that (and I catch myself doing it often) I get grumpy and start feeling like all those bad stereotypes. Therefore, I paint because I have to paint. I write because I have to write.

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Two canisters and a candle

All art doesn’t have to be Capital A- Art. Sketch your dog, paint a wall a different color, make up a recipe. And if it doesn’t turn out, the world won’t crumble. Just create. You’ll feel better.

Onions and Organization

I did it again. I forgot I have to paint. I don’t mean I forgot I have work to do or I forgot I have a deadline. I mean I forgot I HAVE to paint.

At first I didn’t realize what the problem was. “I’m scattered,” I’d say, “What’s wrong with me? I keep forgetting things.” Enter the dreaded, stereotypical “flaky artist.” After the second missed appointment, third panicked car key search, fourth forgotten errand, and tenth stress headache, I realized- I haven’t been painting. We’ve been in and out of town and I don’t have any looming deadlines for which I feel ill-prepared, so I’ve allowed other things to get in the way. Mistake. It’s not a job with paid vacation. It’s who I am. It’s how I organize my thoughts. The world is full of so many things to look at and so much stimulation that if I don’t have that out-flow I guess my brain sort of overloads and shuts down.

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So today, noticing the pinks, greens, and yellows harmonizing on an onion skin, I put down the dish towel I was using and picked up my paintbrush. Upon finishing my little painting in a much calmer state of mind I paid an almost forgotten bill and prepared my daughter’s bag for her first day of mother’s day out. Relief. (Somewhat) organized me is back.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

It had to be done. I’ve done it before, but it always stings a little. I sanded down part of my painting. That’s one advantage of working on metal. Mistakes can literally be removed. It takes some work, though, physically and mentally. Eeek…Image

Splits and Hurdles

In a yoga class this morning the instructor announced that we would be doing splits today. Excuse me? She wasn’t talking about banana splits. She meant real, my-body-doesn’t-do-that splits. Amid everyone’s protests she reminded us that in yoga, as in many things in life, it’s the journey that counts.

I’ve been craving instant gratification in another area. This picture:

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What is it with me and almost impossible pine cones??

which I feel will NEVER be finished. I can’t slide down into the splits and I can’t snap my fingers and make this painting finished. And if I could, what then? New poses that I can’t automatically do and new paintings the I can’t finish in a session.

Little by little I can work towards difficult poses and little by little I can conquer difficult paintings. I may never be able to fully do the splits, but my body will still benefit from mindful and careful attempts. I may never be a wildly successful and famous artist, but I will still benefit from daily brush strokes. There’s a reason why yoga is referred to as a “practice,” perhaps I should think of painting as a practice, too.