The cycle of ideas and working in a series.
Am I a bad artist if I make bad art?
It is the unknown that excites the ardor of scholars, who, in the known alone, would shrivel up with boredom.Wallace Stevens
20 years ago this May (gulp), I moved to New York City only two days after graduating college.
The city was almost completely unknown to me. I had only visited on field trips and had rather spontaneously decided to move there during my last semester of art school.
On weekends, I would get up early and get on the bus or subway from my neighborhood to somewhere I didn’t know very well or at all.
I preferred the bus because I liked to see the neighborhoods I passed. I made mental notes of areas that looked intriguing so I could visit them in future.
When I arrived at my chosen stop, I’d walk and walk. I’d walk for hours. I’ll never know how many miles I walked.
Eventually, when I got tired or hungry, I’d get back on the bus or subway and make my way back home.
I didn’t have a plan for those walks. Sometimes I’d have a particular grocery store or other destination in mind, but usually, I was on a mission to explore an interesting looking block I’d passed another time.
Often, I felt like I was pushing the boundaries of the known a little further.
I was thinking about these walks the other day and what my life was like then.
Not everyone had a cell phone and I didn’t really text anyone. As a shy introvert, I rarely spoke on the phone.
Internet was dial-up (although I did manage to waste a fair amount of time online).
My landlord didn’t want any holes made in the building (yes, really) so there was no cable. I was limited to watching only a few fuzzy local channels.
My walks were an adventure. Even in a familiar neighborhood, I could still see new things.
Even after living there for years, the city remained mostly unknown to me.
It was a slow time. The days felt long.
There was so much to explore, something new to see every day.
That is what makes life interesting.
That is what makes one day different from the next.
I think that’s why I feel nostalgia for that time.
When life becomes entirely predictable, each day blends into the next.
We can get stuck in a cycle of doing the same things on a loop. Nothing is unknown.
That’s why I think a creative practice of any sort adds so much to our lives.
In creativity, there is unpredictability.
With my art supplies in front of me, there is the possibility of creating something I haven’t made before.
I can feel or think something new or have an experience I haven’t had before.
I’ve begun to think of my creative practice the way I used to think about my walks.
I set out eager to explore the avenues of tools before me, each one leading to an undiscovered place.
Do you leave space in your life for exploration and the unknown?
Leave a comment below to share your thoughts.
Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.Anne Lamott
I feel like it’s been ages since I painted or wrote a blog post.
In reality, it’s been 2 weeks.
Yet, I feel frustrated with myself for taking a long(ish) break. I’m also itching to get back to work (which I take as a good sign).
I think that after having let so many years pass without making art, I’m fearful of returning to that state. I know though that I love it too much and it’s so solidly part of my life now, there’s no going back!
This time of year is a busy time for most of us. If there’s ever a time to break from one’s usual activities, the holidays are it.
We all deserve a break, don’t we?
I have to remind myself that 2019 was a good year for my art.
I finally established an *almost* daily practice, which was jump-started through a 100 day project.
I explored all kinds of new-to-me materials (here’s one example).
And not only is it okay to take a break, maybe it’s beneficial.
A few years ago, I was taking a daily beginner French class. I found that after a long weekend, the lessons sunk in more and I returned to class with better skills.
I’m hoping the same to be true in the process of making art.
After some time away, perhaps we return with some clarity or a fresh perspective.
So let’s not punish ourselves for taking breaks.
How do you feel about breaks? Do you get upset with yourself from taking time off? Or do you see the value in taking a break?
I listened to hundreds of hours of podcasts this year. I used to listen to music while I make art but now I listen to podcasts.
Listening to a good conversation does something to distract my mind so that I can create more freely. Does anyone else feel this way?
Here’s a list of some of my favorite shows and episodes – I’d love to hear yours, please feel free to comment below and add to this list:
Hands down, my favorite podcast. The host, Antrese Wood, has fantastic guests and does a phenomenal job of interviewing them. These are some of my favorite episodes, but really, I have never been disappointed by any episode.
Burton Silverman (2 parts) https://savvypainter.com/podcast/components-good-art-burton-silverman-pt-1/
Errol Gerson https://savvypainter.com/podcast/errol-gerson/
Carol Marine https://savvypainter.com/podcast/carol-marine/
I love every episode! https://alicesheridan.com/podcast/
I love every episode! https://www.laurahornart.com/thepodcast
So many good conversations, these are a few favorites
Roanne Van Voorst https://thecreativityhabit.com/project/roanne-van-voorst/
Lots of good episodes but these are a couple I found useful:
Ep 219 – The 3 Journeys to Creative Transcendence http://www.creativepeptalk.com/episodes/2019/2/19/219-the-3-journeys-to-creative-transcendence-amp-how-to-know-which-youre-stuck-on
So many good episodes! https://www.thejealouscurator.com/blog/art-for-your-ear-podcast/
Alex Kanevsky http://www.artistdecoded.com/podcast/kanevsky
It’s not an art podcast but there are many years of wonderful conversations between Krista Tippett and her guests
Rex Jung – Creativity and the Everyday Brain https://onbeing.org/programs/rex-jung-creativity-and-the-everyday-brain/
Talking with Painters
Do you listen to music or podcasts or perhaps audio-books while you work? Tell us about it in the comments!
One reason I started my November daily challenge (#20brushstrokes30days) was to try out some ideas I had for semi-abstract landscape paintings.
In conjunction with this challenge, I created a dozen or so larger and more in-depth studies for a new landscape series that has been brewing in my mind.
The studies were mostly created on watercolor paper using gouache, water soluble pastels, and graphite and charcoal pencils.
The materials (and often a good amount of water) used on paper allow produced results that I’ve found hard to achieve on surfaces like canvas or wood panels.
I was pleased with the direction of the studies. There’s a looseness that I’ve been struggling to achieve and I also feel that through these studies, I’ve begun to communicate something about the feel of a place.
The challenge then was how to take what I’d achieved with the small studies and translate it to another substrate – preferably one that can be framed or hung without glass. I prefer using wood panels for the firmness and I don’t really like the texture of canvas.
I suppose I could have started using watered down paint on panels primed with gesso but I’m concerned about the longevity of pieces made that way.
Although I am not at a stage where I feel the need to be worried about my work surviving a hundred years, I do not want it deteriorating on a collector’s wall in my lifetime. I try to be conscious of the materials I use and how I use them.
If I’m working on non-porous surfaces (I.e. primed canvas or panels), I don’t water down acrylic paint because water affects the ability of those little plastic molecules to hold together. The result could be paint that peels and flakes off the panel.
So, how can I achieve the loose and free qualities of my studies on wood panel?
I’ve experimented with acrylic medium that helps acrylic paint flow more easily but I have not yet been pleased with the results. I’ve also mounted some paper pieces on wood panels which I find a good solution but I still wanted to paint directly on panel.
Sometimes, the universe presents us with exactly what we need.
An artist I follow on Instagram, @pamelajbates, posted that she was often trying to achieve the qualities of pieces in her sketchbook on other substrates. She shared that a few other artists suggested trying a watercolor ground.
Watercolor ground can be applied to a myriad of surfaces (wood, metal, glass, etc). Once it’s dry, it will accept water media such as watercolor, gouache, and even diluted acrylic paint.
I didn’t even wait for Pamela’s results, I ordered it right away.
I painted it on my wood panels in a single layer. It is thick like gesso but has a dry, chalky quality. It dries fast but it does need to cure for at least 24 hours. The surface can be sanded smooth to remove all brush strokes if desired. I left mine slightly rough.
I’ve started the new series on panels (primed with the watercolor ground) using the same materials I applied for the paper studies – gouache, water-soluble pastels, and charcoal pencils. It is almost like working on paper and the results have been exciting. The wonderful thing is that it doesn’t warp like even good quality watercolor paper tends to do.
I have a lot of work to do on the series but I am pleased with this new direction and will probably be ordering most watercolor ground soon since the little pot is already half empty!
What materials have you found that helped take your art to a new level?
So, you’re ready to return to art or try it for the first time. You’ve decided to make it a priority, you’ve carved out the time and you can’t wait to make all the amazing art that’s been hiding deep inside!
Great. But where do you start?
I often dive right in when an impulse strikes. I like action and I’m incredibly impatient. If I have an idea or desire to do something, I like to start straight away. (I’ve been known to rearrange furniture at very odd hours.)
This kind of motivation is great, but it hasn’t always served me well where art is concerned. I operated on these whims for many years and it led to many false starts.
Several years ago, after a very long absence, I wanted to make art a regular part of my life (read about that here).
I didn’t plan when I was going to make work, I hadn’t thought through any ideas and I didn’t prepare my materials and workspace. This meant that in those infrequent moments of “inspiration”, I wasn’t always able to act on it. It meant that I had to use my time just getting ready to make the thing.
I didn’t set myself up for success.
It has taken me a while to figure out that I need to do some planning in order to establish a consistent creative practice.
Here are a few questions and ideas that may help you to get started.
- When are you going to make art?
- Do you have a specific window of time and specific days or is it going to be flexible?
- Do you need to tell your family or anyone else who may be affected?
- Where are you going to work?
- Do you have a dedicated place at home?
- Can you leave your work and supplies out or will you have to put them away after each session?
- Do you need to work somewhere else (cafe, car, park bench)?
- What materials will you use?
- Do you already have them or do you need to buy them?
- Here’s a list of the basic tools I used when I first returned to making art
- Do you know what subject you’re going to start with?
- Start keeping a list of possible subjects
- Perhaps you want to revisit a subject you enjoyed exploring in the past
- What artwork, styles or mediums are you drawn to?
- Consider creating a Pinterest board (here’s mine) or bulletin board of inspiring artwork or other imagery
What other routines have you successfully established for yourself? Is there anything you can learn from them?
Do you have any other suggestions to add to this list?
In an earlier post, I shared a list of materials I used when I first returned to making art. These might be helpful if you’re just getting started.
I hope you will join the conversation with your suggestions.
Join me for a fun 30 day challenge starting November 1, 2019 to get our creative juices flowing!
The #20brushstrokes30days challenge is to make one small painting (mine will be 4×4 inches/10x10cm) using no more than 20 brush strokes every day of the month.
The subject and medium can be anything you choose. Mine will be on paper using acrylic paint and I’m going focus mostly on landscapes.
My hope is that these little paintings will loosen up my style, help me simplify shapes, help me really “see” my subject and possibly inspire some larger paintings.
Even if the result is 30 ugly little paintings, I know it will still be a fun project for November!
You can follow my progress on Instagram, @rachpetru, where I promise to share my painting every day, regardless of how it looks!
I hope you’ll join me, remember to hashtag #20brushstrokes30days on Instagram and please tag me, @rachpetru, so I get to see what you’ve created!
To listen to the audio version of this post, please scroll to the bottom of the page and click play on the audio file.
For many years, I had several limiting beliefs that prevented me from making art.
Many of us have beliefs that prevent us from doing the things we want to do. How many of those beliefs are a story we’ve told ourselves or ideas we’ve allowed someone else to put in our minds?
Do you have any limiting beliefs that have stopped you from creating?
The most damaging limiting belief I held was that I had to wait for inspiration.
I thought inspiration was a prerequisite to art making but I didn’t know where it came from or how to summon it.
Inspiration seemed magical and elusive.
I thought all great artists throughout history had moments when brilliant ideas struck like lightning, then they went to work. (If only that were true!)
It’s ridiculous to think how long I believed this to be true. Where did this idea even come from?
The reality is, inspiration can come from almost anywhere at anytime. It can come before the work, during the work or after the work. Your ideas can be clear or cloudy. The path is subject to change at any time.
The important thing is that we stay active in the creative process so that when inspiration arrives, we’re able to take full advantage of it.
For me, it is doing the work that generates the inspiration. Inspiration is only a part of the creative process but understanding how I find it helped me return to making art.
During my art drought (which lasted about ten years), I’d occasionally get in the mood to make art. One week, I’d embroider or draw, or I’d buy a bunch of oil paints and try to put something on canvas. I’d play with spray paint or weave strips of newspapers together.
None of it stuck.
Not one of these ideas developed beyond the initial investigation because I didn’t understand how to take it further. It was only through starting and sticking with an idea that I learned the way to inspiration is through doing.
I started to return to art when I was tired of waiting for something to happen. I was always waiting for the idea or for the perfect moment when what I needed to do was take action and stay with it.
Initially, it wasn’t much of an idea, I thought I’d document things in my neighborhood through photography. I kept doing it, with no goal in mind.
After a while, I had an impulse to draw from the photographs, that impulse lead to a series that I developed over several years.
Looking back, I realize the impulse I had WAS inspiration.
Inspiration isn’t a fully formed vision like I’d imagined it to be. For me, it feels like something tugging on you, subtly trying to get your attention.
It’s a whisper, not a shout, and you’ll only hear it if you’re listening.
As Picasso recognized, inspiration rewards consistent action. That isn’t to say you have to spend all of your time creating art to find it. I believe if you saturate your life with art; creating, reading, looking, listening, you will find inspiration.
What is critical is that you don’t wait for it to find you.
See my next post to read about the project that helped me return to art and provided years of inspiration.
To listen to the audio version of this post, please scroll to the bottom of the page and click play on the audio file.
Making art was the most important thing to me, so why did I stop creating for a decade?
Art school was a wonderful experience, I love my alma mater, my years there were inspiring and fulfilling. As much as I value my education, art school did not prepare me for the realities of being a professional artist.
Until recently, I don’t think any art schools taught students the business of being an artist.
It isn’t surprising then, how many people with fine art degrees, never make a career out of it. We weren’t armed with business skills, we were taught how to conceptualize our work, how to make the work (hopefully), how to write about it, and how to critique the work of our classmates.
This lack of practical knowledge wasn’t the only reason I stopped making art. I told myself a story about what it meant to be an artist and that story consisted of several limiting beliefs that I accepted as facts.
These “facts” became my excuse and it was easier to stop making art, find a more clearly defined career path and focus on other aspects of life.
When I finally did return to art, I was in my 30s and had a full-time career in marketing. I stopped waiting for inspiration, stopped making excuses and began to realize those old beliefs were not true.
It has been a slow process that has taught me a lot about myself and what it means to be an artist.
During the years when I wasn’t making art, I felt like I was hiding part of myself. I felt like no one really knew me because I didn’t completely identify with the person I allowed myself to become.
I hope that sharing my experience will help others return to art.