What is the Creative Process?

I am writing about the creative process this week in an attempt to provide a behind the scenes view of what it takes for me to bring an idea to a realized concept and finally a completed painting or drawing.  My inspiration for this blog post comes from an article by Amanda Truscott, entitled, This is What Creative Inspiration Really Looks Like, on www.skinnyartist.com.  I believe inspiration, or what the Greeks termed, “the Muse” is something which must be sought after in order to be found. Although it may seem to be a sudden insight, in my experience, it is not an isolated light bulb moment. Sometimes, indeed often, bringing my artistic visions to life it is the result of a hard-won battle of trying out different ideas in sketches, paintings, etc., to test out a compositional idea or a color scheme. Sometimes these ideas work, and sometimes they don’t and I need to make more revisions to the color schemes, composition, etc., to make it a successful artwork. Other times, I have to start over the painting from scratch.

For example, in my ongoing poetry illustration series, Voices and Visions, it has been a combination of hunting for inspiring poems to illustrate; these poems need to have some visual imagery and themes that lend themselves to storytelling, in order for me to consider them as potential candidates. So far, I have found a few poems written by Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, and T.S. Eliot, whose works have several identifiable themes such as hope, time, and the artificiality of modern life. After reading the poems, I researched literary criticisms to identify possible themes that seem to suggest a story or feeling which I  translated visually through specific symbols or color schemes. I followed up these steps by looking for artwork by artists whose artwork has a narrative theme, such as Jacob Lawrence, Faith Ringgold, and Andrew Wyeth. When I found artwork that inspires, I pasted it into a sketchbook for future reference. Finally, after these steps have been completed, I created a photo collage in Adobe Photoshop of found images that I locate online and modify in Photoshop by creating several layers and layer masks. When I was pleased with the composition in my Photoshop files, I printed them out to scale, and then traced them onto my substrate of choice using carbon paper and pen, usually to cotton duck canvas or cold press watercolor paper. The painting is then completed in watercolor paints or acrylic or mixed media. Finally, I worked on the painting for 1-2 weeks, making revisions as I painted.

In addition, the backbone of the creative process for me is always the deliberate practice of the fundamentals of art, such as drawing or painting, so that when I finally find that intersection between deliberate practice and purposeful searching for inspiration, everything clicks. Although this process may seem instantaneous to others who were not there to watch the process, or read my blog posts, it is a painstaking process. It is not simply talent which I was born with that brings my visions and goals to life, it is a decision followed by a series of actions. It takes willpower and self-discipline to practice drawing and painting every week, and to continually seek out artistic inspiration through Pinterest searches, reading art books, watching documentaries about artists on youtube, reading poetry books, literary criticism, creating inspiration sketchbooks, etc. Moreover, it takes grit and determination to stick with a painting even when it goes wrong, and to figure out what went wrong so that I can critique the artwork

and decide what strategy to pursue to make the artwork sing.

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What to Do When Your Painting Goes Terribly Wrong

If you are a creative type or if you like to make things, you have probably encountered the moment when the finished product you imagined, does not live up to your expectations. As an artist, I have experienced this frustration more times than I can count. Some paintings and drawings are simply learning projects and are difficult to salvage, while others can be fixed. I know it’s been said that you learn more from your mistakes than your successes, but when I get to a point in a painting or drawing and I realize that the painting or drawing doesn’t look right, it can be really frustrating. I start doubting myself; feel like giving up, or doing something that I am not good at, like cooking or cleaning.  Since I know I am not a good cook, if it doesn’t turn out so well, it’s a waste of ingredients but I don’t feel as emotionally attached to the outcome as I would to a painting or drawing.

I recently read a forum question on the website, www.

photo collage, pregnancy, desert, eye, dress forms, seeds, woman, process, artist's block.
Here is a photo collage I made in Adobe Photoshop which I made by combining various photographs in the Photoshop program. I wanted to illustrate the feeling of artists’ block, which can feel like a time of dormancy. I plan to translate this collage into a watercolor painting soon.
Waiting small
My first version of this painting was made with sepia brown watercolor paints. I’m not sure I like this color and the composition feels too busy.
Portrait Collage
Creative Block: Waiting ( with Gesso added). The composition was getting too cluttered so I decided to cover up the distracting elements with acrylic gesso.
Creative block, with color
I painted out the brown watercolor paint to try and make the image more interesting with a limited color palette of yellow orange, red orange, blue, green, peach and blue violet. Still a little too busy with the composition.
Portrait collage
Here is the revision I made after painting out the busier composition with acrylic gesso. I also decided to limit the color palette to turquoise, red-orange, yellow-orange, blue- violet and muted green, with some additions of brown, black and white. I used a soft pastel to draw in the composition after the acrylic paint had dried.
Portrait collage
This is my most up to date version of the acrylic painting, Waiting: Creative Block. Here I have begun painting in the new compositional elements to add depth to the desert landscape, including sand dunes and distant mountains. I also painted in the flesh tones and shadow colors on the figure. A few more details and I hope to be finished with the painting soon!

Wet Canvas.com and the question of the day was,” When should I stop working on a painting?” I was intrigued by the question and wondered how other artists dealt with paintings that don’t go according to plan. I read about a variety of solutions suggested by artists who had hit the wall creatively. Some remedies were familiar to me, like my tendency to put the painting away and stop looking at it for a few days, weeks, months, or even longer. On the other hand, some solutions were not as familiar, such as displaying the painting on an easel in a living room and then taking time to look at it from time to time to diagnose the problem. A favorite technique of mine is to write a list of things I want to change in the painting, be it the drawing, colors, value, edges, etc.  In my case, some of the art work I have abandoned was started about two years ago, and I am just now starting to look at the sketches and Photoshop files.

This week I took some time to work some more on my acrylic painting, Waiting: Creative Block. I realized that there were several things bothering me about it. The composition was one of the biggest glaring errors I noted in this painting. First, I started with revising the composition in Photoshop, taking out some photos while adding others, to try and simplify the painting.  After that, I wrote a written critique and consulted a landscape painting art book, entitled, Paint Landscapes in Acrylic, by Lee Hammond, to search for tutorials on painting skies. Next, I watched a You Tube art tutorial, titled, How to Paint a Desert Tree, Acrylic Painting Lesson, by Schaeffer Art.  My next step was to begin painting out the busier parts of the composition with gesso. After the first two layers of gesso had dried, I started drawing the new composition in with a white Rembrandt soft pastel, using the photo references I had collected to draw in the distant mountains, sand dunes, and sun. My final step was to look in my portrait painting book by Chris Saper, Classic Portrait Painting in Oils, from which I took inspiration for the figure in my painting. I have included the various stages of this painting from the start to my latest revisions on it this week. Thanks for stopping by!

How to Stop Procrastinating and Get Things Done

This week’s topic focuses on a behavior that many can probably relate to, and I include myself in that number. The behavior of which I speak is procrastination. I confess that I seem to have only two settings with regard to task completion, and they are hyper speed and snail speed. At times I am hyper focused and hyper busy on whatever the project at hand may be, such as completing an art project, or writing an artist’s statement, etc.. However, at other times, I start and stop and ultimately avoid the task, if it seems too difficult or unpleasant. At present, I am battling with the dreaded enemy of time, procrastination. I procrastinate on the mundane, such as de-cluttering my studio and organizing hard copy art business files and paper work, to the more critical, like updating my web site, and balancing my checkbook, or finishing a complete body of work that features some sketches and Photoshop collages that illustrate favorite poetry quotes.  As to that later, I have started and stopped the drawings and paintings and Photoshop collages for the poetry illustration project numerous times since I came up with the idea in the summer of 2015.

Lately, I have been trying to finish one work from this series in particular, and it is an acrylic painting, entitled, Waiting: Creative Block. It has been a very challenging art piece to work on in terms of choosing the right composition and color scheme. I am being really stretched beyond my comfort zone with this series, as I have never attempted to illustrate something as ambitious as abstract thoughts and feelings such as creative block, creativity, childhood wonder, overcoming life obstacles, etc.! And though I know the stretching is good for my artistic muscles and that I will be happy with myself for completing the work, I tend to avoid the hard part. And the moment comes when you decide whether to press on despite the difficulty and finish the “run” or you give up.

Other things that I have procrastinated about completing are cataloging and watermarking my art work, getting art work framed and matted for an upcoming art show, writing this blog post, printing out my bookkeeping files for this year’s profit and loss sheet, (what fun!), to name a few. I need to find a balance between procrastination and workaholic tendencies when I don’t take time to rest and regroup. When I am unbalanced, I have very little physical energy or creative energy to finish the art work I start and all the other administrative tasks that I need to do to help support my business and market my art work.  I need to create margin in my schedule so that I can get these things done and set some deadlines for each task so that I am motivated to complete these projects!

One more thing I also need to do now is to not schedule any further art shows, and just take some time to regroup so that there will be time to get these things done, such as finishing the poetry series and updating my web site. To date, I have scheduled 9 art shows this year, and one possible art fair is currently in the works. This leaves me with little time to get these other tasks done, since I often have to get my art ready for distribution by pricing it, framing it, and marketing it on social media, such as Facebook and Instagram, in addition to making print postcards in Photoshop to give out to potential clients, fans, family, and friends. On the other hand, I have gotten to make more sales, more exposure for my art, and have met more people, which is always a good thing!

I wondered what others had to say about procrastination and how to stop doing it, so I listened to a podcast by author and art biz coach, Alyson Stanfield. In a podcast called, Getting Difficult Things Done, Alyson Stanfield and a guest, Cynthia Morris, also a coach, as well as an artist, discussed some strategies to tackle procrastination. Source: Alyson Stanfield, wwww.artbizcoach.com.  One of their main points was to envision how you will feel after you complete a challenging task, rather than settling for feeling good or just having fun.  Another idea that was mentioned in the podcast was the importance of setting deadlines and thinking about how to reward you after completing a difficult task. Alyson shared that one of her dreaded tasks as an art business coach is working on bookkeeping. She tried to start a ritual of doing her books on Monday but found that that was not the way she wanted to start her week. She was helped by some advice that her husband gave her, which was to re-frame her situation by thinking of this task as counting her money. Bookkeeping is definitely not one of my favorite tasks either. On the other hand, I am realizing that by doing my books, I can understand what is working and what isn’t in my business, rather than being in denial about how much spending I am really doing, in relationship to my sales.

In a similar vein, I also looked up goal setting and anti-procrastination strategies on a Google search, and I found an article called, Why Do You Procrastinate, by Margie Warrell, on www.forbes.com. Warell shared that many of us procrastinate on things both large and small, whether it is getting our personal files organized or updating our resume. She discussed the ways in which we avoid doing things that need to get done with excuses such as, “I don’t have the skills for that,” or “It’s too difficult.” I have definitely made those excuses and avoided tackling difficult tasks, like working on my poetry series. But this week, I made the decision to set aside time for creativity and put in some time coming up with solutions to the compositional problems plaguing my Waiting: Creative Block painting. And I could see that this progress from a much-cluttered composition to something more pleasing is going to take time, but that it is well worth the effort. I know it is stretching me as an artist to do more challenging art work that requires different solutions from my older more simple pieces.

In closing, I would like to share some strategies Warrell suggested to avoid the procrastination trap. Here they are in order: 1.) Set a deadline, and write down your goal (s), 2.) Simplify your goal (s) into smaller pieces, 3.) Envision your ideal life, 4.) Get an accountability partner, 5.) Reward your progress, and 6.) Take the first step toward your goal. Source: Why Do You Procrastinate, by Margie Warrell, on www.forbes.com.