Voices and Visions: Work in Progress: Extreme Makeover
Make Time for Art
For the past two weeks, I have really been making an effort to make time to get into my art studio and work on my Voices and Visions series, every Thursday from 10 am-12 pm. It’s been challenging. I am focusing on finishing one piece of artwork that I started a few weeks ago, called, The Dream of Time Travel. This mixed media piece has gone through many changes and edits. I’ve subtracted some elements and added others trying to find the right composition and color scheme to express the emotions I want viewers to feel when looking at this artwork.
The Creative Process: Dream of Time Travel
And yet, I am still trying to figure out just what that feeling might be that I want the viewer to take away from my painting. Is it sadness, longing, discontent, or some other emotion? I feel that finding the answer to this question will be the key to solving the difficulties I have had with completing this piece in terms of composition, color choices and subject matter.
I began making my edits on this piece by cutting up my color sketches in watercolor and adding other elements such as paint chips for the clouds. After that, I took more drastic measures, cutting out anything from the painting that did not add to the composition, seeking simplicity. Even after hours of work, I could see that I needed to start the whole project over from scratch, because some elements of the piece just didn’t work, especially the imaginary ones, like the road leading to the fairy tale book. I realized that trying to do a surrealist style in this work, and it just wasn’t working.
Back to the Drawing Board
After I realized that the piece was not working, I decided to start over from scratch and gather my own photo references of self-portraits and a landscape to combine them into a Photoshop collage. Then, after I had placed all of my photos into the collage, I began drawing the composition free hand, trying to make it the same scale as the photo reference. While I was working on this piece, I realized I need to draw more often, and that I had become too reliant on tracing photos for my art, rather than drawing from life or photo references. So, my new piece is a sketch that I still need to finish, but one that I think will be easier to complete as a painting.
The Takeaways from the Creative Process
Other takeaways from this project are: 1.) Sometimes you just need to get started on art to make progress, even if you’re out of practice, 2.) Failed art pieces can be the springboard for new art, 3.) Simple compositions work best for me, 4.) I need to draw more often, 5.) Drawing from one’s imagination is really difficult, and perhaps I need to stick to a more realistic style, and 6.) I need to think about what emotion I want my viewers to feel from my artwork, which will influence my color and compositional choices. Through it all, I am learning that everything on my journey of creativity is useful to me and that good art can’t be rushed, not for me anyway.
As I mentioned in last week’s post, I have been struggling with artist’s block this summer. During this journey, I’ve tried various things to break out of it, such as: copying art demonstrations from art technique books, re-touching/re-working old paintings, and working in a prompt driven sketchbook. Unfortunately, the later project hasn’t been working out so great lately. I’ve been procrastinating on doing the daily prompts, and have felt uncertain as to which mediums to work in for the sketchbook pages, should it be watercolor, colored pencil, acrylic, gouache or something else that I use? I have been unhappy with the colored pencils because they take so long to build up color and tone and I want to get some momentum and finish the nature section so I can keep moving along. It’s also difficult to correct mistakes with this medium, and I am finding that a lot of my prompts are not living up to my expectations. All of which keeps me stuck in neutral, and not making new work consistently.
Some insights I have gained about my artist’s block
Maybe it’s also the heat of the summer, which seems extraordinarily hot, even for Maryland. Or perhaps it’s the dislocation I feel in adjusting to a new house, guilt (genuine or otherwise, about abandoning household chores to make time for art), or something else entirely. Whatever the cause, I want to come up with some solutions so I can move forward and make more art, and hopefully at least some of the pieces will turn out the way I envision or will be at least good enough to post on social media. This year there’s been a mix of both good paintings and some not so good paintings. The paintings I’m not happy with might get thrown out, or sanded and re-worked, depending on the state of the canvases. I feel dry and uninspired, and I feel I have reached the limit of my skill set in art. In fact, I feel I need more fuel for my creativity and knowledge base.
Tips for breaking through a creative block
While I am pondering these thoughts, I’d like to share some tips I picked up from an article, “How to Survive a Creative Slump,” by Our Daily Craft, on http://www.ourdailycraft.com/2017/02/21/survive-creative-slump, by Sarah White, February 21, 2017. A few suggestions that the author offers include: 1.) starting with a small creative project, 2.) working quickly, 3.) reading a book you enjoy, and 4.) organizing or cleaning something in your home. For instance, the author suggested a few small projects to help jumpstart your creativity such as 1.) “sewing a cloth napkin,” 2.) “knitting a headband,” 3.) Paint on a 4 x 4-inch surface, or “writing a haiku.” (Source: ibid) Since I am not particularly good at crafts or anything DIY, which I learned after re-finishing some furniture and all of my kitchen cabinets in my new home, I have settled on painting a 4 x 4-inch canvas of Canada Geese. I re-worked this miniature canvas in oil paints about a week ago, and I am fairly happy with the result. Another suggestion that the author makes is to re-visit old projects that you had left unfinished. (Source: ibid) I certainly have a pile of unfinished works-such as unfinished drawings, pastels, and pages in my sketchbook where things just didn’t come together. Perhaps it would be a good problem-solving exercise to utilize my creativity.
In addition, the author also discussed making something quickly-which I’m not sure I would do
since most of the problems I have had with my art have been poor planning. Another problem which leads to unsatisfactory art for me is not spending enough time checking the accuracy of the drawing, as unfortunately happened with my latest portrait of Lincoln, which I decided to re-work and re-draw with oil paints. Needless to say, it didn’t turn out that well. Maybe if I were an abstract painter I could get away with a more intuitive approach to painting, than a more structured one with specific steps, but I am not. Since I am a more traditional painter, I am sticking with what works for me, which is starting with a drawing, adding three values in pencil to the sketch, and then making a colored sketch to base the final painting upon. Unfortunately, the more I tried to fix the drawing, the worse it got. In the end, I finally decided to abandon it, and start with a new sketch on a totally different substrate on a larger scale. It hasn’t become a painting yet, but I think I identified some drawing errors in the painting, by making a new sketch.
However, one thing I do want to try is to read a novel, article, or poem, to try and get some new ideas flowing. Some of my best works have been inspired by the poetry of Dickinson and Frost. Maybe reading literature will also help me to become a better writer and get me out o this writer’s block I seem to be assailed with lately. How about you? Do you have any suggestions for breaking out of a creative rut? I’d love to hear! Just post in the comments section of this blog. Thanks for stopping by!
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
Waiting Creative Block: Stage 1. Here is the Photoshop file made with found images on the internet.
Stage 2: Creative Block: Waiting, stage 2. In this photo is the watercolor paining with sepia brown paint.
Stage 3: Creative Block: Waiting, stage 3. I was unhappy with the composition which seemed too busy, so I painted some items out with Acrylic Gesso.
Stage 4: Creative Block, Waiting, stage 4. I started to add color with acrylic paint, after the acrylic Gesso had dried.
Stage 5: Creative Block: Waiting. The image seemed too empty so I started adding more shapes in again with acrylic paint.
Stage 6: Creative Block, Waiting. I made a new Photshop file, where I adjusted the composition to make it simpler and added color to the black and white images. I also added a photo with sand dunes and decided to get rid of the cracks in the foreground.
Stage 7: Waiting, Creative Block. I started to re-draw the composition with white pastel and did began painting the figure, adding shadows and highlights to the hair and face.
Stage 8: Creative Block, Waiting. Here I toned down the color of the sky, which seemed too saturated and which competed too much with the figure.
Stage 1: The Secret Sits, poem by Robert Frost. Here I started to create a Photoshop photo collage using found photos from the internet.
Stage 2: The Secret Sits, poem by Robert Frost. In this stage, I sketched out the composition with pencil, creating a three value sketch of white, gray and black on paper.
Stage 3: The Secret Sits. Color test 1 in acrylic paint was made by selected a limited palette of dull colors to create a subdued mood.
Stage 3: The Secret Sits. Color test 2, using cool colors in Acrylic paints to try out a winter theme.
Stage 4: The Secret Sits. Color test 3, to try out a complementary color scheme of red-orange and blue-violet.
Stage 5: The Secret Sits. I felt that the composition was lacking something, especially since the main figure was not interacting with the audience, so I made a new Photoshop file with different photos.
Stage 6: The Secret Sits. I am finally happy with the composition, but I wanted to try one more color scheme. This scheme was another complementary color scheme of red and green with subdued background colors so the main figures really stand out. I still have to complete the final painting in acrylic, oil or pastel, whichever I choose.
and decide what strategy to pursue to make the artwork sing.