Things I have tried to do to get creative again
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!
Hello Family, Friends, and Fans,
I have decided to start posting my newsletter on my blog, since becoming a homeowner, rather than sending out individual emails to my mailing list. Anything that helps me to scale back is something I am embracing these days. This month’s newsletter features some pages from my sketchbook entitled, Draw Every Day, Draw Every Way, by Julia Orkin Lewis and my featured topic is making time for art.
Last week I talked about self-doubt in the context of one’s own self-doubt and self-defeating self-talk such as, “I am not good enough.”, and this week I am switching gears and writing about how to deal with constructive feedback or, not so constructive feedback, as the case may be. This type of criticism may come from a variety of sources such as teachers, family, friends, “fellow artists,” strangers, etc. Bustamante, 2016). Sometimes it is helpful and other times it is not. At times, these people may be sincerely “trying to help you” while at other times, their motives may be less than beneficent. (Source: Gill Bustamante, “Overcoming Self-Doubt for Artists…Even When Your Art Goes Terribly Wrong,” www.emptyeasel.com09/05/2016.
For instance, according to Bustamante, 2016, “Artists often find themselves targets of people who put them down with carefully worded barbed comments or “advice” that leads nowhere, or other thinly veiled criticisms that will discourage the artist on their efforts.” (ibid) In addition, according to Bustamante, it is very important to carefully weigh what others tell you about your artwork, to decide if their opinion is valid or not, taking their advice with a hefty grain of salt. (ibid) The litmus test seems to be, how you experience these people after spending time with them. (ibid) For instance, Bustamante, 2016, asks, do you feel better about yourself after you spend time with them or worse? (ibid) If you don’t enjoy spending time with them, then stay away from them. (ibid) However, if you can’t completely escape these people because they are co-workers or your spouse, “put up a shield “ to guard yourself against what they say. (ibid)
I’ve had my own share of experiences with really bad critiques from teachers, and insensitive comments from others over the years as an art student, and a professional artist. These sorts of comments make me want to give up and are usually too vague to be of any assistance in making improvements in my art. And I have also had the reverse experience; in fact, some of my best constructive feedback has come from art students, during class critiques where there are some ground rules about constructive feedback. These types of comments tend to be more positive, like a word sandwich, such as, I think what works in this painting is, (blank) however, if you changed the color, value, etc, here, it could be even better. The paradox is, if I can’t take any feedback about my artwork, I won’t grow as an artist because I am too close to my work and have tunnel vision, or too emotionally invested in it to see the flaws. On the other hand, if I am too strongly influenced by others I might give up too soon on drawing and painting, or start to pursue art styles that are not really part of my authentic voice, in an attempt to please others or make sales.
Meanwhile, I am trying to keep on keeping on with my weekly studio practice, working in my sketchbook at least on a weekly basis. My hope is that by keeping in practice with drawing it will remind me why I fell in love with making art in the first place. My themes from my sketchbook that I am showing you this week are animals and plants, kind of apropos since spring is supposed to be around the corner…They were drawn with pencil and Prismacolor Colored Pencils. Thank you for reading! I hope this speaks to someone out there who is struggling not to give up on their art.
A few weeks ago, one of my art fans complimented me on a painting which she had viewed on my Art of Schmidt website, entitled, Phyllis and Dad. She said that she liked the colors, that she admired my talent, and wanted to know the story behind the painting. I told her that the painting was based on a collection of family photos which I had collected and that I always remembered my father as being older than other kid’s fathers. I also shared that this was the first photo I had ever seen of my father taken when he was young. Although I do not know his exact age, as the picture is not dated, I would estimate that he was in his early twenties when this photo was taken of him and his first wife, Phyllis.
I was of course, grateful to hear the compliments about my artwork, but at the same time, I wanted to share that the artwork I post on my website does not come about by magic. It takes a lot of effort. Furthermore, sometimes more than one version of a painting or drawing is created to lead to the finished product that people see on my website, commerce site, and social media feeds on Facebook and Instagram. In fact, I have to practice on a weekly basis to keep my drawing and painting skills from getting rusty. During this conversation, I shared all of these insights with her and I hastened to add that if I relied solely on my artistic “talent” then it wouldn’t get me very far. Instead, I have found that practicing art is much like practicing a sport or playing an instrument. I believe that in order to get good at any of these disciplines, one needs to practice, a lot, and on a regular basis to maintain a certain level of skill. And sometimes it may require me to make a drawing or painting over and over again until I get it “just right.” In the words of songwriter, Sting: “I will reapply the needle of the record player again and again to the bars of music that seem beyond my analysis, like a safecracker picking a lock, until the prize is mine.” (Sting, Broken Music, dust jacket cover, 2003).
I was thinking about this conversation this week when I was trying to decide what to blog about. While I was pondering this, I wondered how to make this knowledge which I have gained about the need for artists to practice their art, into an applicable blog post that anyone can learn from. According to the author, and textile artist, Bren Boardman, one specific way for artists to stay “in practice” with their craft is to keep a sketchbook. The sketchbook serves as a repository to record their ideas and inspirations, such as “color swatches, quotes, magazine clippings, newspaper cuttings, or reference photos” for artwork in progress. (Boardman, Bren. “Sketchbooks and Mind Mapping for Artists”, https: www.textileartist.org). Bren Boardman, textile artist, and author of the article, “Sketchbooks and Mind Mapping for Artists”, states that sketchbooks can help artists to develop their ideas for artwork and that using a mind map in their sketchbooks is an effective strategy for fleshing out ideas for new artwork. In her article, she provides some useful tips on how to start a mind map diagram, sort of like the “web” I remember from grade school in which my teachers used to help my fellow students brainstorm new ideas. In Boardman’s mind maps, she starts with a word or phrase that encapsulates her concept for a new artwork and draws connecting branches, which describe her ideas in more detail, sometimes using imagery. To start a mind map, she recommends that you write a word or phrase, with which you can associate, the main idea. (Boardman, Bren. 2013)
In addition, Boardman states that it is helpful to consider what type of sketchbook you would like to create such as a reference sketchbook, where you might “collect color mixing tests, color swatches or samples, or an idea generation sketchbook”; such as creating a mind map which describes the process and ends with the final result. On the other hand, perhaps you might make a sketchbook that would describe a trip or journey. Furthermore, if you still feel overwhelmed by the process of starting a sketchbook, I’m including a list of suggestions that Boardman offers in her article to get you started with the process. For example, you might include: “photos, magazines or prints, magazine or newspaper cuttings, drawings, sketches and doodles, text, poetry, stories, thoughts, thoughts, letters, extracts, statements, words, fabric, threads, wools, beads, buckles, papers of all kinds.” (Boardman, Bren. “Sketchbooks and Mind Mapping for Artists”)
In this blog post, I include my process for adapting Boardman’s mind map idea and translating it into a project I wanted to create of a genealogical portrait of recording artist, Sting. My inspiration for this project was based on an overworked watercolor painting I made last summer, a portrait by Durer of a man standing in front of a landscape, and a TV miniseries, entitled, Finding Your Roots, with Henry Louis Gates, J., on PBS. The segment I took inspiration from was called, “Sting, Sally Field, and Deepak Chopra,” and was filmed in 2014. Gates spoke with each individual in turn and he shared what he had learned about their ancestry through genealogical research. In particular, Gates shared that Sting’s third-great grandparents were lace makers who started a family in Nottingham, England in the 1820s. However, due to the Industrial Revolution, which led to mass production of products and consumer goods, they were forced to seek work elsewhere in Calais, France and in Australia.
I took inspiration from this TV series, a failed watercolor portrait of Sting, and from a sketch by Duerer which featured a portrait of a man and a landscape in the background. To record my thoughts, I took notes as I watched the TV segment and I re-draw these thoughts in a mind map. I knew I wanted to make a portrait that was different from the typical face front painting or sketch of a person with a wall as background, and that I wanted to let the artwork tell a story about the person. I wanted to use symbols to tell the person’s story so that it would lead the viewer to contemplate the scene and ask questions about what the symbols might mean. After I completed the notes, I set to work looking for images on the internet of Sting, his hometown of Wallsend, England, and some symbols to describe his ancestor’s migration to France and their profession as lace makers. Then I put all the photos together in Adobe Photoshop to create a collage as a reference for the resulting sketch and three value watercolor painting.
Stay tuned for more updates on my painting process of this portrait! Thanks for stopping by!
It’s been several weeks since I have blogged, and the reasons are many. Some new responsibilities as my mom’s caregiver, due to her shoulder replacement surgery in October, lots of hours at work, and a new custom order, among other things. Also, I keep trying to think of the perfect topic that will be entertaining to my audience and informative. And yet, when I do that I feel like I am not being my genuine self, and that leads to more inertia. So instead, I decided to share my artist statement for my new poetry illustration series, Voices, and Visions. So here it is.
Voices and Visions
How does an idea for a painting get born? For me, it’s sometimes a memory being re-played, hearing a song lyric that resonates with me, reading a poem that lends itself to telling a story or visiting an inspiring art exhibit. This series focuses on the connection between stories described in the written word, such as poetry, song lyrics, and quotes and the visual narratives that illustrate these works. The works may describe a feeling, a memory, a season, or some universal truth described in color, metaphor or symbols. Perhaps this series has been percolating in me for years, since 2005, in fact, when I graduated from McDaniel College with an art degree. My art mentor, Steve Pearson, who is now (Assistant Professor at McDaniel College), sparked an interest in me about how to make artwork that communicated personal truths and ideas.
To facilitate the creative process, he recommended that I keep a sketchbook and collect artwork that inspired me. This process would help me to identify the themes that mattered most to me and to write a content-based artist statement. Lastly, I created a series of work that described these themes through color, symbols, composition, etc. It’s been several years since then and I have had a lot of experiences since then, read books, listened to music, attended concerts, had different jobs, and pursued different artistic subject media, such as the portrait, and more recently still life and landscape. But I keep coming back to artwork that has a meaning or a story to tell in my artwork, and especially to the portrait which was the first subject that ignited my interest in art. One significant event that sparked this recurrent theme, and they are: 1.) A drawing class that I took at Frederick Community College.
In January of 2015, I took a drawing course at Frederick Community College in Frederick, MD. One of the final assignments I tackled was to illustrate a poem using pastels. A major challenge in this assignment was to find a poem that had some concrete images to illustrate and not a poem that was too esoteric and abstract. I chose Robert Frost’s poem, Ghost House, which has an abundance of concrete imagery. The first lines, “I dwell in a lonely house I know, that vanished nearly a summer ago and left no trace but the cellar walls…” (Frost) gripped me with a strong visual picture. I immediately thought of a derelict house and tried to create a narrative about this haunted house.
Slowly different images popped into my head, a derelict house, a ghost bride, a tree, a path, and some crows. To facilitate this process, I collected artwork that inspired on Google image searches and checked out library books on vampires and fantasy creatures. My next step was to create a Photoshop file collage with images based on this poem. I completed the artwork by creating a drawing based off of the collage and finished with soft pastels. To create this current body of work, I have followed this same process of creating a notebook of images that inspired, and piecing them together in PhotoShop to create my own unique compositions. I also did searches on Pinterest for the artwork of interest and looked for examples of poetry illustrations to see how other artists have tackled this subject. And I read books on poetry or did Google searches to look for poems that lent themselves visual depiction. Some of the poetry that has inspired these works is verses written by Emily Dickinson, Maya Angelou, Robert Frost, and T.S. Elliot.
Thank you for stopping by and reading my artist statement! Have a wonderful week!
Have you ever wondered why some artists, such as Andrew Wyeth, and others create their artwork in a series format? My first experience with creating artwork as a series was as an undergraduate at McDaniel College, taking art classes at the senior level. In this Senior Studio Capstone class, my fellow students and I were given the assignment to create a series of artworks that expressed a theme of interest or importance to us and to write an artist’s statement that described our artwork’s theme. For example, according to the website The Abundant Artist, some themes that artists might explore in a series include, 1.) texture and color (Faith Ringgold), 2.) politics (Kathe Kollwitz), 3.) death, (Hirst) or 4.) messages that uplift, like Kelley Rae Roberts. Prior to that, my assignments in drawing and painting consisted of drawing or painting to try and copy the still life or model in front of me, to teach the skills of observation. At that time, I had no idea how to even get started and had artist’s block for two weeks while I searched for artworks that inspired, all in vain. My Teacher did give us some guidance on the process though. He suggested that we create sketchbooks in which we pasted artworks of inspiration, no matter the medium, and he suggested that we look up art magazines, such as Art in America. Pouring over art magazines and artist websites, such as Forum Gallery, I could think of nothing new to say with my artwork that hadn’t already been said. I felt I had a lot of competition since there have already been many artists who have gone before me, who have created several unforgettable artworks to boot, such as Vermeer’s, Girl with a Pearl Earring, painted in 1665.
After weeks of struggle and seeking out artwork that inspired me, I had a solution. My answer came from an unlikely source, music. I decided to illustrate some of the songs of my favorite musician, Sting, using my self-portrait as a muse, along with color, and composition to portray various feelings of uncertainty, sadness, etc. Some of the songs I illustrated in my self-portrait series were Lithium Sunset and Secret Journey. The first song talks about how medication can help bring a person out of depression and make them strong enough to get back up again. While the second song, Secret Journey, talks about a mystical journey of enlightenment. I printed out the songs from Sting’s website, www.sting.com, pasted them in my sketchbooks, and underlined words and phrases that I thought were good candidates for illustration. And I referenced these songs and artworks of inspiration as I crafted my Artist’s Statement. As I searched through artwork that inspired, it became evident that I was drawn to the subject of the portrait, but I didn’t know how to make my work unique because the portrait has been done numerous times before.
The imagery of Sting’s songs provided the perfect solution to my dilemma and I was off and running. My then boyfriend, Dan, took photos of me to provide the source photos for my oil paintings. To make a long story short, I finished the series in time and even made a power point presentation as part of the project requirements of my finished works. In addition, I crafted an artist’s statement, which helped me to define the artwork by describing what the artwork would be about and what influences had to lead me to the finished work. I learned a lot about myself as an artist, such as how to distill ideas through writing artist statements and creating sketchbooks to illustrate my ideas by pasting artwork that inspired onto its pages. In particular, I discovered that I liked to make artworks that had a message, even if the search for the solution was far from easy. But back to my main question, “Why should artists work in a series?”
To investigate that question more fully, I did what many people would do, I googled it. The websites, Abundant Artist and Art Business.com, shed some light on the subject of content-based art. According to the authors, some of these benefits include: 1.) Making artwork in a series gives the artist a platform to connect with their audience on an emotional level because the artwork is focused and personal, 2.) Creating artwork in a series format helps others to understand what an artist’s work is about and who they are as a person, 3.) Artists who make artwork in a series are more likely to find art galleries to exhibit their work
because they know how to market the artist and this format follow their business model, and 4.) Working in a series format helps artists to understand what topics/subjects are important to them, and which they like to draw or paint.