Hello Friends, After posting the blog post, Administrative Aspects of Being an Artist: Writing a Newsletter, I realized that I had posted the images of my newsletter as a slide show. I realized that it would be nearly impossible to read the newsletter in this format, so I am re-posting the newsletter as a jpeg so you can read the newsletter if you wish. My apologies.
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.
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.
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!
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.
I’ve been working at a hectic pace these last two weeks preparing for a one-day art event called Art Pops! At Everedy Square and Shab Row in Frederick, MD. Last Saturday was the big day to kick off this event and hopefully make some new connections and sales of my art work. The weeks leading up to this event were jam packed with activity and tasks such as weekly social media marketing campaigns, packaging and pricing my art works for sale, creating an inventory list in Excel, researching how to create an art booth display on Pinterest, etc. And I learned a lot from this show, such as the importance of making in person connections with people to sell my art, how to read people, etc. In fact, I sold more art work in one day at the art show, then I did from months of posting about my art on Instagram, Facebook, and Etsy, and I am thankful for that. However, all of this activity really took a toll on my energy and motivation to create art.
In all the business of preparing for the art show, I have really struggled to make time to create new art work. I feel that I have reached the end of my creative resources and knowledge, tapped out, so to speak. It’s been several years since I took an art class, and I haven’t read any new art technique books in several months. And this state of affairs is not like me. I am usually restless when I am not making art or coming up with some new ideas for a series of paintings or drawings. The last few days since the show ended, I have made a concerted effort to at least draw one portrait a day for my drawing challenge which I started back in June called, 100 faces in 100 days. Some days I have made some decent portraits, other days I have really struggled or been disappointed with
the results. If you would like to follow my progress with this project, you can view my 100 faces in 100 days drawing challenge on Instagram. I am listed as jsjschmidt2 on Instagram, and I post almost every day. Pictured are some sketches from this week including Frank Sinatra, Cary Grant, Grace Kelly and Sean Connery.
The paintings I wanted to work on, however, are not coming together. Instead of posting the finished product as I had hoped to do this week, I have to take several steps back and ask myself what isn’t working with the composition, values, colors and the drawings in my art work. For example, in my Creative Block: Waiting, watercolor painting, I feel there are too many elements battling for precedence and not enough quiet spaces to allow the viewer to contemplate the scene. The composition feels cluttered and overwhelming and the message of creative block feels “lost” in the muddle. So yesterday, I painted over several spots in the painting with acrylic gesso. And the Civil War soldiers fared no better. So out with the gesso again. I am struggling with the drawing and the tonal values in these acrylic paintings. I have discovered that the acrylic paint dries much darker than it looks when I mix it up and put it on the brush, which is really throwing off the values. So I may re-do the painting in oils after the gesso has “cured.”
The paintings seem to be a type of metaphor for where my life is these days. Overstuffed and empty all at the same time. I feel I have lost the wonder I used to have about making art that keeps me motivated to get into the art studio ever week to see what new ideas I might “cook up.” Meanwhile, I am realizing that my workaholic tendencies are not conducive to making art work. I must create and seek “white space” to re-fill my creative tank, so that I have something to draw from when I go to make art work. Meanwhile, I will be be seeking out this “white space” in its various forms, whether it is taking a walk, journaling, going to an art gallery, reading an art technique book, etc., to try and regain my sense of wonder for life, and for making art.
The Art of Finishing
This week I am returning to a favorite topic of mine which is the importance of completing a painting or work of art. I have several unfinished paintings and sketches pilling up in my studio lately. They are the remnants of ideas not fully thought out, false starts, or brick walls I didn’t know how to climb. In trying to figure out what caused this to happen, I have a few theories…Maybe life got really busy, I got stuck and didn’t know how to fix a problem with composition or color, lost interest in it, etc. I call these paintings and sketches, UFOS, unfinished objects. They clutter my studio, and remind me reproachfully that I have unfinished business. What to do, what to do?
About two weeks ago, I tried to break this trend in my work flow habits, and I returned to a sketch that I have been working on and off for about a year. Facebook reminded me of this event this week with a post about the sketch, And Still I Rise. The sketch is called, And Still I Rise, and it is based on a Maya Angelou poem entitled, And Still I Rise. This poem describes the struggle that African Americans have endured as a legacy of slavery, prejudice, and Jim Crow Laws of the South, and the power that they ultimately exercise when they rise above it. I’m sorry to say that my own ancestors played a part in the history of slavery and plantations.
I’ve been looking at my various attempts to finish this sketch and make it into a painting, and the below photos demonstrate my struggles to complete the painting. Some of these struggles include: breaking out of old habits of just putting things in the middle of the page, or not really thinking about art as a story to be told, or not knowing what medium and color choices to use in telling a complicated story like this one. Ultimately, I decided to limit the color palette to burnt sienna, black, and white, with tonal values, so that the focus is ultimately on the symbolic content of the painting’s story line, such as: the slave ships, slave manacles, (all to symbolize slavery), the phoenix bird (re-birth), and the sun (which rises every day). Two other central figures in this piece include a Caucasian woman, to symbolize the legacy of slavery and white prejudice, and the other, an African American woman, in this case, Maya Angelou, who serves as a representative of the African American population. She has risen above her circumstances and refuses to be beaten. Here are a few lines from the poem, which demonstrate Angelou’s indomitable spirit:
“You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.” (Source: Poetry Foundation, www.poetryfoundation.org).
So why is this important? I feel that I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and saw some growth happen, despite the frustration. Sticking with this sketch and making it into a tonal watercolor painting, forced me to re-think my art process and habits, and it has been helping me to define my unique voice as an artist, by making work that is content based and tells a story. It’s also been a good lesson in problem solving and determination. And I felt great when it was finally finished! Here are some progress photos, starting with the three value graphite sketch, oil painting, pastel, and finally the mixed media watercolor painting. The biggest inspiration I had in bringing this painting to a conclusion was Pablo Picasso’s, Rose Period. These paintings are limited in color and feature narratives about various characters, such as circus performers. Without the inspiration I received from this work, I doubt I could have brought it to a conclusion. All of which reminds me of an earlier post I wrote about the importance of copying master art works, in this case, they can provide new ways of thinking about value and color. I definitely want to keep studying the masters as I continue in my journey to define my voice as an artist. What about you? Do you have any tips for completing unfinished art?