Experimenting Experimenters

Screen shot 2013-10-14 at 9.07.17 AMLet us see how high we can fly before the sun melts the wax in our wings.”         Edward O. Wilson (from The Painters Keys)

Many artists are experimenters who constantly search for new ways to express themselves through their art.  They look for new techniques.  They try different media.  Some even come up with non-traditional materials not generally thought of as art making material.  Others look for new uses of traditional materials.  Still others seek out new and different subject matter.

The UK’s Daily Mail has an article focused on artist Gerald Toni and his use of coffee and tea to paint beautiful life-like works of people and objects set in coffee houses.  He uses various blends of coffee and tea from all over the world.  The amazing range of color values in his paintings come from years of experimenting with the different coffee and tea blends.

Watercolorist Carrie Lin, as told by Margaret DeRitter of Michigan Live has developed a unique method in her paintings using different papers such as yupo and rice paper.   For the rice paper work she uses a crinkle technique perfected with years of experimentation.  In the yupo paintings, she applies ink, allowing it to slide over the slick surface of the paper.  Lin then uses both techniques as the background for her beautiful abstract paintings.

If you are in the mood to try for something new and different, Amiria Robinson has outlined techniques, methods and materials to try out in a series of articles for Student Art Guide “Entitled Beyond the Brush.”  You might try painting with a mop or maybe your feet.  You could experiment by painting with a rag.  How about turning things around and dipping the paper or canvas into the paint instead of the other way around?  Robinson described a number of lively suggestions worth trying just for the fun of it.

In the process of experimenting, artists are forever evolving and changing the way people view their world.  This constant evolution brings color and expression to our lives.  I wonder what the next development in the art world will be.  Artists are always bringing new things to life.

Stormy Weather

“I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.” Louisa May Alcott (from The Painter’s Keys).Screen shot 2013-10-09 at 10.14.24 AM

Artists can be hit hard in times of austerity but is it necessarily all bad?  Can tough times be also, times of heightened creativity?   Artists can look upon tough times as an opportunity to do new and exciting things.  Break new ground.  Do something not done before.  Find new tools to navigate the storm.

Seeking creative ways to sell art is one method of fighting the waves.  The author of Artbusiness.com states, “rather than seeing tough times as obstacles to their career success, see them as opportunities to tap into your creative strengths and reserves.”  How an artist does that is as unique as the artist him/herself. Possible methods include dropping prices, changing selling venue, seeking new non-traditional methods of selling and horror of horrors, changing artistic style.  It depends on what works for you and where your market is.  Experiment and get creative.

The BBC News Magazine asks the question, “Do hard times equal good art?”  The writer gives argument to both sides of the question.  Many well known artists have lived hard lives with tough times.  Others lived in the lap of luxury.  Some artists, myself included, create better under pressure.  Again, the answer, most likely, lies within the individual artist.  With examples of both types throughout history, does it really matter?  Good times or bad, the point is to carry on.

Some artists deal with the storms of tough times by turning them into their work.  Looking at the incredible energy of Joseph M. W. Turner’s ships in stormy waters, it appears the painter knows a thing or two about storms.  Though Turner achieved success with his painting, his personal life was not without turbulence mainly during his childhood, (read more here).  Perhaps his storm painting was, at least partially a metaphor for his own personal storms.

To get through stormy weather, it seems the best action is to seek navigational tools by digging ever deeper into creativity.  And after the storm, smooth sailing ahead!

The Stillness of Action

“All true artists , whether they know it or not, create from a place of no mind,  of inner stillness.”  Eckhart Tolle (from artquotes.net)Screen shot 2013-10-07 at 9.35.17 AM

What is stillness?  Is it a physical place or an inner place?  Do we need to go to a place of stillness to paint?   Stillness for every artist is likely different.  What do other artists say and do regarding stillness?

Canadian artist Agata Lawrynczyk states she paints early in the morning and late in the day to find the peace and quiet she is looking for to depict in her paintings.  She also states the subjects for her paintings are stillness.  Her paintings are of water and mountains, boats and sky.  Her blog, Agata’s Art Corner describes her process.  Lawrynczk is actively seeking to paint stillness.  Others may follow her habits even when not depicting “stillness.”

Because one is not seeking to depict “stillness” does not mean it is not inwardly sought while painting.  Looking at Wilhem De Kooning, I confess to an inability to see anything remotely resembling “stillness” in the artists work. Once while standing in a room filled with De Kooning paintings at the Corcoran Museum in Washington, D.C., I could swear I felt sizzling electricity.  In a brief biographical sketch about De Kooning, The Guggenheim Museum states the artist moved to East Hampton, New York seeking greater peace and isolation to create.  It appears De Kooning sought a place of stillness even though you would never guess from his work!

In a blog called With Real Toads, Margaret Bednar, visits two art museums to view paintings she sees as depicting, “Stillness” in the subject matter.  Using these chosen artworks, she asks the writers of the blog to describe stillness in words or poems.  The same directive for painting could also apply. Thinking about descriptive words for stillness may be a good method for getting to a place of “stillness” in the art making process, regardless of subject.

Ellen Lauren is speaking to theatre actors when she wrote an article for SITI.org titled, “In Search of Stillness.”  She believes actors require training to achieve stillness. It is likely the same applies whether the subject to be captured is of “stillness” or the artist is seeking the inner place of inspiration.  When stillness is achieved, creativity flows. Or so it would seem.

Waiting for Lightening

You can’t wait for inspiration. Sometimes you have to go after it with a club.” ~ Jack London (from Skinnyartist.com)Screen shot 2013-10-06 at 11.39.42 AM

Do you have those days where you are just unable to get started?  The motivation just isn’t there.  Or maybe you stand in front of a blank canvas and can’t pick up the brush.  You want to work but lack the push.  Ahh, yes, happens to us all!  What can you do when those times come?

The number one key is to do something, anything.  As the blog Dubspot states, “The main thing is to turn up!”  Make the effort to get to your workspace and not give in to the doldrums.  And make it a regular thing as if you are punching a time clock.  Dubspot states Mark Twain was once asked if he had to wait for inspiration to come before writing.  “Yes, I do,” he replied, ‘but inspiration always comes at 9 am sharp, every weekday!”

Seattle artist, Alicia Tormey, states much the same thing when in her blog, she writes the most important thing for an artist to do is show up in the studio.  Tormey says to go to the studio even it is only to organize the brushes.  Again, the point is to make the effort even if you don’t feel like it.

Things seem to shift when you focus the energy on the work.  Eventually, it moves and inspiration flows.  Sometimes the best things happen when you feel the least like creating.  That happened for me recently when I had to make the effort for a project with a timeline.  I just didn’t feel like it.  I ended up talking on the phone while painting and letting it flow without thinking about what I was doing.  A shift in the painting occurred!  Maybe I should talk on the phone while working more often instead of waiting for inspiration to strike.

For more on finding inspiration visit The Empty Easel

Dry Eyes

“There fore art means: you have to believe, to have faith, that is, cultivate vision.” (Josef Albers) from The Painter’s KeysScreen shot 2013-10-05 at 11.12.15 AM

Artistic vision likely does not have a cookie-cutter formula that can be written in a textbook and taught by lecture in a classroom. Artistic vision is as unique as the artist making the artwork. If each vision is unique, are there any guidelines an artist can follow? We all get off track at times, so how do we get back?

Author Thomas Cotterill in his blog states: “No matter what the artist thinks about vision, it is vital that they remain true to their own ideas.” When those inevitable times come when an artist feels the vision is lost it is imperative to examine what exactly the lost vision was. What were the points that drew the artist to the original vision? What were the emotions, the colors, the shapes, and the tastes of the vision? In that dry vision deprived place, returning to the beginning may be the best first step. Once taken, the first step can lead to what the original second step was, and third.

For some vision may have been a choice they consciously made as they began to paint. Others may have had a gradually evolving vision over time. In either case, returning to the starting point allows an artist the opportunity to remember the excitement of how the vision first felt and perhaps reignite that spark. There was a reason you chose that particular vision. Refresh, recall, and relight that fire.

For more on what other artists say about artistic vision, artist Barbara Rachko has complied a series of quotes on her blog here.

Say What?????

Any sort of pretension produces mediocrity in life and in art.”  Margot Fonteyn (from brainy quotesImage)

While walking around at a large art exhibit, (see “Voices”), my friend and I overheard various comments and opinions on the art.  One conversation left us so puzzled that it continues to produce a smile even now.  It was the perfect stereotype of a conversation many people, think goes on at an art exhibit.

Two people are standing in front of a large abstract painting.  Each is holding a glass of wine while discussing the painting.  As we leaned in to listen, one said to the other, “But is it ethically valid?”  My friend and I looked back at the painting while trying to contain our confusion.  “Huh?”

I’m thinking, “Hmmm. Ethical and valid.  What does that have to do with this painting?”  Maybe the title gave an indication but I couldn’t see the title.  I lost track of the beauty of the piece in trying to figure what that statement could possibly mean in relation to the painting.    I’m still shaking my head years later.  Maybe others can enlighten me.  I didn’t get it.

Evidently mom was right when she said, “Talking too much and eavesdropping can both have unintended consequences.”  I didn’t realize at the time, she was referring to art.

Does art speak for itself?

Voices

It takes courage to paint, to express yourself that way and put it out there for others to see and comment on.”Carla NeggersThe Rapids, pg 361-62Image

Occasionally, a statement in an unlikely place can jump out and grab your attention.  The above quote, in a suspense fiction novel, provoked such a response.  It does take courage for an artist to put art out there for others to comment on.  Comments can warm the heart. Comments can hurt.  Sometimes, comments just baffle.  Yet artists continue to put art out there exposing themselves to the various opinions of others.

At a large gallery opening several years ago, a friend and I wandered around picking up on the conversations of others about the exhibited art.  Many times it was difficult to understand what the heck people were talking about!  Some of what we heard was down right funny.  Other comments were very interesting, good and bad.  We heard a full range.

When artists hear these comments, what are they feeling?  It may depend on the artist.  A film on Georgia O’Keeffe late in her life asked her how she felt when critics wrote about her work.  Her response, “I never read what critics say.”  It takes courage for artists to continue to express themselves in their work regardless of what others say, even though it might stick in your thoughts.  Perhaps, it’s better to ignore the voices in your head, in this case.  The rest of the time you’re on your own!

Who Lights The Fire??

“Nothing changes until something moves.”  Albert Einstein (from The Painter’s Keys)

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Does art have the ability to move people to action?  Do actions move artists to create?  Would anything move without art?  It may depend on the art and on the audience.  Perhaps it is the artist’s role to tap into the emotions of the audience, give it voice and lead the inspiration to move.

In a blog titled Sci Art Sci, the author delves in to the question of whether art can move people not already inclined to be moved.  He describes an example of an art project designed to highlight a particular issue.  He follows his example with the statement, “…I would say this piece has the potential to raise an eyebrow, to make somebody who already cares care a little bit more, for a time.  And maybe that’s enough.”  Maybe it is.  Sometimes a fire only needs a spark.

Recalling some of the movements of the nineteenth century, art is very much a part of the history of the moment.  Eugene Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People (more here) is one example of art as part of a movement.  Did this painting inspire greater nationalism?  Or was it an illustration of the moment?   Examples abound of art and movements.  Does art provide the spark to a dry woodpile that sets it alight?  Or the other way around?  Any thoughts?

Attachment Syndrome

Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter.”

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (from Goodreads.com)

Many artists become attached to paintings. Each painting is a self -portrait in a sense, regardless of subject.  Creating a work can feel almost like birthing a child.    It’s hard to abandon a painting for someone else to possess when so much of self is in it.  Abandonment is painful. And once the painting is gone the abandonment is complete.  Maybe we delay completion, to delay the pain of separation.  Each artwork is the outward expression of an inner emotional reaction.  It can be difficult to let go of that response.  In some ways, it feels like abandoning our self to someone else.

Artist Emily Rose describes her process of emotional expression through her painting.  Depending on the emotional space of the artist, as Emily Rose describes it, a painting can possess various levels of the manifestation of feelings.  Likely, this same thing happens to many of us.  A painting then becomes the outward symbol of our inner feelings.  Letting go of a painting means letting go of inner feelings.

How do we objectively let go of paintings with feelings splattered all over them?  How have other artists overcome this dilemma?  Any suggestions?

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Dancing Neurons

When starting to paint, I always have an image in my head that I want to come out on the canvas.  It never does.  My hand must have its own brain.  Or the neurons bumping around in my brain go haywire before they reach my hand.  What appears under my hand is usually something wildly different from the original thought.  However, this strange hand brain makes some fun things happen.  Maybe my neurons start to dance before they reach my hand.  My hand does its own dance on the canvas to some unknown tune my brain can’t hear.  If I let go and permit the haywire neurons to continue the happy hand dance, my creation begins to take flight and become free.

However, if I fight the crazy neurons in my hands and work on something more controlled, it loses the spontaneity that gives a painting life and energy.  The painting may become more true to form but has no spark..  A person commented on one of my paintings, where the dancing neurons made the hand paint a red lake instead of the more controlled and average blue-green of most lakes.  This person said she didn’t think she had ever seen the lake in question look red.  My thought was, “Of course not!  You have to have dancing neurons to turn a blue-green lake red.”  And why have a blue-green lake when you can have a red one?  The red lake has life!

Houston artist, Alissa Fereday tweets some wonderful daily quotes on her twitter site, @ITweetart.  Today’s quote is attributed to the Swiss artist, Paul Klee.  Klee states, “The painter should not paint what he sees, but what will be seen.”  I may see a blue-green lake but a red one will be seen when the dancing neurons take control of the painting hand.

The hard part is to continue to allow the neurons the freedom to transmit dance to the painting hand.  Resist control.  Dance on!!!

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