When starting as an artist rather than waiting for a big idea, I took my camera to the city. I took pictures of everything and anything that interested me. I just pressed and released the shutter. When l reviewed my photos, l realised that l was naturally discovering interesting material. My ideas came from living, painting and repeating.
When returning to the city with my camera, l followed my natural curiosity and my ideas deepened and expanded. At times it was hard to choose which way to take my work. It was essential to review and understand what l had. I took many directions but kept returning to taking photos of the city and taking them forward by painting them on canvas. The trick is not to give up Helsinki Bus Theory link.
I realised over time that my original idea was chasing some obscure knowledge through a simple process that I could repeat.
I feel like I have been painting the same painting for ten years as now I realise that my original ideas just got the work started. The original idea is still in my work but it has changed and developed in ways l could never have predicted. My work has grown to portray something unique that help us to understand our life on this earth a little better.
These seeds begin to germinate in many different directions like a plant does when it is attracted to light and water. It has taken many years for my original ideas and intentions to bloom into flowers. Now the interesting thing is not my original ideas or intentions. It is that l have found my way to communicate; my unique voice and inclination. As my work has deepened and expanded, it has lined up with natural talent, unlocking bigger ideas. Bigger ideas that l could never have predicted ten years ago.
The point of this post is that it is impossible to know where your practice as an artist will take you. One of the biggest challenges is learning to trust the decisions you make and to stop doubting yourself. Instead, l have developed confidence in my inner voice even when l can’t see where it is taking me.
My advice is to play, as there is no such thing as a mistake. Anything can lead to a breakthrough. If self-doubt is getting the best of you put your trust in a process and live, paint, repeat.
Over time when you review your work a way forward should reveal itself. Trust yourself and your creative process. Rather than paying attention to your own intentions, pay attention to what the work actually does. When the thinking and doing come together the work becomes more convincing.
At times I have found juggling a full-time job while being a parent and starting a career as an emerging artist, very frustrating. When I have tried to put in lots of effort in my art career, my family time and job has suffered this, in turn, has left me feeling unhappy.
I have read about artists, like Picasso and Matisse who decided to prioritise art at the cost of everything else in their life including their family. I think the choices they made don’t suit me. By putting my family first, it means prioritising family time and paying the bills. Art has ended third on my list of priorities.
I have been frustrated for a while coming to terms with this. Over time I have come to realise this gives me the opportunity to take more time, to make the art I want to make for me. I wonder about the solitude if I was working on my own in my studio. Of course, I realise that this wouldn’t be every day but thinking about this has made value my full-time job more, as I enjoy the social side of working in a team.
I love spending time and seeing my family growing up, and I wouldn’t miss it for the world. I have meet artists making a living from their art where they have very little money. The artist I have come across are unlikely to afford to buy a house or have a good pension. I wanted to make sure I had a good income to allow my family to flourish and thrive. I have reached the conclusion, by working full time, having a mortgage and good pension I can look forward to the time when my family are older. I will be able to move my art up my list of priorities. I feel happy about this order of priorities, and I know it is the way it should be. I now accept it rather than fight it.
To fit everything in, I have to have some sort of order to my life, a kind of time management priority list of sorts. I prioritise my family life and job and my art making time fits in around that. I try to plan my year ahead and decide what my priorities are for each year. I am working towards depth in my artwork rather than bereft. I then break down each week so that I can allow time for each activity. I am only able to have a couple of art objectives on a weekly basis. They typically are making artwork and writing my blog. My other art career plans just have to wait.
Allowing freedom in the studio for creativity exploration is essential. When I work on a plain sheet of paper or in my sketchbook, I seek to have an openness in my drawings that allows and embraces a large number directions and options that can be pursued. A chain of evolution takes place in my pictures over an extended period of time and patience is essential. Working on and towards a finished piece too early can make the outcome contrived and often can leave me frustrated.
This explorative phase is more like problem-creation stage than problem-solving stage. I am looking to generate new ideas to stimulate my visual imagination and leaving space for creativity and ambiguity. I have often found that without this freeness, the development and exploratory of my thoughts are restricted, and the work comes to a dead end.
With creative freedom in my drawings, my insight and intuition give me an inkling of what to do next allowing me to focus on specific issues and open questions. I can then remove certain details and concentrate on the whole by copying and repeating to expand conceptual ideas and structures by following a hunch.
Inspiration is an essential ingredient and can come from chaotic and imprecise work made with an open mind or by viewing another artist’s work or for me, by being inspired by the city. Accidents and chance can lead to seeing embedded ideas in a different way. The freeness leaves space to suggest moods and emotions and enhancing abstract concepts. I often feel the need to revisit unresolved ideas and expanding on them. Sometimes this leads to radical changes and often, exciting new artwork.
It is always important to remember that overworking can remove the essence, spirit, the actual original thoughts, and potential. The outcome is successful when the liberty and pleasure are still visible. After all seemingly effortless art signifies greatness and shows the way forward for an artist who can then capture what is immaterial into the material.
My work starts with street photography. I wander the streets as a Flaneur. Charles Baudelaire, the nineteenth-century poet described a Flaneur in his essay ‘The Painter of Modern Life’ as a stroller and loafer of the city streets observing modern life. Likewise l wander around the city like a man of leisure as l try to take it all in. Following my intuition and hunches I take pictures of what seems important to me. I look to capture that important element in the frame of my viewfinder, the essence of the importance of life.
The photographs I take allows me to record a rich visual diary. By having this source material I always have something to return to if inspiration is running low and I need revisit my original ideas and intentions.
The next stage is in the studio with a blank sheet of paper or a blank page in my sketchbook. The main thing that happens in this first stage in the studio is reducing and simplifying the rich source l have gathered and extracting important elements to use. As well as painting and drawing, l sometimes print the photos to create collages or put layers together in a photoshop.
Things come together slowly, often my ideas and sketches don’t go anywhere at first. The next time I’m in the shower, or going for a walk, or the next time I am in an art gallery I realise how I can use these snippets of life l have gathered! I then return to the original photographs and sketches and try to refine and develop my ideas.
Often I come to dead end. Then l try to be patience and wait and allow ideas to develop. Allow my mind to bring ideas together. This normally happens when I am not particularly thinking about artwork, but when my mind is open and free to wander.
However, once l feel I am on to something, I look to develop a process and repeat the format in order to create a series of work.
My art studio is on the top floor of an old shoe factory in Northampton. I have been working in this space for over ten years now. The space is quite full. Ten years means ten years of equipment, ten years of paperwork and ten years of ideas on paper and canvas.
I have weekly access to London where I go looking for inspiration to bring back to the studio and process my ideas. It is great to have the exposure to view the best galleries and exhibitions and to be able to walk the streets of London with my camera.
A studio is a place of unique freedom; it is a place for me and my thoughts where I can figure things out. It is a place to use my intuition to look for problems, get things wrong, make mistakes and follow a hunch. I have learnt a way to lie to myself, and accept whatever comes out of the creative act is good enough.
I feel a strong need and desire to process the world. Thinking about my artwork is done in pencil and paint as I process what I see, as I look to figure how to process it. I believe that what I am trying to grasp through my art practice is of importance, to get a better understanding of the seemingly meaningless void, what we call life.
Through my practice as a painter if I painted nature I would want to paint the treeness of a tree, something that resonates strongly with us. In the lines and colours of my ephemeral moments I look to reflect a visual equivalent of the rhythm the city. The work deepens and expands to harmonise the whole. I paint my inclination of form from the structural elements of the figure in the city to express us. A simplified and symbolic vision that selects what is essential through reduction. In between representational and abstraction, reality and painting.
Josef Albers said in the Interaction of colour, “In musical compositions, so long as we hear merely single tones, we do not hear music. Hearing music depends on the recognition of the in-between of the tones, of their placing and their spacing.” This quote is important to understand how I see individual pieces of my work in the studio as linked into a wider conversation I am trying to have. My blog is titled “The Poetic Painter, Painting in pictures rather than words” because music, poetry and painting have a lot of similarities. Like David Salle said, an iconic image has the “visual equivalent of a tenor reaching a high note.”
I enjoy my opportunity to communicate my thought and ideas. I like to hear what you enjoy about your creative time. Please join in the conversation in the comment box below.
Art is about using your creativity to make new connections from things around you. The intention is to reconsider what you previous thought to give you a better understanding of what life is really about.
Creativity in art is really about playing and experimenting. Taking two random things and letting things happen. Being overly self-critical or self-conscious can prohibit a breakthrough. You’re not trying to re-invent the wheel; you need to encounter discomfort and ignore any fears and tell yourself, this is for me and try not to worry what other people think.
You could connect something banal like house bricks, reflecting coldness and the mundane, as a wake-up call to the excesses of capitalism like Carl Andre and his artwork, Equivalent V.
You take on some of the big topics, like immortality, life and death by linking the cycle of life, with flies living and dying in a glass box like Damien Hirst, titled ‘A Thousand Years’ (1990).
Or you could take up a skill like drawing, painting or pottery and just get making and see where it takes you. The trick is once on a path, you’re bound not to know where the work is heading. If you thought you knew where your ideas are going, your artwork is probably stillborn or dead and lacks any inside energy.
The Helsinki Bus Station Theory by photographer Arno Rafaela Minkkinen explains some interesting and worthwhile advice:
The Helsinki Bus Station: let me describe what happens there.
Some two-dozen platforms are laid out in a square at the heart of the city. At the head of each platform is a sign posting the numbers of the buses that leave from that particular platform. The bus numbers might read as follows: 21, 71, 58, 33, and 19.
Each bus takes the same route out of the city for a least a kilometer stopping at bus stop intervals along the way where the same numbers are again repeated: 21, 71, 58, 33, and 19.
Now let’s say, again metaphorically speaking, that each bus stop represents one year in the life of a photographer, meaning the third bus stop would represent three years of photographic activity.
Ok, so you have been working for three years making platinum studies of nudes. Call it bus #21.
You take those three years of work on the nude to the Museum of Fine Arts Boston and the curator asks if you are familiar with the nudes of Irving Penn. His bus, 71, was on the same line. Or you take them to a gallery in Paris and are reminded to check out Bill Brandt, bus 58, and so on.
Shocked, you realize that what you have been doing for three years others have already done.
So you hop off the bus, grab a cab (because life is short) and head straight back to the bus station looking for another platform.
This time you are going to make 8×10 view camera color snapshots of people lying on the beach from a cherry picker crane.
You spend three years at it and three grand and produce a series of works that illicit the same comment: haven’t you seen the work of Richard Misrach? Or, if they are steamy black and white 8×10 camera view of palm trees swaying off a beachfront, haven’t you seen the work of Sally Mann?
So once again, you get off the bus, grab the cab, race back and find a new platform. This goes on all your creative life, always showing new work, always being compared to others.
What to do?
It’s simple. Stay on the bus. Stay on the f*cking bus.
So play and make random connections. These new connections you make are only significant if they generate new meaning. Use your intuition to sense which have potential and to figure out the best to communicate this idea to someone. Make art from what is around you and try to make a comment about the world.
When telling a joke, the funny part comes when two different separate ideas connect, generating a new meaning, similar to connections within a successful work of art. Remember art is wonder! It doesn’t matter if someone else likes it or dislikes it. What is important is that your audience can’t stop thinking about it. The possibilities are endless. And remember to stay on the f*cking bus!
I am taking positive steps to make me more productive in the studio including things like planning and reviewing what I am going to do in the studio before I arrive and creating some studio ground rules.
I have a list of current projects and series of work l am trying to complete. Before l go to my studio I write down a short list of next steps l need to take, often between two or three depending on long each one will take. This brief list is hand written in my diary, so it is clear to follow. This way I know what my first task is, therefore avoiding beginning with an extended period of uncertainty. Of course, uncertainty when painting is always present, but I try to remove it at this stage with preplanning.
To choose the right tasks, I ask myself a series of questions; If l only achieve 2-3 tasks in a day what would these tasks be and would l be satisfied if l only get these done? If I made only one work of excellence, which one would make an enormous difference and have the greatest consequences?
To help keep my mind clear and on creative studio time I write down all the distractions l might encounter on a to-do list. Plus l avoid all office and business related tasks while in the studio to avoid all low-level activities. Even if these task are urgent, I still try to do them after my creative block of time of one to three hours. The creative time must come first.
The rules I have put in place while working are;
Phone on silent, select music quickly (if I choose to listen to any at all), no tv or video, no newspapers, no friends dropping by, no emailing, no internet research unless it is related to making my next work therefore, hopefully, no diversions and distractions from the creative task ahead.
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When I arrive at my studio for a day of creativity, I always feel like I have lots going on in my head, lots of external noise in my life that also needs processing. I have personal errands, from checking my bank account, paying bills, checking and responding to emails, following up on loose ends, researching things of interest on the internet plus personal messaging and social media messages. If I walk through the door and allow myself to have unplanned time; a cup of tea, put some background music on and wait for a great wave of creativity to come; it never does. So, I have come to realise this is a very ineffective way to start my studio time, and if I am not careful, I will be waiting all day and possibly all my life for a lightning bolt of creativity to hit me.
Over the years I have read and researched ways to be more productivity. I have learnt a lot about self-control but I still think I have a lot to learn, however, I am getting there…slowly. I still have lapses of unplanned time, but I continually look to make improvements. For example, I am currently reading, “Daily Rituals: How artist’s work” by Mason Currey, which so far is a fascinating and helpful book. Once I have finished reading this book, I hope to establish a daily routine/ritual that will work for me. I plan to write about my routine here shortly.
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I like documenting the world with a camera as a way to stimulate my visual imagination. By viewing the world like a voyeur, I can focus on aspects to home into, capturing a moment in the viewfinder. I am constantly looking to find a way to make the invisible visible.
I don’t think you can ever underestimate the use of play and intuition at this point. The following work from the photos can go in almost any direction, finding ambiguity in the work is essential. To stimulate my imagination and generate new ideas I sketch with an open mind in paint, pencil and mixed media. The work itself often directs a change of medium. This long process is different every time, it involves searching, analysing, selecting, editing, improving and rejecting the photographs, and the prep work, combined with other visual and textual information in the studio creating a multifaceted sketch book.
The paintings come out of drawings, and a significant amount of labour takes place behind the scenes. The work is often a struggle, and as an artist, I am often overwhelmed with self-doubt. Afterwards, the work may look as if it was achieved quickly without effort. But I am aware that a reductive sketch, that may seem effortless, can often signify ability and skill.
During the problem-creation stage my thoughts and skill are juxtaposed with accidents of the initial rough ideas. When I was trying to get my thoughts down on paper I recognised the potential in this study above straight away, even though it is a simple coloured wash made in a few strokes that came about by chance. It is too easy to lose the potential when trying to repeat it or refine it and knowing how to turn it into a finished work. Over working and excessive labour can remove the movement, action or expression. At other times it is not easy to recognise potential straight off. This is where time helps and why I move my work so I can’t see it for long periods of time.
The space for play and chance to expand conceptual ideas is part of a process, as work passes through many physical processes. The challenge of creating a finished work from the prep work is repeating and keeping the problem-creation open. Often when the process does not allow imprecise marks, smears and stains to inspire radical changes at any stage of the process, the work can be still born and dead. All the works l make are biographical and very personal.
If you would like to read what other artists have to say on this subject please take a look at;
A space to play, where anything is possible is such an important place for a creative person. Having a space to go to and process the world and its complexities is extremely valuable and I feel very lucky to have the freedom around my full-time job and family life.
There is something very special about making work with just a few strokes with an open mind in an instant. An open mind allows me to be transported to a place where ideas are instinctive, intuitive and spontaneous. Footprints, rings from coffee cups, photocopiers, spills and accidents all have their place in allowing the effortless flow to materialise a vision, while my ego is left aside. This practice session often leaves my thoughts uncovered and on display in their raw state.
These ideas can be explored and refined but at this point the conscious self comes back into the room. The energy and emotions in the preliminary drawings and paintings that came from this outburst of freedom can often be lifted onto another sheet for further refinement, but the open-ended problem creation can often be more prized than the problem solving finished work that follows.
I find that at this point, just after the preliminary studies, I don’t know what I have got. I often find a place to store this work and revisit it at a later time. This time lapse helps me to realise what I have really got. This is when l contemplate the potential and hopefully uncover original ideas. After all, everything has been done before, very little is original. New work is often a shadow or an echo of what the artist has seen or experienced before. This process can also often lead to selecting, editing and reworking, to look for originality by purging the work of any baggage you brought to the studio. The artist’s studio is also a place for destruction, recovery and transformation.
Chuck Close, the New York painter, has this to say, “We often don’t know what we want to do, but we sure as hell know what we don’t want to do. So the choice not to do something is often more important than the choice to do something.”
I find problem creation as a process is much more effective in finding interesting art than a problem-solving approach, Duchamp said: “the artist has only 50% of the responsibility, and that is to get the work out, it is completed by the viewer.”
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