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. A pencil or brush in my hand with an open mind allows me to be transported to a place where ideas are instinctive, intuitive and spontaneous. Accidents from unintended foot prints, rings from coffee cups, photocopiers, spills and accidents all have their place. These studio sessions often leaves my thoughts uncovered and on display in their raw state where my ego is left aside.
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. 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. 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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Through painterly questions of scale, content, colour and form I’m interested in expressing physical and emotional vigour of the human body in the city. I often work with and against the silhouette of the figure in the city. I capture the ephemeral with assertive gestures inspired from poetry and music. My process draws attention to the edge of things, to what is already there. I look to create a visual poetry with energy and motion arrested in space by simultaneously hiding and revealing our world to us and focusing on the void in between the things.
Josef Albers is known for his Homage to the Square. He uses a series of variations of the square that illustrated how colours affects each other. His book titled, ‘The Interaction of the Colour,’ is a studio course for teaching and studying what happens between colours. Josef Albers was born in Bottrop in Germany in 1888 and died in New Haven, USA in 1976. He taught at the Bauhaus and at Yale. I came to the exhibition of Josef Albers’s work at David Zwirner in London and was looking forward to seeing more of his work and hoping to develop a further understanding of Albers basis modernist theory of colour.
The show spread across 2 floors, contains just over 30 artworks. The title of the show ‘Sunny Side Up’ gives you positive expectations of an uplifting experience. There is plenty of space to view each small artwork, and they are certainly is uplifting especially because on the day I went, there was a protest march against Donald Trump going at the end of the street on the drab wintry day.
I was surprised to find lines that were clearly crafted by hand and sometimes the areas of colour show the marks from the palette knife that was used to create them. The paintings are studies which show that perfectionism is not significant to Albers. The little colour swatches on card, with writing on them, show Alber’s thought processes like a sketch book of ideas where he worked out what he was thinking.
I expected the flat plains of colour in the artwork to feel empty. However, the squares are like little doors into another world, the world of the sublime. I felt I was being pulled in the squares and into a deep abyss of sunshine.
This exhibition acknowledges the importance of Josef Albers and the contribution he has made to the timeline of art and colour education. The man-made squares of different sizes of yellow, orange and gold make you think more deeply about colour and help develop a deeper appreciation of abstract art. My experience of the show was stronger because of the gloomy weather outside and contributed to increasing my enthusiasm to continue learning about the uses of colour in my work. There are is so many variables that can affect the impact of the square of colour and Albers is clearly the master, as Albers says, “If one says ‘red’ and there are 50 people listening it can be expected that there will be 50 reds in their minds. And one can be sure that all these reds will be very different.”
When you see a successful artist or creative person doing their thing, are you inspired and wish you could do what they do? Instead of believing in yourself does self-doubt, or the risk of rejection, ridicule or humiliation stop you? It might be the creative act itself or taking the artwork to the next level and letting other people see it that stops you. However, the need to be creative is a powerful force. When I haven’t been to the studio for a little while l feel its loss. I’m sure many people reading this can relate to the need to be creative and also the need to hide their talents.
Have you heard about the sad story about a lady called Vivian Maier who lived in Chicago? http://www.vivianmaier.com Vivian spent most of life working as a caregiver. When she died, there were over 100,000 negatives found in a storage unit in her name. Throughout her life, she hid her passion from the outside world. There is lots of speculation about why she did this, but no one will ever know for sure apart from Vivian herself. Since her death, Vivian’s work has been compared to the world renowned photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson.
I think we build up self-doubt in our heads and it becomes a mindset that is often overwhelming. It seems that Vivian hid her gift from the world because of her vulnerability. I have also been trying to find a way to overcome the self doubt problem. I found these words of advice from successful artists useful:
Vincent Van Gogh; “If you hear a voice within saying I cannot paint by all means paint and that voice will be silenced”.
Susan Hiller; “To a young artist, I would say: just go day by day and see what happens. Don’t worry about other people’s judgment.”
Rachel Jones; “Ultimately, you have to understand who you are making your work for: it should be for you, that is the first thing.”
This is all very good advice but life isn’t that simple. Questions like how to find time, how to keep positive while keeping your vision and integrity are extremely challenging.
In Eric Fischl’s book, ‘Bad Boy’, he gives some interesting advice, “Art is a process and a journey. All artists have to find ways to lie to themselves, find ways to fool themselves into believing that what they’re doing is good enough, the best they can do at that moment, and that’s okay. Every work of art falls short of what the artist envisioned. It is precisely that gap between their intention and their execution that opens up the door for the next work.”
And Chuck Close said, “‘Bread crumbs’, by working, stuff comes out of working. That is very different from dreaming something up and executing it. Inspiration is for amateurs, the rest of us show up and get to work.”
One further explanation from John Cleese. Most of the time we are in a closed mind, think when we are at work. There is a tension and pressure to get the work done. There is lots to be done, and we have to get on with it so there is little humour. It is purposeful time but not creative time.
Then there is the open mode, where we are relaxed and playful in what we do. We follow our curiosity as we are not under pressure. Through play we find what we like and want to do.
Do you have any thoughts on this subject? What do you do to enable yourself to carry on when self-doubt creeps in? Do you have any words of advice to help overcome self-doubt and procrastination? Do you feel held back from following your creative instincts?
All comments most welcome!!! Please join in the conversation and make a comment.
Oil bars are an interesting art material to use due to the simplicity of their application. They are great to have in your toolkit when you want to work quickly and on a large scale to create an undercoat or to work in a sketchy graphic style. I find pleasure in using them when creating line drawings, outlines or filling large areas with a uniform colour. They are more like drawing than painting in many ways as you hold the stick like a drawing implement.
I have always found oil bars challenging to use on their own. One of the most challenging things about oil bars is the immediacy and expressive nature of the oil sticks as you can’t remove any marks. When I work with oil bars I don’t smudge the marks, even though they produce a very limited type of stroke. I find some of the outcomes created may need repainting in oil paints to vary the effect and make them more compelling.
Oil bars encourage risk taking but can also produce accidents, as they are extremely direct way of making marks with a lovely, adnominally large waxy oil pastel. I wholeheartedly recommend giving them a try and being experimental.
The sketches below show a comparison of using oil bars and charcoal on the figures. The background on both studies is mixed media.
Have you used oil bars in your creative practice? Feel free to share your successes below.
I am interested in the exploration of painting as a vehicle for visual thinking. I believe painting and playing with form inside the composition has the potential to capture the most important kind of expression and I see it as a foundation of thinking itself. My studio is a place I can go to and using painting techniques, process the world and it’s complexities.
My motivation is more than just an interest in the formal qualities and painterly questions of scale, content, colour and form. I’m interested in expressing the physical and emotional vigour of the human body in the city as a means of exercises in freedom and dynamic expressions of space.
A situation needs to take place on the canvas, with too much preparation the painting is dead, with too little preparation it can easy end up wayward or in disarray. The creativity in the artwork lies in finding a balance and tension between the forms in the relationship between painterly marks, abstract and figurative forms. The outcome needs to be a surprise and a revelation for me as much as the viewer. The finished painting is never good enough; I enjoy the surprise and delight, and this is my motivation to make another one.
I would be very interested to hear about what the motivation is in whatever you do. Please add a comment if you would like to share your thoughts.
Laura Owen’s exhibition at Sadie Coles HQ in London gives a broad overview of her current work. In her paintings, she uses a range of digitally created images and painted marks in abstract compositions. Laura Owens was born in 1970 in Ohio, she began her art career in the 1990s, more recently she opened her LA studio as an exhibition space called 356 Mission in collaboration with the art dealer Gavin Brown.
I was curious to learn more about Laura Owens’s work after I read that Laura Hoptman, a Curator of Painting and Sculpture at MoMA in New York believes she is a Caposcuola, (the founder of an artistic movement) due to the way she ‘assimilates digital languages into painting’. In this review I want to explore some of the ideas in her work, and consider her use of newspaper clippings, screen printed on canvas, cropped shapes with drop shadows and impasto mark, all combined into photoshop, and ask whether this is a worthy subject for painting?
Sadie Coles HQ offers an ample white space and second small second room for some of Laura’s notebooks. The large exhibition space with its white walls is an excellent backdrop for the busy paintings. The gallery is well lit, and the show includes a lot of work. If I had one criticism of this show, it would be that there is too much work to focus on. Viewing the exhibition starts well, but there is a repetitiveness of painted digital imagery, and after twenty or so large canvass the show as a whole feels overwhelming. I did wonder whether that was intended because it is so obvious.
I see Owen’s work as a way of creating a dialogue about the man-made visual world, and focusing on technology that turns everything into pixels and data. A visible world where we can find new ways to tune in through our portable devices which are constantly changing.
The use of technology in paintings originated with Pop Art, from Warhol’s screen prints to Hamilton’s and Blake’s collages took art in a new direction. Laura’s use of sources makes me think about Matisse’s cut-outs and his use of collage and the way a composition is composed of editing, refining and manipulating shapes. Laura’s pictures appear to be predetermined on the computer before they arrive on the canvas including the painterly gestures such as washes, dabs and swipes. I was curious whether there is a space for spontaneity in her process.
Owens method like Matisse, Hamilton’s and Blake’s is a form of semiotic play. There is a decorative element where a shape is cut out and put into a composition creating a visual rhythm and visual language. There is a laying of images on top of each other where the contrasting elements with particular colours and elements in space give the work a striking ambience.
The result is a play of tension and expansion to create dynamic pictures. It is a system for thinking about shape and composition and expanding the possibility of what we visually consume, which I find it exciting and playful. It is very visually engaging and brings up many questions about Laura’s reliance on printing techniques, where her ideas come from, and the freedom of viewer to make associations in a picture. As a result her work is undeniably a commendable subject for painting.
However, I believe that Laura’s work would be stronger if seen smaller doses as there are too many elements in the exhibition as a whole. I don’t feel the need to revisit the exhibition for repeated viewing as I do after seeing a Francis Bacon exhibition. Maybe this is because the compositions appear to be predetermined on photoshop, but possibly it is more to do with the overwhelming number of paintings on view.
Laura has created a vehicle to show what she sees, the work in the show is undeniably a visual sensation. Her work asks new questions about the most important kinds of processes of expression. One of the most interesting things about this exhibition and why I recommend seeing Laura Owen’s work is that it is a critique of abstraction and about seeing the things in between the obvious stuff.
The title of the book comes from a Mark Twain quote. It suggests that if you start the day by eating a frog (a frog is a metaphor for your most important task), you will be happy to know that this is the worst thing you need to do that day.
I wanted to write about the book, ‘Eat that Frog’ because it contains a useful explanation of how to manage your priorities. I have over the years been highly unproductive because of procrastination, and this book has helped me towards overcoming the problem.
The most helpful sections to me were ‘Plan every day in advance’, ‘Apply 80/20 rule to everything’, ‘Practice A, B, C, D and E method of prioritising’ and the advice about removing distractions has had a real impact on my productivity.
The book is relatively short, compact and an easy read considering it is a self-help book. I’m a note taker when reading books like this, as I feel it helps me digest the many learning points. I even turned a couple of chapters into mind maps, to help me capitalise on the useful advice. This book has helped me with my productivity, and I would highly recommend it.
I prefer a buttery, creamy paint; that is easy to manipulate and handle. This is why Michael Harding’s Artists oil colours have become my first choice. The strength of colour in the pigment is evident. There is luminosity that speaks volumes, making my work stand out. The flow, workability, usability and colourfastness of the paint is highly relevant to me.
I have noticed some other brands add less linseed oil into their paint, and this affects the usability and finish. Drier paint gives a matt finish while paint with more flow gives a glossy finish. I have found that tubes of oil paint from other manufacturers with slightly drier contents will become unusable over a year or two, and this is very frustrating, though a hard, dry tube of paint can be useful at times if you require a matt finish. I found that the best solution is to use a medium as mediums improve with handling and can increase the glossy finish.
Do you use any of these products in your daily practice? Your welcome to add your thoughts and start a conversation below.