Saturday, October 17, 2009

Unleashing Creativity

When our lives are filled with everyone and everything clamoring for our attention, it can be a challenge to find a way to quiet the distractions that keep us from our creativity. Sometimes the din seems out of our control, other times we may keep it all going simply out of habit. Often it is going on in our own heads. This is not necessarily the optimum mental environment in which to foster creativity.

What if there was a way to have quiet without changing anything going on around you? If you have ever had the experience of 'daydreaming' and being oblivious to what was occurring around you, you have had a glimpse of the idea behind being quiet in the midst of outside distraction. In that case, the daydreaming was, most likely, unconscious and 'just happened.' Your thoughts probably flitted from one thing to another in an undisciplined way. In a more disciplined situation, you may have had the experience of reading a book and not being aware of someone talking to you. In that case, you were willing your mind to concentrate on the reading. Other situations that required extreme concentration and hyper focus were times when you decided what your mind was going to think.

What the above suggests is that your mind does not have to run you. You can learn to discipline and control your mind. And to take it a step further, you can learn to quiet your mind. As part of my spiritual practice, my teacher has taught me how to meditate. In some spiritual paths this is also known as contemplative prayer. I think of it as listening for answers to that which is prayed about. If my mind is in the way, with all of its shenanigans, this can be difficult at best. A teacher is critical to this process. Through this spiritual practice my art has come into better focus and my creativity has been allowed to flourish. In fact, I am painting again because of this practice. This would not be the case if my mind were running the whole show. And it is a show.

If you are not finding the time to practice your art, look to see if your mind is part of what is hindering you. When we talked about clearing out mind clutter (click here) , we saw that the incessant 'to-do' list with its made up deadlines is just one way the mind runs the show. There are plenty of others. Look to see what your mind thinks about- without judgment- just notice its thoughts. As an analogy: it is as if you are in a quiet room and there is the sound of traffic passing on the street outside- each car is a thought passing by. The thought comes, the thought goes. Another one comes, and that one goes. It doesn't affect what is going on in the quiet room. This is one of the first steps to stilling the mind. With the help of an experienced teacher, meditation can eventually lead to stillness despite the external drama. Eventually, one can abide in the stillness while going about her/his day.

The actual act of painting is one way I help still the mind. At the canvas, I am not thinking about tomorrow or what I have to do next in my day. I am simply painting. Right there, right now, that is all that exists. If my mind steps in, I can just say, "shhh, be still," and continue painting.

To unleash creativity means to let it off its leash. Stilling the unsettled mind can lead to freeing creativity. It is a way to give creativity the room that it needs to run. If this idea appeals to you and you want to find a teacher, visualize that the right teacher for you appears. For me, the teacher showed up within 2 weeks of my asking for one. What has occurred since has been the best part of the journey yet, not necessarily the easiest, but the best. I believe that practicing being still is one of the best things I can do for myself as a human being and as a painter.

Have you found another way to unleash your creativity? I'd love to hear about it. Please click 'comments' below to post.

Friday, October 16, 2009

My Painting Process- Current Work 2

When beginning a new painting, I usually have an element or several elements that I know will be incorporated into the work.  The painting's concept usually arises when my mind is still enough to receive it.  As I am preparing the piece- measuring, cutting, stretching, sizing- other parts of the painting may come into focus.  There have been occasions where I had just one or two elements in mind before my brush hit the canvas.  During the process of painting, it is as if the narrative writes itself.  Other pieces of the story emerge as I am painting or gazing on the scene.

Yesterday I showed you how I began this piece as a rough draft under painting.  The elements you saw in this basic sketch were the ones I had when I began.  I did not think that the scene was complete, but began painting the story as it was at that point.

(double click on an image to see larger view)

I then began blocking in the shapes from my simple palette and 'realized' that the figure is clothed in this story.  As this new part emerges, I ponder the statement, "I wonder what she is wearing."  I then 'see' that it is a gown, possibly a wedding gown.  As this gets blocked in, I 'notice' that the shoulder strap is falling down on the near side and, "oh, the back is open." 

It is a similar process when uncovering a color theme and locating the source of light in the story.   In this second photo I am continuing to layer on color,  develop the form, and locate shadows.

More has emerged since this last photo was taken.  Tomorrow I want to talk more about the mind and the creative process.  And in the post after that I will come back to this painting and show you what happened next.

Do you have a comment about this post or your creative process?  Please click 'comments' below to post.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

My Painting Process- Current Work

Yesterday I thought it would be fun to post a drawing from my childhood.  This gives rise to the idea of recognizing our own progress.  Often this is difficult to see as we are so close to our own artwork.  But yesterday's "portrait" drawing next to a current work (hopefully) shows some growth in my drawing and painting abilities. 

Although a silly example, I think this idea as an exercise has some merit;  this could be particularly helpful when faced with challenges in a current work, or you are doubting your abilities,  or you are stuck in some way.  If you have works from an earlier period, pull them out and look at them.  You may surprised at the difference.  If you are working in a different genre now, this can still be valid.    Look at the older piece.    Would you do this the same way if you were creating it today?  Are there obvious problems in the work that you did not know to correct at the time.  Recognize how far you have come.    Is there a common theme you hadn't noticed before?  You may end up jarring your creativity as you critique your own pieces.  You never know what new direction may come out of this sort of an activity. 

I recently looked at a painting I had shown in the 90's.  The composition was way off from my perspective today.  Also, I would have adjusted the concept as it does not feel fully developed.  Another piece that I had shown in a charity auction was a "what were you thinking" moment, in that I certainly was not putting out work that truly represented me. 

Below is the rough draft underpainting of the piece I am working on now.  (Double click to enlarge)

Tomorrow I will show you how it has progressed and talk about the process in greater detail.

To respond or add to this post please click 'comments' below.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

My Painting Process- Early Works

I promised a sneak peek this week at the painting I am working on.  I will post this later in the week as today I posted on something entirely different.  So, for now, I thought I would give you a look at something very few have laid eyes on.  It is one of my first drawings; my first portrait.  I hope you enjoy looking at this work.

"Mommy Looking Down."
 1966, graphite on paper
  collection of the artist

To comment, please click "comments" below.

Clearing The Mind Clutter

We have been talking about tools to use to increase creative opportunities.  When developing a routine (discussed here and here ), you may have come to the conclusion that there are a lot of things you are behind on when you made your list.  First determine if that is really true.  It is one thing if there is a deadline that must be met, like delivering work for an exhibit.  But the other things you are behind on- are there actual deadlines, or have you made some arbitrary deadline?  If the arbitrary deadline serves you and your goals- great!  If it only serves to cause anxiety about being behind- not so great. 

Our minds are incredible tools; untrained they are little monsters.  If there is one thing the untrained mind is very good at, it's messing with us if we are not paying attention (which, I think, is pretty much most of the time).  Arbitrary counterproductive deadlines are an example.  Continually running through the 'mental list' of all the stuff we have to catch up on is another great one.  Want to clear it out?  Get out a piece of paper and write down every single task or activity you feel you are behind on, in no particular order.   A number years ago when a friend and I did this for ourselves: there were well over a hundred items!  Very few of them had "real" deadlines.  It was all made up.  You may have more or less.  Once it is all down, initially add to it as new tasks arise.  Each time your mind begins to think about cleaning out the closets or whatever, remind it that it is on the list.  It does not have to think about it anymore.  This takes practice as the mind looks to latch back on.

You can now use your list appropriately.  Prioritize the activities in a way that makes sense.  I highlight the items I want to complete first.  Then take your written routine and fit in an activity from the list.  This may be once a week, once a day, or once a month- depending on your list and other responsibilities.  Practice being ok with it not all being done- the nature of the untrained mind is to ensure it is never all completed.  This is accomplished by adding new things to do.  If you catch your mind continuing to do this, it is ok to say, "no!"  No new things may be added or thought about until this list is completed. You get to choose what to think about.

As a part of my routine, once a week I will do a house fixing task from my list.  I originally began it first thing in the morning on the appointed day,  but I adjusted my routine to complete it mid-day when it is too hot for me to be outside painting.  I spend no more than 1-2 hours on the task and if not completed, it is the one I do the next week. (This keeps me from leaving a trail of half-finished projects- which is another way my mind loves to mess with me).

This was just one example of beginning to discipline the mind.  Do you have ways that you have cleared out the mind clutter that you want to share?  Click 'comments' below to post.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Frugal Artist Tip: 5 Ways To Preserve Paint Brushes

Good Paint Brush Care:
  1. Store brushes with handles down and bristles up.* 
  2. Clean out all of the paint thoroughly immediately after each painting session.
  3. Reshape bristles after cleaning. 
  4. Do not soak brushes in water or solvent.
  5. Do not use hot water- it has been known to cause bristles to fall out.
* Unless you can hang them in some way.

With good brush care you will keep your paint brushes for many, many years.

Do you want to comment or add to this tip? Please click 'comments' below.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

10 Steps To Establishing A Routine

Ten Steps To Establishing A Routine:

  1. Decide on Sleep- choose realistic wake-up time and bed-time seven days a week (and stick to them).  Hint: You are more productive if you protect your sleep time as a "must do."
  2. List Tasks that must, might, and you would like be done each day, week, month.* 
  3. Prioritize activities in #2 above.  (It is likely it all can not be done as you would like).
  4. Assign times to daily tasks; days to weekly task;  days and weeks to monthly tasks.
  5. Assemble all in a written schedule. Include "blank spaces" for things forgotten or unexpected.
  6. Adjust list if it is clear there is not enough hours in the day:  **
  7. Start Smaller if entire routine seems impossible to fit in waking hours. Do #1, and pick 3 other tasks.
  8. Practice routine for 1st week.  Adjust what is not working.
  9. Be Flexible.  Remember- you are creating a routine to serve you- not so that you can serve your routine.
  10. Do 30 days- your flexible and disciplined routine according to schedule - Reevaluate, Adjust, Repeat.
 Eventually, your routine will simply be a part of how you interact with the world- it will not be a chore in and of itself.  It will be a tool that, used appropriately, serves you.

*   (Don't include backlog of stuff to catch up on*).  This will be addressed in organizing.
** Temporarily drop the things you can.  This is in order to begin practicing the routine in a realistic way.  You can add back in later.

For more on routines, click: The Joy of Routines .

 Do you have something that works for you?  Click 'comments' below to post!

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