A friend asked me this:
How do you stay focused on one painting for so long? Obviously they take a while but if the initial inspiration was just a sketch made in a matter of moments – how do you keep at it 4 months later? Where do you find the will to keep going?
To me, each painting is a song. It encompasses a mood, a momentum, a tone, a melody. It relishes in a particular note or chord progression. It screams or hums or parades through with a specific cadence or rhythm. During the time I work on it, I’m singing that song to myself over and over and over again. So I try to find songs that inspire me – songs I want to sing for that long or that need to be sung. It has to be something I want to sing for 4 months or 6 or longer. I am going to wake up and sing it every day and I’m going to go to bed singing it as well. To me, ultimately, there’s only one thing that is worth that. I don’t have a word for it. it is neither a shape nor a sound. But it leads me onwards. And I know it when I see it. And each painting sings another little part of it.
The initial melody – it comes to me in that first sketch. I might be sitting somewhere and there is that creative breeze (or tsunami) and I jot down a few lines, some curves, shapes, a sensation. It’s a good start. It’s like writing down the first 5 notes of a song that’s floating through your head. But there’s so much space left for exploration.
Later on, as my eyes travel over the painting, they pick up different moments and find new themes and melodies to explore. Musical sentences weave in and out of each other forming unexpected harmonies and rhythms. There are relationships to explore and discover and these open the painting up in ways I hadn’t planned on. I try to find ideas that speak to this process. I love the unexpected.
After a while, much of the basic image is created. It is then that the real song begins to find its real voice. It’s there that the song expands. It is like going from a sextet to a full orchestra. With larger paintings, I aim to make each violin become twenty with each casting its own shade and voice to the choir. Each oboe, clarinet, kettle drum – all resounding as if they are an entire section unto themselves. I become a composer at that point with this living breathing thing I’ve created, expanding each moment to its fullest potential.
Each time I sit down to paint again, my eyes travel over the painting, looking for the moment – the hook – that draws me back in… and then I’m back inside it. The painting is finished when there are no hooks drawing me back in and each little moment blossoms on its own and as a whole
I think often of what Jerry Garcia said of the Grateful Dead song “Dark Star”. If you know that song, you know it’s a particularly lengthy composition that was filled with new explorations every time it was played. You never know what you are getting into with it. What he said of it is this (though I can’t seem to track the exact quote down anywhere): that what he loves about playing that song is that it can be opened up anywhere. Between every note is an entire world of musical possibilities and that there’s no other song in their catalog that has that kind of space within it.
I think about paintings like that and my favorites to work on are the ones where that divide between each moment, each shape, can be opened up into infinity. As an artist, part of my job is to pick and choose the moments that are worthwhile to follow, the ones that really speak to and with the piece as a whole and help it become what it wants to be.
There’s a lot of songs to sing and, likewise, to play. If I am to consider myself a composer of painted songs, I look for and wait for that which inspires me. It has to push the envelope, hit a point, be able to be brought, led, followed to a peak that….
Well, consider this: we never tire of the sunrise or the sunset or golden light that ripples a tree’s leaves or the slope of a mountain against the blue sky or the crash of the ocean wave or the clouds that tumble by overhead. It never becomes trite. There seems to ever be magic, exuberance, nuance, relief even, in all of those forms and sounds and spaces. Whatever that experience is – that is where I follow each piece.
And so, I am an orchestrator of colors. A composer who is lifting his brush like a baton to conduct now the purples, the oranges, perhaps the blues or whites…. slicing through yellows and then the roiling clouds in pale golds, cascades of shapes, sounds, these pieces that create some emotive context and lead me, you, us…. into the place it wants to go.
I’ve learned over the years to trust that place and trust myself in that journey. We’ll get there, no doubt. I’ve learned to be ever more patient with each canyon and trough, each peak and each facet of that jewel. So that when we come to the glorious conclusion, we’re left saying: THAT. That is exactly what it is supposed to be.
If people talk about my art in the future, they will probably, at some point, mention the clouds. So before possible future critics extrapolate on my intentions, I’d like to share some thoughts on the subject myself – that is: the abundance of clouds in my paintings.
Because there is definitely an abundance of clouds.
If you are a modern-world living human it’s relatively easy to get ‘far’ from nature: to get somewhat removed from the sensation of the cacophonic stillness of the woods, the burbling silence of the brook, the majestic silence of… everything. With little effort, we instead get pulled along by the white noise tunnel vision world we live in – just trucking along to our human minds and their human contraptions, living in our paved over, concretized cities where ‘nature’ takes the general form of trees trimmed, coiffed, and hacked into submission, the squared off lines of neatly manicured lawns, bushes and hedges in perfect ordered rows, and so on.
But soaring overhead – clouds. Clouds are wild. Clouds exist even where other wildernesses have been subsumed. Clouds are the wind and the water and the earth and the sun all getting together and making love. Those massive formless vaporous shapes. Cumulus clouds alone can extend 40,000 feet into the air (that’s over 8 miles!) (true fact!). Reflecting the landscape, clouds echo the roll of the hills and the proximity of a body of water. Their swirls and eddies are the wind whipping through. They are ever changing from long lazy sweeping spirals to towering ominously beautiful thunderheads.
Clouds: they are no shape but every shape. These massive bodies of crystalline water vapor are every color all at once, reflecting, refracting, dancing about. From a distance they can seem to have a fine edge but get up close and the edge vanishes. Yet, for all that mysterious formlessness, the average cumulus cloud is equal in weight to 183 full sized Asian elephants. (That’s about 1.1 million pounds for those who don’t know the average weight of an Asian elephant which is about 6,000 lbs.)
Imagine that column I might paint – disappearing behind an eight mile tall – million pound cloud… That’s a reasonable scale from which to begin. It’s not so big that you can’t comprehend its scope but not so small that it disappears behind the cloud.
And yet, we too are clouds. Clouds of thoughts and ideas coming together and trailing away again. Clouds of molecules dancing about. We are clouds of forces woven together to form this identity we call ME. And then – that ray of light passing through the hole in the clouds – we stop – or at least glance up – in wonder: is this is the heavens shining down? Is that what enlightenment might feel like? Look like? That is the image we’ve painted since, well, who knows… since forever.
But clouds: I am a daydreamer to the core and when I look to the sky, there are the clouds arcing overhead. Or rumbling. Or weaving. And so on. I’ve been daydreaming for as long as I can remember and, in all that time, while all sorts of things around me have changed – even the trees around me these days are different than those I grew up with – the clouds… the clouds have remained.
Clouds, lacking edges or clear definition, even when they seem so solid, are like dreams happening with in the no-thought void of interdependencies. They twist and twirl, forming all of the shapes all at once. When I look at the clouds in the sky, I’ve never given much thought to what they might be. Instead, I see them as they are: bursting, broiling, sweeping and swirling – just passing through the sky – tumbling onwards, forming and reforming, a perfect example of what it is to be.
I will leave you with this – some of the final lines of the Diamond Stura have echoed in my head since I first read them many many years ago:
Thus shall you think of this fleeting world:
A star at dawn, a bubble in a stream,
A flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
A flickering lamp, a phantom, and a dream.
A frequent question that is asked of me: where does it come from? What inspires me?
Violet reminded me that the etymology of the word ‘inspire’ is rooted in the word ‘breath’ and that ‘inspire’ is a way of saying ‘breathing life into’. So the question really is ‘what breathes life into my work?’ Where do I find the momentum – the life – to keep putting brush to canvas? Everyday I wake I think about those paints, those colors, that question.
What keeps me going?
To answer that question, I have to begin with another question… one of many.
As, perhaps, every painter has asked: what is there left to paint? And why? Why do I want to paint that or this or this other thing? What makes it interesting? What makes it necessary? Why is it worth pining for, wracking my body over, eating, sleeping, and dreaming about?
It begins with questions and drills down from there.
What does it feel like? What does it taste like… smell like… sound like? What is the sensation of the thing – here – in this tactile world we exist in? How does it cut or how does it nurture? Does it need to cut? If so, where? And why? Does it dance? Can we dance with it? If so, where and why?
Will I love it? I mean, truly and deeply the way I love myself or my wife? Will I love having created it? Will I love that it is created? Will I be proud of it? Will it dig deeply into the soul of the world and be one more facet of that source of reflection?
And, if it is to be as it is sometimes where it is to be something that is there simply to be beautiful – like a flower or a dewdrop or a cloudburst – then what? And why? How does it fit in my work and what else am I feeling? Is it a salve for hurt – because in this world sometimes, salves are necessary for wounds – or is it merely a distraction from something that, while taking more work will, ultimately, be more rewarding? That is an important question, too. There’s a lot of ideas that come and go. There’s a lot of easy ways out. I think we, as humans, need to be vigilant of ourselves in that way. When do we take the easy way out? When do we start repeating our own patterns because that is what gets the reward, gets the adulations, gets the proper response.
I could just paint lots of lovely sunsets and that’d be that. And maybe I do. But there’s people already who do that and they do it well so I don’t feel this world is missing any sunset paintings I might make.
If it’s going to be a big piece, it needs to have a reason. It MUST have a reason. And the reason doesn’t start with a statement. It starts with a question, an inquiry, a digging deeper into the soul of the matter – into the heart of the thing. That’s where we find something of value – a note that sings rather than simply murmuring along with the rest of the maddening crowd.
Here is one of the secrets of my work:
I paint what I feel like.
No need to mask your disappointment. You thought there’d be more. But that’s the truth of it. There’s a lot of people in the world doing things that they are not. They do things they don’t like, that they don’t condone, that they aren’t proud of, all for reasons they aren’t entirely clear on. There’s also a lot of people trying to be something other than what they are – some idealized version of themselves, with some plan, some big vision, posturing to be of this or that.
There is also a great big world around me insisting that I need to be all kinds of things to complete myself and that it has all the answers as to why I feel so terribly incomplete. Yet what that world will rarely admit to is that the belief of your own incompleteness is part of the equation. Every religion, every corner store, every government works very hard on wedging itself firmly between YOU and everything else and telling you how they complete you.
And it’s true. They do all complete me. Because they are all me. And there is no escaping that and I move on.
So I ask myself “self? how do you feel?” Because there are many voices telling me what to be and how to feel and what to believe, but only I actually know deep down what is going on inside of myself.
Maybe it’s summer and I feel like summer and the sun is out and the windows are wide open and on days like this I feel invincible or, at least, impressively optimistic. So I ask: what does that look like?
Maybe it’s winter and the tides are receding and the rivers are slowing and my blood, exercise and take care of myself tho I do, feels thick. Maybe I feel more patient and I want to explore what it looks like when the windows are closed and the sun disappears.
Maybe now I feel like great broad brushstrokes that have all wrapped up within them all of my passion, my doubts, my fears, my dreams.
Maybe now I feel like fine delicate lines that are the painted diadems on the eyelid of the divine.
Maybe now I feel the slow somber beauty of decay.
Maybe I feel both at exactly the same time and that’s just fine too. Because underneath every feeling is another feeling. Beneath every desire is another desire and another one and another and so on. Follow every one to it’s absolute end. Use your work as your meditation. You were blessed with a tool all your own for your own personal salvation. Use your work to complete yourself.
If your art is what you feel like, you will never run out of fodder. The heart of your work will be flawless. It will be rock solid to it’s core.
People will discuss your technique, your brushwork. They will find things to marvel at and they will find places to critique. That’s ok: we all have room to grow. I do. We all do. That’s life! So we continue on, with patience and care, following those threads to their most complete ends.
If you are ever without doubt as to what to paint, start with what you feel like.
Businesses run on products: product conception, product development, product sales, product redevelopment, and so on. Products products products. If we are not buying a product then we are producing a product or selling a product or discarding a product in order to replace it eventually with another theoretically superior product. These products are largely made for two reasons: to make money for the creator/sales person and to satisfy a utilitarian need that some aspect of our human existence has necessitated. Sometimes that aspect is basic: a shirt to protect us from the cold, shoes to protect our feet, etc. Other times – and this is often the case – the need goes much deeper – products are bought and sold to satisfy a desire to be attractive, to be beautiful, a desire to reflect some part of our perceived identity, and, most importantly, a desire to be loved. In the end, it seems difficult to decipher the difference between ‘basic need’ and ‘desire’.
Artwork, at its purist, at its most whole, is born from the desire – an inner urge – to create. It is the desire of self-expression and bringing something new into the world. That urge drives us forwards – compelling us to always do more – because that which we have already made is never fully satisfying.
From this act of expression arises a piece of work which, if we can let go of the need to show people up, or prove ourselves, or tout our skills, or impress our friends or loved ones… if we can let go of the desire to make a new product, fill up our own shelves… If we surrender instead to that creative flow and just drown ourselves in the act then the work which arises from that pool is a thing of beauty. It may be nightmarish. It may be the heavens unfolding. It is the all and everything. It is, at that point, an act of love.
Art in and of itself is not a product. It can go on products. It can be housed with products and ultimately, it does become a commodity. But in its fruition, in its blossoming into the world – it is merely the act, the creation, the vision. And so when we sit down to do our art, that creation should not be a means to an end. It is not the basic utilitarian urge driving it. It is not and should not and CANNOT be done as a thing merely to make money. Thinking ‘how much am I going to make from this piece?’ merely serves to limit its expression. We put it in a box with a set of conditions and value structures that our brain is constantly folding over it and and we will forever consider: have we put ‘enough’ in for the value it is supposed to have? True art making is an unconditional act.
There is the myth of the Starving Artist. The artist does not starve because he or she is afraid of “work” or because no one is buying his or her paintings. Sometimes, and I have been this artist, the artist ‘starves’ (or at least is thinner and hungrier than most) because everything other than art making seems purposeless. The artist doesn’t wake in the morning saying ‘o how much money I will make today.’ Or ‘I will do a good job and my boss will like me.’ Or ‘I am quickly moving up through the ranks, maybe I will get a raise.’ Everything else is merely feeding the ability to return to art making. So we nudge things along sometimes in order to create enough space to do our work and surrender into the Act.
There is no end product. All art is ever only the detritus being HUMAN. Art is the expression of living. Of breathing. Of seeing. Of one’s own personal vision. Art speaks to and from this act in some way (and this is ultimately why art can be valued so highly but we’ll get into that another time…). Ultimately, though, the end product is the Self Which Has Created The Work. That is Art as Path.
We artists, we often do just enough to create a space for ourselves and hope that everything else will fall into place, just as it does in our work. This is why it can be difficult sometimes for artists, on their own, to also be marketers and promoters and sales people and so on. It is a business to run that fills up the schedule.
Give us things! People ask. Market to us! Because then we’ll know how to choose what is best!
In a world that is constantly pushing consumption with a thousand and ten flashing ads, how do you stand out anymore? How do you even share your creation?
So we go back to square one: art as an act of love. It will shine through. It may take time: the first painting, the first bit of writing, the first moment… May slip under most radars. But then there is the second, the third, and so on. You are playing a symphony all on your own. It takes time for others to pick up on that tune. It takes some patience on your own part.
As a symphony, however, it’s best to learn to play all the instruments. Think of your art as the lead violin. It is, anyhow, the instrument that sings – the one that all of the other instruments are framing. Perhaps the web master hat is the oboe and the accountant hat is the kettle drum and the archivist is the cello and so on. This is learning to play your art and all of those hats as a symphony together, rather than as separate components.
However, this still brings us back to the actual creation of the thing. I have sat with business leaders and motivational speakers and all sorts of people. They tell me the steps I can take to build my email list and get more Facebook followers and create affiliate programs and so on. All of those steps continue to define me as a product, a commodity, with an ideal, a soundbite, a public image, easily consumable and digestible for this fast paced world we are told we live in.
And all of these steps always look to me like they lead away from sitting with the vision, this raw unfolding thing.
I consider this painting on my easel. It is a painting commissioned by someone. Certainly there is a desire for them to be pleased with it. Of course I want that! But I can’t let that be a driving force: ‘gosh I hope they like this! I hope this reflects the value we have ascribed to it!’ And so on. There are all sorts of thoughts that arise: how many hours am I putting into this? Is it enough? Am I working hard enough? All the stories and the product outcome and the chatter and nonsense. All the self-image and ego and drama and dreams and clutter – detritus of a consumer culture that echoes through my psyche from countless ads, commercials, social norms, and societal structures and, who knows, is maybe just part of the human experience which I am working through in my own way.
Would I make this for nothing? For no return? There are projects I engage in like that – where the cycle of returns has a different value structure. But in the end I do have bills to pay and rent and phone and all the other trappings of modern life – not to mention dreams: owning land, a home, etc. And my time is of value and I’ve spent hours practicing and practicing what I do. And, in the end, I have a thousand other paintings to paint. So we create value systems and we give to each other in exchanges in order to support growth: in ourselves, in others, in the world.
Because of exchanges like that, people say that it’s money that makes the world go wrong. I think that’s incorrect. I imagine that it is love that makes our world go round. Without love, we are useless empty shells, consuming, never-endingly consuming. We are just some more product creators, at that point. Yes, the world will go round, but without the love, it will be a greyer place. Without love, I could never bring this painting on my easel to the place it wants to go – to the place I want it to go. Even if this emotion of ‘love’ is in our imagination – even if it is merely a story I have made up – a feeling conjured up as a reflection to a thing I can call ‘not love’ – then it is, to me, the worthwhile driving force I have found. This love of creation, A love for others. A desire to bring love into the world. Even just the sensation of dancing with the creative act – this sensation that, followed, seems to conjure up, for me, my most ideal self. When I turn away from the canvas, it is what drives me to be more compassionate, to make smarter decisions, to care for others, and to give of myself.
There is only and can only ever be the present moment when making a piece of art and, to find that core passionate creative force – to create from that place in the making of our art – whether it be painting or writing or baking bread or driving a truck or helping others in whatever our paths may be – and whether our work be light or dark, sweet or otherwise – enables us to create something that ultimately feels like a worthwhile pursuit. I imagine that a thing made from a place of loving-kindness is ultimately more nourishing, more valuable, more beautiful than it would be otherwise. It may take a while for the world to catch up to you. You may sit in silence, alone and wondering who hears, but to have played that note, that instrument, that symphony will, ultimately, allow you the happiest life you can imagine.
Were that the place from which all things were made from, I imagine we would have a happier and healthier planet.
There’s much to be said for the value of doodling. I’ve probably even said a bit of it already. I think so much importance is put on the idea of ‘a finished drawing’ that it’s sometimes possible to loose sight of the looseness of the spontaneous flow. In fact, the specificity of a ‘finished drawing’ (as if it’s this grand eloquence) can cause one to over think what one is setting out to do.
When I make a drawing of a painting I’m going to create there’s a lot of, well, doodling that goes into those first intimations of the image. When an idea comes to me it’s never a fleshed out thing. It’s sort of like a big broad brushstroke over my mind that says ‘something like this.’ Then what follows is: a lot of scribbles, dashes and dots, lines and curves, of trying to understand my lines, my motives, my reasons for making it.
On top of that gets added the symbolism: the story around each thing and why it needs to be there. That is sort of an added layer on top of the experience of the thing itself. Deeper down – there’s simply a drive, a desire, a strong urge for the thing. And that, I think, is the thing to follow. Everything else becomes ‘too much thinking’ and only serves to subdue get us back into our heads and out of our… Everything.
This is where a looseness comes in – a softness in the approach (even if it’s fierce and visceral. No, especially if) and allowing of oneself. I think that, with every piece of art, there is an initial spontaneous experience of the thing: an inspiration, a flash, an idea – that broad brushstroke. The initial sketches that follow should seek to capture that spontaneity. Often, in those first explorations, it’s a bit of a blurred idea. It shimmers on the horizon of my imaginations. I am only just tasting it – getting the first hints of it. It’s like a new relationship – it’s so exciting. And I capture a curve, a composition, a sense of scale.
But then, with time and exploration, I get to know it. All it’s nuances and quirks. The places that don’t line up with my vision. The pieces that feel awkward and unaligned. Like a relationship, if we force it, it gets uncomfortable and it implodes. It doesn’t work. So we need to go at it with a measured grace, a sense of space, a softness, to explore the hows and whys of the thing and see if it doesn’t want to be – or is trying to be – something else all together.
Making Art is a relationship and when we get involved with it, there’s a need to allow it to be it’s own experience, it’s own expression, outside of what we want it to be. And it is difficult. Relationships aren’t easy to maintain. And making art is the same. It takes work, perseverance, and dedication. But the inspiration is the fact of what it can be, what it has been, and what we get out of it. It’s what keeps us going. It’s what keeps me going.
I’m not all that stoked with most of my paintings while I’m working on them. They are a mess! They are unfinished and coarse. It’s like we have to work through our stuff. But I’m patient with it. My early drawings for a piece tend to be haphazard, unclear, and, often, not quite right.
So one needs to be able to allow for looseness. For sketches to be just that – sketches, ideas merging into each other, and ourselves losing ourselves in the process. And then, of course, the trick is to carry that ‘losing yourself’ through the entire process: from sketch to drawing to painting.
What I’m getting at is that, when you are starting out trying to get an idea onto the paper: be patient! Allow yourself new drawings, experimentation, and exploration. Play with the basic dominant shapes before you try to tackle the details. Visualize the big picture… feel it out… then try drawing sketches of the dominant movements and ideas…
Here’s a gallery of some of the drawings I made for ‘The Myth of Freedom’. There were other drawings but they were even messier. Little rectangles with wheels drawn in them, trying to visualize the curve I wanted. It takes me a long long time to transition from a drawing to a painting.
In any case, if you are in the midst of trying to get your idea out – your feeling – your visions – and they aren’t quite right: don’t give up! Breath! Be patient! There’s no retreating from that edge!
For the past two months, I’ve been working with a small group of artists in my Artist Mentorship Program. It’s been a really great experience on both sides and I’ve gotten lots of great positive feedback from those involved. I’d never done this before: teach more as a mentor than an instructor via a long-term skype-meeting-centric relationship. I was a bit nervous at first as to how it would go. Would people be open to critique? Will they keep up with the pace? Will I, a person who eschews too much in the way of schedules, be able to keep up with the pace? So I’m happy to report that, after a couple months, it is inspiring, energizing, and has a definite momentum that I love.
It takes time to make a painting, to explore themes, to get frustrated with an idea enough to be able to look for a new perspective, to turn it into something that you WANT to get up and work on everyday. It’s that process which we work with. It’s nice, I think, to have a second set of eyes that can look at your work as a whole, find themes and associations that you might not have considered, and help push it into new territory and new perspectives.
The nice thing about just meeting once a week is that it gives each person plenty of time to explore ideas on their own. It’s tough to just sit down, on the spot, and find a thread that is worth following. Tapping into one’s own creative flow takes patience, thoughtfulness, and spontaneity. It takes sitting with it for a while and letting ideas stew and simmer. The long-term mentorship allows each person the space to go suss out ideas on their own and then come back to our proverbial table with what they’ve come up with. Then we can talk about it. We can cut away the chaff. We can work together to find the best line.
I’m only here to act as a guide – to help others to push their work to a new level of expression – and find a new level of satisfaction with it. I really enjoy teaching and the mode I enjoy the most is this one-on-one experience. Each person is unique in their ideas and execution and, I think, that makes it even more interesting for me. It’s like watching several different movies play out at once. What will happen next!
In the next month, I’ll post some pictures of some of what we’ve been working on (with their permission of course!). None have been shared yet because I want each person to focus on their work without the chatter of Facebook Instagram Tumblr whatever. This allows for, I think, a more personal flavor to develop and to work a bit more in the silently personal creative space.
This work we’ve been doing as been invaluable to me and I can’t thank this first group of artists enough for taking the chance and working with me on this first go round.
Find out more about the Artist Mentorship Program
“Tao gives birth to one,
One gives birth to two,
Two gives birth to three,
Three gives birth to ten thousand beings.
Ten thousand beings carry yin on their backs
and embrace yang in their front,
Blending these two vital breaths to attain harmony.”
– Tao Te Ching, Chap. 42
A number of years ago I was in a bookstore browsing art books as usual and I was skimming a book talking about the ‘business of art’. In the book, the author said that if you find something you like to paint and you also find it sells, then you ought to paint more of that thing. For instance, the author said, if you paint cats and people like those cats you paint and buy those cat paintings, then paint more cats! (This was the late-90s, by the way, and the internet had yet to be taken over by felines.) At the time, I thought that sounded a whole lot like selling out. Why would I want to paint the same thing over and over and over again? BOOOOORING.
I remember once I even tried to make a few ‘similar’ paintings because an idea had proven popular. My interest fizzled almost immediately though due to the fact that the subsequent images had no heart. They weren’t birthed from an inner drive or a need to create something or reflective of some sort of personal process or vision. They just… were boring.
Over the years, though, I’ve come back to that idea a few times: that, as an artist, you find something you like to paint and you stick with it. It’s just a question of what that ‘thing’ is.
You see, I think all artists ultimately paint the same thing over and over. It takes different forms, different modes, different colors and shapes – but it always comes back to an idea – a way of seeing – past, present, future combined – a way of feeling all of that and a way of speaking – of saying something. Of course, we can say anything really but hopefully: it adds something to the chorus. Ideally, it’s a voice that helps to foster openness, happiness, health…
And so back to the what we paint… I found that each painting I paint comes back to this thing – this divine thing and it’s this place where there’s no going to or coming away from – and it’s that which is the core of all my artwork. So I will be the first to admit: I paint the same thing over and over and over again – another facet of the same jewel. Over and over and over again. This facet or this facet or this facet becomes illuminated and I can see all the shadows, the edges, all the light and it becomes a voice, a stylistic choice, a color palette, a vision, a way of seeing the world.
In hindsight, while my youthful desire to say “screw that book and screw painting kittens” dominated at the time… I ended up doing exactly as suggested. Over and over and over. The key of course is finding something worthwhile to paint and making certain that the thread you follow – that creative impulse – that it’s worth following.
Beware of distraction! Doodles and ideas come and go. But cut away the chaff! Keep what’s really nourishing! Follow the part that really feels like something. There’ll always be distractions clamoring for attention – and pretty ideas and shiny things to paint and nifty trippy doodads…. but if they don’t really add up to the final visceral emotional scream or moan or sigh or smile that you are after… then lose it.
And, ultimately, that’s what that guy who wrote that book meant. If kittens are your god, then paint kittens! And paint them really really well. Understand them. Live them. Breathe them. Know them.
But, you know, it’s a matter of how far can you take something. How deep can it go? DOES it go? I mean, if you’ve chosen to be an artist, then making art is something that you are liable to be doing for the rest of your life. So find something rewarding – make something that you really love. See – it’s not that you will be painting the same thing all your life – that’s silly talk! – but it will be the same thread of an idea – another facet of the same vision.
Sure, you’ll change it up. You’ll reinvent it. You’ll use new colors, introduce new ideas, and things will morph and grow. But it still arises from this being we refer to as ‘you’ and you refer to as ‘I’. Your vision might shift – it might deepen, widen, grow. But it’s still you. And you are still making art. And when you look back over your years of work you will see a continuity – a clear progression – a clear voice. If you can cut through the chaff to that voice, that golden note that is all your own in the choir of humanity – then I think you are doing your job properly.
The only necessity – the only worth – is when it sings clearly. Then you are liable to make things of great beauty. And there is nothing wrong with adding more beauty to the world.
And that is a little of what the work is all about.
I spend an enormous amount of time thinking about paintings I want to paint. And not just thinking about them but seeing them, feeling them, considering them. Sometimes they are in my vision when I’m making dinner and I’m chopping a carrot or a stalk of broccoli and I’m seeing this painting. It sort of lingers in the vision – in my mind, in this place between hallucination and imagination…
Small paintings: I make small things like 11×14 and such and they are relatively quick… They are a small facet, an aspect of myself – they are very precise and don’t require as much forethought. They come from drawings and ideas of course, but they don’t have as much going on with them of course. Likewise, they allow depth and scope and that, too, require some consideration – some allowance of what it might be but not like a larger painting. Why? I think in part it’s because if I’m going to invest the time it takes to paint something that’s larger than a couple of feet tall, then there is serious intention… there’s serious consideration about how I am going to spend my time – IS THIS WORTH IT? Do I want to go there?
And once that question is answered….
So I feel it. I envision it. I see it. I love it. All the corners. All the angles. I wrap myself around it – into the dark shadows of it and into the great release. I consider it carefully. I think about the little things… I taste the slight glint of this, the soft arch of that. I want it to be awesome. I want it to speak to my corners, my nuances, my heights and depths. And, in turn, I want it to speak to you and yours.
It’s like… I don’t even know what it’s like. It’s like painting. This is how it is. How it has always been. How I am. I live it, breath it, sleep with it, and awaken again with it. I want it to be something that I will love. I want you to fall in love wit it. I want to not waste my time on it. I want to KNOW it.
And when I really love it – when I’ve made a dozen sketches and another dozen drawings and I’m ready and I’ve considered the parts I don’t know and have given over to the ways that it needs to be even if it’s going to be a lot of work… Then I’m ready to stretch a canvas, then I’m ready to prepare my surface.
And then, maybe then, I’m ready for that first brushstroke.
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