Temporary Struggle

I worked on a painting yesterday and it was a very long two hours of effort. For most of that time, I wasn’t thrilled with what I saw on the canvas but I kept working at it to work things out. At the end, I got some space from the painting and the rocks came into view. Ahhh.

The other day I was looking at one of my favorite paintings and remembering the challenge of working through the details. I spent 4+ hours on Kelly’s face – a two-inch square area. I’m pretty sure I cried that afternoon.

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But all that struggle is gone now. In its place is a beautiful painting. I love looking at it every day and continue to see something new. And I feel so lucky that I was part of bringing this art into being.

 

Chill with the Chaos

Things usually look like hell for a large part of the painting process. Especially portraits - everyone looks old and blotchy. Not suitable for public viewing. A bystander might nod and hum in sympathy that I am working so hard at something so crappy.

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I heard a great quote - "if you are going through hell, keep going." I can really relate this to my spiritual growth and to the process of making art. One of my art and meditation friends said that she will put at least one mark on her painting everyday.

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The "in-between" phase of the process is actually where all the magic is setting in. Things feel unfamiliar because our brains are stretching and new neural pathways are forming. It is a journey into pure possibility and being a vehicle for creative energy.

Interestingly, I have made paintings more by rote, where the process is clear and the in-between wasn't a challenge. And these paintings lacked the magic and refinement. They almost felt like cartoons of a painting.

The more time I spend in the in-between, the more comfortable and relaxed I am navigating this new terrain.

What do you do in-between?

 

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Learning what you are not

I started painting in high school and identified strongly as a portrait painter, NOT a landscape painter. I was serious about this, damnit! I would put in my time on the background of the painting like eating my vegetables so I could skip to dessert - the portrait. This preference was so strong that it often blocked me from working on a painting.

Since making art more consistently, I have discovered:

  1. I actually enjoy painting landscapes
  2. One is not better than the other. Or as Paul Reps said, "each is best.

As usual, the next step involved getting out of my own way!

I love my little painting, Bromance, and how it toes the line of landscape and portrait:

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It's time to break the rules

Sometimes I'm just dying under the weight of these rules. Not anyone else's rules - my stupid rules. The boundaries I place on myself. The rigid definitions and impossible principles that are holding me back in my creativity and happiness.

Elizabeth Gilbert had a great metaphor about this in her book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear (Highly recommended!). She talks about the martyr and the trickster. The martyr puts themselves on a pedestal of principles where they are bound and tied, a clear target and easy shot. The trickster, however, sneaks around, seeks out the opening in a situation, and has fun in the process. Gilbert talks about the martyr on the front lines dying for their cause while the trickster starts a profitable black market on the sides of the battle.

It's time for this martyr to break the rules and get a little tricksy. Here are some rules I broke recently and had a BREAKTHROUGH in my art:

 1. Don't make the same painting twice.  From left to right, a copy of the tiny bamboo bookmark that inspired the paintings, first version 2014 and second version 2017.

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  2.  Don't copy someone else's painting.  Top row: Robert Beer's Milarepa drawing and Faith Stone's. Bottom row: unknown Milarepa thangka and my thangka.

 2.  Don't copy someone else's painting. Top row: Robert Beer's Milarepa drawing and Faith Stone's. Bottom row: unknown Milarepa thangka and my thangka.

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3.  Don't paint from photographs. My photo on left the inspired the painting on right. I have also copied a Georgia O'Keefe painting in the background ;)

How have you broken YOUR rules lately? 

Part of the Creative Process

Through making art as part of my lifestyle, I see recurring stages in the creative process. It has helped me to see these stages happening so I can stay in the flow and move through the harder parts of the process. These steps translate to many creative areas  in my life: business, relationships, fitness, yoga and meditation.

 

1.     Ideas and inspiration – this part is easy! There are so many possibilities and inspiration feels uplifting overall. If I have a block about what to make, it is important to choose something to do even if it is a compromise. You can always do another painting. I usually save inspiring images on my phone or hang them around my studio for my later projects.

2.     Begin the project – This can be challenging because the vastness of inspiration is being funneled into something concrete. Over time, I have learned how to begin a project to the point that this has a flow. It is just one step at a time:

a.     Gather supplies and references

b.     Sketch and transfer images

c.      Paint flat colors in the painting – this part is so fast and gratifying!

3.     Development and refinement – Definitely the uphill part of the process! Usually, I don’t already have the skills to do what I envision, so I have to learn and earn those skills. The first part of this process is somewhat grueling, and then as the skills become stronger, the process accelerates and is easier to complete. In general, I paint from the background to the foreground. This generates momentum because the background is usually larger than the foreground. Also, I am usually more excited about painting the subject or foreground: it is like eating your veggies and having dessert later. :)

4.     Refinement and completion – This phase usually has a downhill momentum as the steps that need to be completed are clear. Details often take more time than I was expecting, but it is a clear process. For me, finishing a painting is usually quick and anti-climactic in a good way.

5.     Hang and enjoy – Now you get to live with the art! Or give it to someone else to live with. It has a life of its own. I will usually notice things that can be improved, but I try to relax with this saying: “finished, not perfect.” The creative energy of this process lives in the painting and inspires the next wave in my life.

How do you experience creative process in your life?