“Art is about more than the creation of beauty; it demonstrates an enthusiasm for life, which is contagious.
“Spreading some of that enthusiasm around is the artist’s contribution to the world.” Christopher Gallego, Painting Perceptions interview, 1 November 2012
Infectious enthusiasm is the name of the game. Let’s spread it around, starting with ourselves.
[Edited 6 April 2020 to add: I wrote this Monday Motivator in January when I was writing ahead in anticipation of being at Higham Hall for my workshop. The words feel quite different today reading them whilst in covid-19 lockdown.]
The Pre-Raphaelites show us how beautiful detail can be, but used it with a strong focal point, leading us into a painting to gently discover more and more. Don’t give everything equal weight or importance, otherwise we don’t know where to start looking.
This painting by Millais is dominated by the blue dress and the orange stool. Large, striking shapes of strong colour that pull you in immediately, straight to the figure.
Your eye probably next went to her face, and then left towards the light rather than right into the shadow.
The dark in the top righthand corner and floorboards provide other reprieves from detail until you start looking more closely.
How many leaves do you count? Do they make you wonder where they came from, if there’s an open window to the left of the scene? Taking your mind outwidth the painting.
“Stevens likes to compare his creative process to that of a jazz musician: He thrives on improvisation.
“I make a mark, a shape, or an application and then respond to it, like how a jazz trio might improvise and respond to each other … I look for ways to repeat or vary the elements, gestures, patterns, or rhythms in the marks and textures.’”
Being able to improvise requires you to have a repertoire of marks and materials to pull from. Options, to put it succinctly.
It may appear to be pulled from thin air or imagination, but it’s acquired knowledge and experience mixed with impulse and openness to possibilities. Sometimes is discordant, sometimes harmonious. You’ve got to play to see where you allow yourself to be taken.
That the act of painting, the doing thereof, the brush into paint and onto paper, needs to be rewarding in itself, disconnected from the need for a satisfying end result,hard as this is, is something I struggle to explain. This quote filled that gap for me as I instantly related to how I interact with waves on a beach compared to pebbles (shells, sea glass).
I might take photos of waves, but they’re eternally ephemeral. I don’t have thoughts other than to watch and enjoy (okay, and to stay out of reach of them). Pebbles I can pick up and hold, turn over in my hand, feel the weight and texture, walk with for a while until I encounter another that I want to touch.
We experience painting every time, but don’t collect a painting every time.
“Brainstorm when tired. Ron Friedman, author of ‘The Best Place to Work’, explains our fatigued brains are less capable of filtering out all the weird stuff, like we are during the day. He suggests finding that time when you’re tired and less focused to box off that time for creative brainstorming.” Ed Terpening, Creativity in Art is Risky Business
Tired is when I’m least likely to ‘plan’ and ‘think hard’ because it feels like it’s going to take energy I don’t have, take too much effort. But it would mean that my thought filters are tired too and so perversely it’ll take less effort to get to outlying thoughts, if I can get myself over the hump of starting.
“Accept that some paintings will be rehearsals for new brush techniques, palettes, or subject matter that build your skills and experience
“… there are three qualities you need to develop as a painter: patience, persistence, and passion.
“Since painting is a complex process, you need to be patient with yourself as you learn to master the craft. Your persistence is important, in order to move past your failures and frustrations. And finally, it is your passion…that propels you forward.” Suzanne Brooker, “The Elements of Landscape Oil Painting”, page 195
“I paint from remembered landscapes that I carry with me—and remembered feelings of them, which of course become transformed. I could certainly never mirror nature. I would like more to paint what it leaves me with.”
Joan Mitchell, letter written in 1958 (in John I.H. Baur, Nature in Abstraction: The Relation of Abstract Painting and Sculpture to Nature in Twentieth-Century American Art, via David Zimmer)
Remembered from a single occasion. Remembered from multiple occasions. Remembered from visits years apart and remembered from frequent visits. Remembered by telling someone else. Remembered through listening to someone else’s remembering.
The layers of memory as layers in a painting. Each memory in a different medium? A different type of mark?
“Art is the kind of marathon where you cross the finish line and instead of getting a medal placed around your neck, the volunteers roughly grab you by the shoulders and walk you to the starting line of another marathon.” — Ryan Holiday, “Perennial Seller“, page 28
If you might find this quote demotivating and demoralising, remember that ultra-marathons are a thing some people do for fun. Pacing yourself is the key.