“It is not especially easy, but when we turn off that little critical voice and when we really don’t look for results, we are far more able to surrender to that song from within.
“The irony, of course, is that when all this energy pours through us, the process becomes that wonderful state of being that makes art possible. The results are so much better. And paintings are just those things that happen as we discover and create who we are.”
Jerry’s philosophy is “complete at every stage“: “I am suggesting that we ought to think of a painting (and making art generally) less as a manufactured product and more of something alive that grows and moves in unexpected directions, not unlike jazz improvisation or even like the growth of a child.”
He explains it in his book “The Practice and Philosophy of French Impressionism” (follow the link from his website and click on preview).
“Today’s cult of convenience fails to acknowledge that difficulty is a constitutive feature of human experience. Convenience is all destination and no journey.
“But climbing a mountain is different from taking the tram to the top, even if you end up at the same place. We are becoming people who care mainly or only about outcomes. We are at risk of making most of our life experiences a series of trolley rides.” — Tim Wu The Tyranny of Convenience, (NY Times Opinion 16 February 2018)
Being impatient for results we feel we ought to produce denies us the journey of getting there.
A painting driven by process, by the doing, is a different creature to one driven by having a finished product.
If instant gratification is what you need, stick to photography for now, where you can get a “finished photo”* in seconds.
“First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won’t. Habit is persistence in practice.”
“Forget talent. If you have it, fine. Use it. If you don’t have it, it doesn’t matter. As habit is more dependable than inspiration, continued learning is more dependable than talent.”
The word “habit” tends to have negative connotations, as in “bad habits” rather than “good habits”. Call it routine or ritual if you prefer.
Brushing your hair is a habit, though we don’t tend to call it that or think of it as such. It’s simply part of the routine of daily life, things done without question as part of getting ready for something else. Some days I do a better job of it than others (though living in a windy climate it can be hard to tell).
Same with painting, all the unseen, uncounted brushmarks that go into making the ones you finally see. Some days I do a better job of it than others (though by the time I declare a painting finished I’d like to believe others couldn’t tell).
‘I discourage any elaborate drawing-in of the motif to be painted, either with pencil, pen or brush. This produces a fear of the pigment or paint; a kind of dry, joyless “working up to the edges,” and leads subsequently to a kind of “colored drawings”.’ — John F. Carlson, Carlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting, page 42
Are you painting between your security-blanket lines or outside the lines?
Looking through my draft blog posts I found this quote, which I’d saved back in January. It feels apt as I start looking through my email and all the other things put on “pause” while I was at Higham Hall in a tranquil bubble of creativity:
“While we do not get to curate the realities of the external world, the barrage of news, or our social media, we do decide the parameters of our reactions. We decide the size of each reaction, each thought. We decide how long each thought is allowed to stay, how much space it is given, how much power it will have.”
“Thoughts are visitors we invite into our minds.” — Reema Zaman
And, like visitors, some thoughts are more welcome than others, some overstay their welcome, others don’t visit often enough.
The light at the end of the tunnel is finding ways to encourage the latter. For me it lies in painting.
‘The goal of practice is always to keep our beginner’s mind.
…In the beginner’s mind there is no thought “I have attained something.” All self-centered thoughts limit our vast mind. When we have no thought of achievement, no thought of self, we are true beginners. Then we can really learn something. The beginner’s mind is the mind of compassion. When our mind is compassionate, it is boundless.’
“In those moments when you feel discouraged or lost in the studio, or when you experience rejection, rest completely assured that what you don’t know about something is also a form of knowledge, though much harder to understand.
“In many ways, making art is like blindly trying to see the shape of what you don’t yet know. Whenever you catch a little a glimpse of that blind spot, of your ignorance, of your vulnerability, of that unknown, don’t be afraid or embarrassed to stare at it.” Maria Popova, Brainpickings What It Really Takes to Be an Artis
Knowing we don’t know gives us the possibility of continuing on the (life-long) journey of learning. If we knew everything, it’d be the end of the road and what would we look forward to then?
“It’s good to be able to push accuracy to a high level so that you know you can do it. At the same time, let’s keep in mind that changing what we see is also our prerogative as artists.
“We have the right to distort and exaggerate if it serves our purpose. In fact, the 19th century academic artists were encouraged to alter what they observed in a living model to approach a classical ideal.”
“It is important to allow a painting to speak for themselves in terms of balance of mark, gesture, colour and compositional balance…
“I am not particularly interested in illustrating a particular scene with every blade of grass, nor do I want location to be particularly obvious. I want the paintings to speak for themselves as entity.”
What do you see? Make a list of at least six things. Do not use single words such as “washing”, “bus stop”, “road”, “clouds”, or “grass”.
How about “sun burning through the billowing clouds”, “wind catching the sheets on the line”, “shadow pattern of the wooden fence posts on the road with counterpoint played by white road markings”, and a “seat for Godot in the bus shelter”?
Did I think all this when I stopped to take this photo? No, I was out taking photos for my new reference book for my next Higham Hall workshop. I’d been hoping to find some laundry, as a reference for elements to include in a painting, and that’s what caught my eye, then the pattern on the road. The sun and clouds had been with me all afternoon, so I noticed it only in terms of not looking directly into it. Godot and the bus shelter, that came to me as I was looking at the photo to write this.
What are the thoughts on your list? Post a comment and let me know!
[Edited to add comments from Facebook]
Lyn Asselta: This is a fabulous exercise! Brilliant! I am always asking my students to stop looking for “nouns” (or objects, things).
Julie Rysdale: Smudgy bus stop windows telling the story of who waited; fenced fingers waiting to trip the unwary; green inky grass to smear on the evidence; alphabet shirts flapping their code to whoever will listen; sunshine fleeing the scene of time; the mysterious clouds the only witness to the drama unfolding!
Kit Wells: Refraction of light, bubbling clouds, stark shadow, moisture in air, contre jour washing, division of observed field into classic parts.
Maddy Buckman: Smeary windows, marching pickets in a fence, a peek at fields beyond through the gaps, billowing clouds on the move, lonely chairs in the empty space, soft but definite shadows, washing lifting in a breeze.