Monday Motivator: Non-Dominant

Monday Motivator
Monday Motivator

“Drawing with your nondominant hand can seem like a difficult, even foolish endeavor, except if you are seeking a new line or form. … Your drawing muscle memory becomes accustomed to making certain marks and perspectives … By using your nondominant hand, you will discover a new language for your line and form.”

Whitney Sherman, “Playing With Sketches“, p68

Using your non-dom hand isn’t a new idea, but it may be new to you. It really is worth giving it a go as the results can be pleasingly surprising. The whole point of it is that you can’t control the pencil very well, so stop using that as the reason you won’t try this technique.

Occasionally when I suggest it to people who say they want to draw more expressively rather than tightly detailed, they say “oh yes, I’d forgotten about that”. So make a note somewhere to remind yourself to do it every now and then.

Take it up a level by using a brush or some other in your non-dominant hand. In the photo below I’m using a silicone tool to spread acrylic ink drawn with the ink bottle dropper, but maybe it was simply to reach the leftmost edge of this long sheet of paper.

Monday Motivator: The Allure of Semi-Abstraction

Monday Motivator
Monday Motivator

“Semiabstraction is not a style; it is a viewpoint toward nature that results in paintings which integrate identifiable subject matter and formal design structure. This integration establishes an independent equilibrium between nature and design in which neither dominates the other.

“… Look for shapes that have a certain energy or vitality to them … If a shape is unclear or uninteresting, redesign it, improve on it. Make a painting that appeals purely on the level of shape and pattern relationships.”

Edward Betts, “Creative Landscape Painting”, page 84

A painting is a conglomerate of shapes. As the artist, it’s up to us to decide what to include and to leave out, how to represent them, what to dictate and what to suggest. That’s why impressionist, expressionist, semi-abstract art is ultimately the more interesting artistic playground for me.

Colours of Skye

Monday Motivator: External Expectations

Monday Motivator
Monday Motivator

… the distinction between fiction and nonfiction is less about “Did it really happen or was it made up?” than it is about form. And, more than form, it’s about the expectations that are brought to certain forms. According to how a book is presented, packaged, or identified, readers have certain expectations. Following from that they expect books within broadly identified categories to behave in certain ways. So people can find it quite disconcerting when a book isn’t doing what they think it’s meant to be doing, even if the book is completely fine on its own terms and has no desire to conform to some external set of expectations.

Geoff Dyer, “The Art of Nonfiction No. 6“, interviewed by Matthew Specktor, Paris Review Issue 207, Winter 2013

Substitute “drawing” for “fiction”, “painting” for “nonfiction”, and “art” for “book”.

Saying a drawing or painting is ‘good’ because ‘it looks like a photograph’ is more a statement about the viewer than the artwork, about the limited exploration someone has had with the possibilities of art beyond representational.

It can be interesting debating whether pastel is a drawing or a painting medium, when ink shifts from a drawing to a painting, how much paint can be added to a mixed medium piece before it stops being a drawing, but ultimately it’s a technicality that’s irrelevant to whether an artwork speaks to you or not.

Mixed media, A2 size

Monday Motivator: Practice

Monday Motivator

“If you do not practice feeling joy in your every day relationship with art, the idea that one day you will be good enough to not hate your work is not going to pan out…

“It is possible to enjoy the process, to have real love for the end result, and to continue to improve and grow.”

Winona Nelson, “Stop Hating Your Own Work“, Muddy Colors 23 Oct 23

It’s all too easy to say you hate a painting and throw your brushes down in frustration and anger. If this is always your reaction, you’re developing your ability at being angry not your painting skills.

You’re lying to yourself if you say you hate everything about it, because then you would never have started painting it in the first place. We don’t hate the first brushstroke, nor the second; what we hate is that at some point things went awry, that we didn’t fulfil what we promised ourselves when we started. If you truly hated every brushstroke, then give your paints away and do something else with your time.

Find the “I liked until I did X” and “I never did Y” moment(s), think about what you might have done instead, and have another go.

Sometimes it might be a while before I try again, as with the viaduct at Cullen below, from 2019 and 2023.

From 2019: Cullen, acrylic ink
From 2023: Cullen viaduct acrylic ink

Monday Motivator: Slow Curiosity

Monday Motivator
Monday Motivator

Curiosity can be a means to an end. But couldn’t it also be … the end? A reward in itself?

As an analogy, the slow food movement was a reaction to the use of food as a “means”—the widespread habit of quick-serve, on-the-go, calories-down-the-gullet-style cooking and eating. But—as food gurus taught us—when we slow things down, a source of stress could become a source of enjoyment.

Maybe we need a slow curiosity movement.

Dan Heath, “Finding Out ‘What It’s Like to Be…’ Through Slow Curiosity“, Behavioural Scientist, 18 October 2023

Once upon a time I was at a workshop at the London V&A where we did an activity in fast and slow looking. Fast looking was walking through a room quickly and then making a note of three things that caught your eye, repeating several times. (If you’ve been to the V&A London you’ll know it’s a warren of connected spaces.)

Slow looking was sitting in front of an object for a while, drawing and making notes. I can’t remember if it were 15 or 30 minutes but it felt like forever. Not least because there were all those other things to see. It’s impossible to look at even a fraction of what’s on display in the museum before your brain is overloaded, but there’s the compulsion to keep going because it’s there, waiting.

I learnt that I can keep myself actively looking at the one thing, the more I notice, the more curious I become about whatever it is. I also learnt it’s easier if I first use up some restlessness and impatience through fast looking and/or drawing. Also at familiar locations where I start to notice things between those I recognise.

Drawing flowers in my garden, continuous line in ink

Monday Motivator: Ideas

Monday Motivator
Monday Motivator

“We all share a common misconception: that ideas pop into mind fully formed by themselves, fresh, new, and creative …

“Ideas are not new, as thoughts are not new. They come from the thoughts that came before them. We don’t really start thinking, we simply join the thinking that’s already going on. In other words, we jump onto the train of thought. Thoughts come from thoughts. …

“Finding the one you want to express is more about you than the idea.”

Gregory Manchess, “10 Things… Generating Ideas“, Muddy Colors

Procrastination can happen because we believe we don’t have any ideas to paint, we’re waiting for an idea we judge to be the perfect, or we can’t choose between all our ideas.

If it’s the first: reuse a previous idea. There isn’t a rule stipulating that ideas may be used once only. Imagine if Monet had decided to stop at one lilypond painting. And did you know Munch did more than one version of “The Scream“?

If it’s the second: go with the last idea you rejected. Give up on perfect and see where a less-than-perfect idea takes you. Would you do a perfect painting from a perfect idea first time anyway?

If it’s the third: put several in a hat and pick one. They’re all equally valid, and it matters more that you get started and persist.

When I picked each up, it was a perfect pebble for one reason or another. Together they become painted friends not competitors.

Monday Motivator: Skip the Focal Point

Flower Garden I painting by Marion Boddy-Evans
Monday Motivator

“I approach everything the same way. I move all over the canvas. Someone asked me: what is my focal point for a painting? I don’t have a focal point—I want a symphony! I want people to move all through the painting and not be stuck on a focal point.

… I’m not big on simplification. I want a symphony. I want highs and lows. I want loud. I want quiet. And I want a big story. So, simplification is not my thing.”

Cynthia Rosen, interview Palate & Palette by Amy Allen, 18 Jan 2024

There are lots of things to think about with a painting, and there are all sorts of checklists floating about as to what should have priority. I know colour, pattern, and mark making at the top of mine. One of the reasons the quote above resonated with me was that it made me realise I don’t think “what’s the focal point” when I’m painting.

There’s subject, the bit that interests me most, where I start, angles and strong lines in the subject, colours to use (or not), do I take things off the edge of the sheet, those sorts of considerations, but my internal dialogue never asks “What’s the focal point?”. That’s not to say I may not end up without a focal point, but that’s not the same as it being a starting point.

Flower Garden I painting by Marion Boddy-Evans
“Flower Garden I”. Acrylic on wood panel. 30x30cm, grey frame. £375

Monday Motivator: Open Ended, Not Unfinished

Monday Motivator

“Much is suggested. Little is defined. While being loose, it is also precise and clear. Understanding that an ‘open ending’ does not mean an ‘unfinished’ artwork, which always seems to imply that there was a way to ‘finish’ the work but the artist did not do it. … They stop where they need to, in unexpected ways. … While the gestures lead their own lives, the subject never disappears.”

Marlene Dumas, Epilogue 2018, in “Omega’s Eyes”

A painting stands on its own, the viewer oblivious to all of your “I could/should have” intentions (unless you voice them). Stop for whatever reason you wish. You can always change the ending at a later point.

Monday Motivator: Hope

Monday Motivator
Monday Motivator

Hope has holes
in its pockets.
It leaves little
crumb trails
so that we,
when anxious,
can follow it ...

Poet Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, "Hope"

Picking up a pencil or brush to create a painting or drawing is an act of hope. Follow the bread crumbs of all the redrawn and erased lines, the overpainted and wiped off brushmarks, the smudged bits. These draft a map of where we’ve been as we draw and paint, whether or not a piece is finished, incomplete or abandoned.

As we journey, the map becomes increasingly familiar: paths we love, paths perhaps best avoided when travelling alone, and those not yet ventured down. Choose what suits that drawing session.

Watercolour and blind embossing

Monday Motivator: Let Go of Goals in 2024

Monday Motivator
Monday Motivator

“In many cases, specific goals can limit your learning opportunities. Some of the most interesting discoveries we make are serendipitous. Tinkering, playing, experimenting, trying new things are all intrinsically rewarding activities which don’t need an end goal to bring you enjoyment and intellectual stimulation.

“Learning to let go of your goals is about keeping space in your life for doing things just for the sake of it, not because it neatly fits into a grander scheme. …

“Most goals can be transformed into sustainable systems based on enjoying the process rather than obsessing over the end result.”

Anne-Laure Le Cunff, “The Science of Learning to Let Go“, Ness Labs

Let’s not pretend that 2024 will be the year we’ll paint or draw every single day, nor use the less-enjoyed art materials gathering dust in the corner, nor read every word in tomes on famous dead artists and not mainly the captions to the illustrations, nor turn failed paintings into magnificent collages, nor any other kind of “must-do” that lurks in the shadows of our artistic minds.

Let 2024 be a year of “what if I…?” attempts, not being bothered by “unfinished” or “abandoned” explorations but embracing what they taught us, focusing on attempting, and our bravery in creating something from a blank starting point (paper or canvas).

And to give away or swap ignored materials and tools so someone else can play with them, without too many thoughts about what they cost us (that’s money long gone) or clinging to the “but one day I might” fantasy (set a time limit of say, five years, or a quantity limit).