Monthly Archives: July 2013

Strategies for Finding “That Thing That is Your Own” Part 2

As I mentioned in my last post, sometimes we paint the way we do simply because that’s the way we were taught. We take classes and workshops and often we’re so busy learning other artists’ rules, techniques, color and composition tastes, etc. that we miss the whole point. It’s not about finding techniques, rules, and formulas. It’s about using your chosen medium, your skills, and the elements and principles of design to express what Georgia O’Keeffe called “that thing that is my own’.

Finding “that thing that is your own” involves making conscious choices about what to pursue and what to eliminate, both in your thinking and in your work. In my last post, I listed 9 things to eliminate.

Here are 9 things to pursue:

1. Your passion

It begins and ends with love. In his book Creating, Robert Fritz said, “Love is what creating is about – although not as we usually mean the term. Love is often thought of as a passive response to something or other – something we can “fall into,” something that evokes in us a complex of emotions, something that happens to us………(that kind of) love is a response and not a cause. When you are creating, it is the other way around. The love comes first, and the situation later. In the creative process, love is generative rather than simply responsive. The object of your love does not yet exist. Quite often, it isn’t even established in your mind. It may be just a glimmer or impulse, or even a vague impression, or it may not even be that much. But a creator is able to love something that does not yet exist – even in the imagination – and bring it into existence. From nothing, something is formed.”

2. Subjects you love

Find subjects that matter to you, that attract you, that call to you, that speak to you. What you are naturally attracted to is what distinguishes you from everyone else and is the starting place for authentic expression.

3. Self-education

Set up a program and a plan to develop the skills and gather up the knowledge and information you need to do the kind of work you dream of doing.

4. Methods for nurturing your creative self

Make a plan for dealing with fear, failure, and discouragement. Accept the fact that they will show up. How will you nurture yourself, dust yourself off, and start all over again?

5. Starting and finishing lots of paintings

Just do it! Doing is the core ingredient. Doing is what will make all the difference.

6. Looking at a lot of art

Look not with the idea of copying, but with the idea of finding new options and ideas for moving your art forward.

7. Your connection to Art History

Many of the problems we deal with in our paintings have been dealt with by the masters. We don’t have to re-invent the wheel! There is in art history a wealth of ideas for solving problems and growing your art.

8. Journaling

A written art journal is a great place to make lists, set goals, clarify ideas, and make plans for how you will nurture your artist self and grow your art.

9. Authenticity

Constantly ask yourself, “How can I make this uniquely mine?”

Happy Painting!

Strategies for Finding “That Thing That is Your Own” Part 1

Sometimes we paint the way we do simply because that’s the way we were taught. We take classes and workshops and often we’re so busy learning other artists’ rules, techniques, color and composition tastes, etc. that we miss the whole point. It’s not about finding techniques, rules, and formulas. It’s about using your chosen medium, your skills, and the elements and principles of design to express what Georgia O’Keeffe called “that thing that is my own’.

Finding “that thing that is your own” involves making conscious choices about what to pursue and what to eliminate, both in your thinking and in your work.

Here are 9 Things to Eliminate:

1. Listening to everybody else.

Become internally rather than externally motivated by choosing to be the central creative force in your life. Make a decision to stop looking to everyone else for answers to what your art is or should be. You don’t need anyone else’s permission to become the artist you want to be.

2. Subjects you don’t love.

Paint only those subjects that attract you or call to you in some way. You don’t need to know or explain why they attract or call to you. What matters is simply that they matter to you. Period.

3. Mediums and techniques you don’t love or that don’t work with your personality and what you want to say with your work.

Don’t choose a medium simply because it’s popular or because all of your art buddies use it. And, don’t choose a medium or techniques just because your first art instructors happened to teach that medium or those techniques. 

4. All critical and judgmental thinking.

Work hard at leaving your VOJ (voice of judgment – see my previous posts on the VOJ) behind when you walk into your studio. Paint without judging. Stop painting often, put your work up, stand a distance away from it and simply ask yourself, “How can I improve it?”

5. Searching for “the right way” to paint.

There’s only one “right” way to paint, your way.

6. The fear of the unknown.

Encounters with the unknown are what creative painting is all about. Therefore, they are a necessary part of the creative process. Rather than avoid the unknown, find fun ways to break out of the box and face the unknown. In order to grow as an artist it’s necessary to take risks and get out of your comfort zone.

7. The fear of failure.

Remind the part of you that fears failure that Thomas Alva Edison perceived failure in this way: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” As it is with the fear of the unknown, the fear of failure is a necessary part of the creative process. Embrace it. Work with it.

8. Abandoning works in progress.

Commit to finishing all your paintings. Stopping when things go awry is stopping in the wrong place. When things go awry, that means that you have created problems in your painting that need to be solved. This is not the time to abandon ship and start another painting. Stay the course and solve the problems. Solving the problems that you’ve created in your painting means that you will have to engage your creativity to come up with the solutions. Often, that’s when the process of putting together a painting really begins.

9. Settling.
 
Never settle for anything less than a painting that you love.
 
 
Happy Painting!

Georgia on my Mind

Georgia O’Keefe by Alfred Steiglitz

 

“The painting is like a thread that runs through all the reasons for the other things that make one’s life.” Georgia O’Keeffe

I’ve just returned from my very first trip to New Mexico. We visited Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Taos, Abiquiu, and Ghost Ranch – “O’Keeffe Country!” In 1988, at about the time I first began seriously pursuing painting, I saw a Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago and I was as much impacted by her life and lifestyle as I was by her art. At that time our kids were still living at at home and I was juggling the responsibilities of family life with doing everything I needed to do to learn how to be the kind of artist I so passionately wanted to become. So, besides being the chief cook and bottle washer at home, I was taking art classes, painting every day, learning how to draw, participating in a number of local art groups, and doing a yearly art fair. My art life and my family life were two separate entities and I don’t think anyone in my family took my art seriously. Mostly, I think they thought it was great that I had this nice little hobby called painting.

But, here was this woman artist – this Georgia O’Keeffe. Like me, she grew up in the midwest. However, unlike me, she was able to defy convention and gender expectations and live a self-determined life. I was raised to be a people pleaser, do what I was told (and never question what I was told), and always consider other people’s expectations. Defying convention and expectations never once crossed my mind – until I encountered Georgia O’Keeffe. Impressed by her deep commitment to follow her own ideas and her own rules, she became my role model as I sought to discover and nurture my own individuality as an artist and as a woman.

In one of Georgia O’Keeffe’s bios, I read that at one point she became very dissatisfied with her work. One day, she went into her studio, locked the door and hung all of her recent paintings on the walls. With ruthless detachment, she analyzed her work, noting which paintings were done to please her instructors, which were influenced by other artists, and which were directed at other people’s tastes rather than her own. She concluded that none of it was her own. The idea dawned on her that “this thing that is your own is so close to you, often you never realize it’s there.” Suddenly it seemed very simple, and she made the decision that from that day forward she would paint “that thing that is her own.”

When I first came across that story, I was focused on learning how to accurately reproduce subject matter and master watercolor techniques. Finding and expressing “that thing that is my own” was not part of my program. But once I read that story, I got it – and finding and expressing “that thing that is my own” became my number one goal. And now, 25 years later, it’s still my number one goal, and I’m happy to report that I think I’ve made some progress!

For me, that longing to find and express “thing that is my own” initiated a search for my identity, personal voice, and personal vision. I’ve since come to believe that finding and expressing “that thing that is your own” is what the artistic journey is ALL about.

Being at Ghost Ranch and experiencing the places that Georgia O’Keeffe loved so much brought me back to my first encounter with her so many years ago and made me realize how much that one chance encounter with the artist and woman who was O’Keeffe influenced the artist and woman I am today. I just want to say, “Thank-you, Georgia.”

Happy Painting!