MY ART PRACTICE – INSIGHTS & CONFUSIONS OF A WORKING ARTIST
Many artists will claim they never get enough time in their studio or at their art practice. I am definitely one of them. We all only get 24 hours a day. Time is finite. So every second you can steal to be in the studio gets turned into a ‘mission to be productive’. I know many artists and students who feel the same way. It’s almost like we suck all the joy out of ‘art making’ and convert it into a failure of efficiency.
I do it all the time. This year I am trying really hard to just ‘create’ and understand what I can learn from it, and what discoveries reveal themselves. I’ll call it an ‘incubation’ period. What this means is, I start a lot of works and let them grow. For my ideas, I call it ‘brewing’. I have a couple of experiments happening at the moment and a lot of stuff ‘on the pot’.
The thing with experiments is that they usually result in ‘what not to do’. When studio time is precious (when isn’t it?), you really have to practice having an open mindset and letting yourself have time to experiment. I think this is what a lot of gurus mean when they talk about a ‘fear of failure’. Not my words, but using the time you have to create and being ok for it ‘not to work’ is a big ask.
Coming from someone who likes to be super productive, it’s a pretty risky leap. Taking your precious time and using it up on materials and minutes in order to prove that it was a bad idea all along takes practice. Being prepared to accept that it might not work, is a risk that only the brave dare tread.
Bravery takes time and a whole lot of brain power. That little voice in your head will keep telling you to stop wasting time. It’s part of the reason we get so frustrated when things don’t turn out how we expected. With my red headed cattitude aways laying just under the surface, I’ll be the first one to admit that my frustration is directed straight at my own inner voice. Why, because it’s a bully, and it’s always telling me I just wasted time. I want to yell back at it… ‘so who asked you anyway?’ Instead, I will grumble around saying I never have enough time.
It takes confidence and commitment to keep at it when you just can’t see any immediate results. It is this quality that I admire in so many others … that there are a million reasons why you shouldn’t do it, but you just kept at it. I look to Bertrand Russell’s words when he said … ‘The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.’
The challenge is to remind yourself (and your own inner voice) that it is an important, vital part of your practice. The challenge is to let yourself enjoy it while you’re doing it, and tell that little voice in your head to go take a hike for an hour or two.
Practicing your practice
My realisation is that I never realised how much practice it takes to work at ‘your practice’! When I finally let go of my productive brain, I am reminded how delightful it is just to paint. It allows me to focus and really connect to my colours and materials. And that is why I loved painting in the first place. It’s the very reason I have come to value an escape to an art workshop or art residency. It’s a bit like a fast track locator ….. it centres you and it helps you stop worrying about what it’s all meant to be. It makes you focus on what is right in front of you. You get to dive deep into unknown territory and the joy is finding your way out, when you had no plan in the first place. It let’s you know that you are exactly in the place you are meant to be.
You get to lose yourself in your work. And like getting lost anywhere, you don’t account for your journey, you don’t always have to explain how you got there. Often you just don’t know. It’s the discoveries that you make, the events you encounter on the way that make the experience a worthy one. They don’t always have to be articulated in words. Usually it’s a subtle shift in your process, or a feeling of a brushstroke that you recognised that worked. More often than not, you have nothing to show for it.
Similar to a yoga class, there are moments along the way that were extremely painful or satisfyingly blissful. Mostly it was your commitment that got you through it. The reward comes after the event, maybe even years later. Gradually you learn that you will feel better for doing it. Gradually you understand the benefits will snowball into a better practice. It’s the discipline that creates the habit of showing up. The maturity and respect for your craft is developed when you understand that there will not always be immediate results, when you ache more after than before, when you will feel like it is a waste of time. But you know that the only way to get better is to keep going.
One of my favourite ‘go to’ gurus when I need a little ‘quote support’ in the creativity field is Austin Kleon. In his latest book he addresses this very fact. He even named the book KEEP GOING>
He suggests lots of ways to hang in there when it’s hard to stay creative. Perhaps one of the major threads I like about his words and collection of quotes are the constant reminders about the need to ‘check out’ in order to pay attention to your craft. Take naps, make lists, look up and go for a walk are just some of his tips for keeping creative. They all seem like such easy things to do in theory but they all require us to be risk takers. You have to let go of all the other things in order to have space for the new. That, I find the most challenging.
I have to give myself a stern mentoring session on this a lot. It’s all about dropping the ‘productivity’. When talking to myself I need reminding that the joy of ‘discovery’ and the ‘new’ can’t happen if you plan every minute of the day. What I need to plan is more ‘spaces’. Spaces to think, look and experiment.
And so the below are not works in the making, just snippets of something happening. I can’t guarantee they will turn into anything but I’m going to practice enjoying making them no matter what!
Want some help escaping to help kick start your creativity?
Sketch, my in-house art critic taking the ‘adventuring’ a little too literally in the studio!
This blog focuses on my studio practice. How I go about my art, what I use and the challenges I encounter. My initial aim is that it offers some insight into the life of a practicing artist and some useful tips for other creatives. In hindsight I think it may help me more that others. The self reflection about what you do can uncover some sloppy habits and manic moments. Maybe it’s my self therapy? As an artist we spend a lot of time in our heads. This blog will expose my thoughts, focus points and revelations. I can’t guarantee it will all be pretty or insightful, but I’m inviting you to join the ride anyway … strap yourself in for a seat on THE GINGERNUT EXPRESS!
To those lovely folks who have heard me bang on about some of these topics before I send my apologies. It is sure to happen again as I bang on a lot!
The Gingernut Express is a monthly blog, written and produced by Visual Artist and Arts Educator, Kristine Ballard on www.kristineballard.com
© Kristine Ballard 2019