MY STUDIO PRACTICE – INSIGHTS & CONFUSIONS OF A WORKING ARTIST
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!
It is rare that any working artist feels completely confident in what they are doing. I am one of them. For many a creative, we live in a world of self doubt, constantly questioning whether we are taking the right approach, using the right materials, the right method or the right process, to get the outcome we are aiming for.
If you teach art, you will tell your students that there is no ‘right way’ to do something, that sometimes those failed attempts (I tell my students to call them ‘features’, not failures or mistakes), will be the making of them.
Problem is, as a practicing artist, it is easy to forget what you preach to others and let the negative; lack of sales, understanding of your work and expenses to create it, outweigh the reason you create in the first place.
Artists have a great talent for making feel bad about being an artist. All creative people do. If you were a rational person, being creative just doesn’t pay There are a million reasons why you shouldn’t do it!
The problem is, if creativity is in your bones, you just can’t help it. You’re a creative addict. We need our creative fix as much as we need to breath.
Creativity is like all addictions – it costs you money, it makes you feel obsessed most of the time. But you do it because you know when you get that 5% high how good it feels. It’s that one break through drawing after one thousand duds, that beautiful sentence after two novels of crap, that one poetic lyric after a notebook of half written songs, that one dance move that elevated the audience after years of agonising warm ups, rehearsals and rejected auditions.
Brett Whitely said it best in the brilliant documentary ‘Difficult Pleasures’. Creating any kind of ‘art’ is a difficult pleasure – to those who don’t create it seems an indulgent pleasure, for those that ‘do’, they will be the first to admit the path is difficult, filled with self doubt. Creative freedom for a practicing artist is an illusion. That realisation is the transition from hobby artist to professional. Professionals are all working on the ‘crazy genius’ method … we have just upped the ‘crazy’, and the genius (we hope), might come later.
I love the ‘Life of a Project’ Austin Kleon describes in his book ‘Steal Like an Artist’
This graph illustrates the artistic process from beginning to end. Well at least what’s going on in our head. It’s full of excitement, potential, deflation and confrontation. We spend a lot of time evaluating our worth, or better still, our worthiness to do this creative stuff, that, in the end might amount to nothing.
So it is best if we hang out with those who understand us. Those with the same creative addictions. Those who understand that you can’t go to dinner because you have to buy paint, those who understand that you don’t actually like wasting time doing nothing when there are artworks to create. And those who don’t understand how you can ever be bored … when you are so full of ideas you can’t sleep!
Perhaps what we creative addicts need is a reclassification of title? Let’s change the word ‘addict’ to PASSION? If someone is passionate about something we admire their drive, self motivation and ability to persist despite the odds. Addictions make you subservient, passions inspire others. All the creative folks I have encountered have always inspired me through their sheer perseverance to continue on.
I love the quote Art Historian, Robert Hughes made to describe why artists are so full of doubt…
My husband has a great saying… that all of us need to ‘manufacture carrots’ in order to have direction and create focus. Like the carrot in front of the donkey, we all need incentives to keep us moving forward – our self imposed drive can consist of may things, be it a holiday, a new job, a fitter body or better art.
It doesn’t really matter what they are, it just matters that you have some. In the corporate world they might call them goals, laced with key performance indicators (kpi’s), but in the creative world it may not be so literal.
As an artist, there are always a million things you could improve or be better at. The trick is to not be so wound up about all of them at the same time. Give yourself just ONE problem (I prefer the word ‘challenge’), at a time. Take just one element you want to improve in your work, and if you come close, let that be the gauge of your progress. Dont let all the other things you want to improve spoil your experimentation. Review your work, create some bullet points and work on it. To the outside world, they may not understand why you agonise over such small issues, but as creators, we know it’s all in the details.
So as we head into the holiday break don’t forget to give yourself a break. Try not to focus on what you didn’t achieve and more on what breakthroughs you made in 2017.
Go manufacture some carrots for 2018. No one else needs to understand them. Your first move might even be to define the carrots. They can be as simple as embracing a new subject matter for your next creation.
So perhaps you can gift yourself some creative carrots this year? I hope they offer you some excitement about your creative development? It may be the cheapest and most rewarding gift of the season!
I’d love to hear about your carrots! Below is one of mine right now…
My carrot factory
Enough of the chatter, it’s time to practice what I preach! financially my last solo show was a complete disaster. I have never put so much work into a show. I had 28 artworks as well as art accessories. I have never put so much work into a show for so little return, but I did learn a lot about myself and my art.
In my process I did make some breakthroughs. My carrot was to create more space within my work, areas to breath and rest within an artwork surface.
I come from a graphic design background, where every millimetre has a dollar value and so my default is to fill every space with something. Alas, like good song writing, the listener/ viewer needs spaces to pause between the highlights. I tried to do this with the artworks in my last show.
While working on developing my painting style called ‘Fragmatism®’ my breakthrough artwork was ‘Meridian Tides’. Using thick and thin layers I was aspiring to create a transient floating location – a space more than a place. Creating ‘space’ in a work is seductive and incredibly challenging. I can never really be sure that the experiment succeeded, but it did feel different to paint. Painting quietness is a whole new zone for me. American artist, Mark Rothko knew it – giving viewers a space, a area in your artwork to create their own place makes you vulnerable. I am not at all comfortable with it, but at the same time I know it is an important progression.
It is comprised of a large aquatic vista, with multiple sea levels. I see smaller oceanscapes within the work. These I have made available as limited edition prints.
In this work I was trying to simplify, like a breath, just take a moment to ‘rest’ on a space. My in house critic, Sketch the art cat, is no help in review… I just get silence… perhaps that’s what it’s about …spaces … hang on … he may be onto something here?
Here’s a link to the complete work and one to the prints from the series.
My favourite products
Quick Dry For Oil Paintings by Krylon, is my new ‘Go to’ product. You can give your oil paint a spray and it will be touch dry the next day… a god send when working to a deadline. It also gives a great finish, really pulling out the colours.
Check out the product >
The Masters as my mentors … what TURNER taught me…
I have been reading about English artist, Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) and his watercolour notebooks. He taught me the power of using white and glazes. Pushing back sections of your painting can lead to a world of mystery and a multitude of interpretation- not such a bad thing – the blurred lines means your artwork can then be many things to the viewer
I used this technique in creating Meridian Tides. Check out more info on Turner’s notebooks here >
Meet Sketch, my studio art critic. He’s made appearances before on Facebook but this is his new gig! Once a month he gets to having have his say. He’s my little art buddy, who comes and visits the studio daily, sleeps on my sketches and gets annoyed by the paint smells.
He is great to talk through with my art problems and never says a bad word about my creations.
I called him Sketch, because, like all of us, we all start off as a Sketch. we are all a work in progress, all in need of a little refining!
“I am liking this ‘thick and thin paint Kristine is going on about in the new work. She spends far too much time on reworking things though – they always look just the same in the end (to me anyway). She should just save herself the agony and stop, reworking so much! Although it does give me good nap time in the studio – one of my favourite past times!”
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.
© Kristine Ballard 2017.