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Reminding yourself of what’s important

June 29, 2016

collage-Triangle in a BoxI am a victim of my insatiable desire to gather information. As a result, I have subscribed to several online art coaches, artist blogs, and many online organizations for artists (educational, social, and market oriented), not to mention several special interest groups on Facebook. I save tons of “stuff” in folders on my computer to get back to it later…because I rarely have the time or the inclination to pay attention at the moment of intersection.

And here’s what I am thinking: the reason I am stuck sometimes is that there are too many choices, and too many sources of juicy information that I simply cannot process all of them. Those burgeoning folders on my hard drive are very similar to my non-digital overflowing closets. That “stuff” never really goes away. Instead it waits patiently for me—I simply add it to the amount I drag around mentally every day, thinking “I should have a look at that.” Hmmm. It’s not just about painting or making art…it’s linked to a desire to tap into expertise or knowledge outside of my own. But the kicker is that I am overwhelmed by the amount.

I need to apply a filter and make a decision on how much I want to let in. Otherwise I’m constantly surfing for knowledge nuggets or creative stimuli and I’m never digging deeper into ideas or developing my own sensibility before I have been influenced by all of those outside sources.  So, I’m spending time selectively UNSUBSCRIBING and UN-MEMBERING.

I think I have figured out:

Trust my own wisdom (maybe figure it out first). Find my own rhythm. Find my own speed. Limit outside influences. Legitimize my own process.


Here’s an interesting book by William Powers about disconnecting or filtering digital input:

image of the book, Hamlet's Blackberry

Making your mark and then some

February 16, 2016

Color bars and blocks 6I’m thinking about markmaking and how unique each of us is in the way that we do it. Scribbling in itself is a great form of release. Watch children do it and see how much joy they take in making marks of any kind, without aiming for representation.  If you’re stuck, doing several fast “scribbles” on smaller pieces of paper with ink or pencil can be very freeing—it bypasses your critic and need for a purpose and allows your right brain to play.


As for me, I love making marks on canvas, paper, or anywhere else I can introduce an element of spontaneous drawing into a piece. These are not attempts to represent real letters, numbers, words, or objects. It sounds odd, but I look at it as a form of note-taking…as if I am a life scientist observing life and documenting it in a kind of large scale, visual journaling that doesn’t quite tap into known language or recognizable forms. It’s a hint at something just beyond understanding, as if I’m trying to make sense from visual residue rather than wordy content or clear pictures. I think the act of making marks (that dance of ink, graphite, paint on canvas) corresponds to an appreciation of, or a notation of, a moment in time.

Marks from an old (really old) drawing, and details from some current paintings:


Words (another love of mine) that seem to be floating in and around the process of making marks:







That’s where my mind and brush are headed at the moment.


Little ideas becoming something bigger

December 1, 2015

One of the colored pencil drawings from the Mandala seriesI think of little visual ideas as puzzle parts: put them together in the right combination and they can coalesce into something bigger.  In other words, playing with different kinds of lines on a small scale (thick, thin, broken, dark, light, etc.) in my sketchbook might pair up with patterns that I like (checks, stripes, waves, etc.), which might then join up with some shapes and colors to suggest a bigger conglomerate piece. In a way it’s like mind mapping, where you can brainstorm to help ideas evolve.

Start with one notion, create some relationships, and BINGO—you’re on your way to something that has your attention. And it’s not just about using visual puzzle pieces. You can also use your sketchbook (whatever that looks like) to record written observations, dialogue, quotes, thumbnails of artwork that catch your attention. All of these bits and pieces allow you to immerse yourself in process and play. Who knows where that might lead??

Twyla Tharp, the dancer, says this in her book The Creative Habit:book cover for The Creative Habit

The first steps of a creative act are like groping in the dark: random and chaotic, feverish and fearful, and a lot of busy-ness with no apparent or definable end in sight. There is nothing yet to research…. You can’t just dance or paint or write or sculpt. Those are just verbs. You need a tangible idea to get you going. The idea, however minuscule, is what turns the verb into a noun – paint into a painting, sculpt into sculpture, write into writing. dance into a dance.



Some time ago, I challenged myself to do a series of small drawings (each about 5 in. by 5 in.) with colored pencils. I wanted to see how many patterns I could create using templates that I designed and printed from my computer. I called it the Mandala Series. I discovered that I really do love patterns…and a lot of them now pop up in my larger pieces. I have to admit, though, that most of my work looks nothing like these.  Funny…

All of the Mandala drawings

Treat yourself to an alter ego

September 8, 2015

Layered RealmSo if writers can adopt a nom de plume, artists can do something similar with an alter ego, can’t they? Instead of trying to work in a consistent style and staying true to your “brand” ALL of the time, take a break and do something outside your usual approach to artmaking. Adopt an alter ego to create something without the usual limitations!

Dean Nimmer, author of Creating Abstract Art, says:

…I confess, I have an alter ego napost18-Nimmer's book covermed Unique Fredrique and I’m glad I do! My Unique personality comes from my insatiable drive to create without being bound by the conventional norms of what is acceptable picture making for a serious painter. Of course, anytime you start thinking about what your audience might say about your work, you’re already in trouble.

Unique F. even has his own Etsy site.

What a great idea—to give yourself permission to have fun and create with complete abandon. And to take it even further and provide a venue for your alter ego to show his/her work.

Here are a couple pieces that my alter ego produced (painting right over old paintings):

Alter ego pieces

What about branding?

August 21, 2015

A little oil pastel from my sketchbook

A little oil pastel from my sketchbook

There is a lot of great advice available to artists for developing a brand. Some examples:

Cultivating Your Brand as an Artist

How to Create a Strong Brand for Yourself and Your Art    

What Picasso Knew

The Brand of You

A big part of branding is having a consistent style—to make it easier for a gallery to market your work, perhaps to make it easier for collectors to recognize your work, and as a way to stay committed to and focused on an approach to making your art that has a recognized audience. Some would argue that pursuing a consistent style forces you, as an artist, to work through problems that ultimately improve your work.

I haven’t quite wrapped my head or my paintbrush around this concept. I think because it flies in the face of the creative base from which art is made. Creativity isn’t necessarily about being consistent. It’s more about exploring, imagining, and testing ideas. I do understand the importance of a consistent style for marketing and finding buyers/collectors, but I don’t think having consistency as a goal supports the adventure.

I put together a little snapshot (a few pieces) of the continuum of my adventure so far, chronological, but a range of media and sizes. I like to think that I am the “consistency” in the work. I would say spend half your time being consistent and the other half exploring ideas, different media, and different styles. You can sneak them into your consistent style.

Starting from 8 years ago

From eight years ago to about six years ago: more representational oils to abstract acrylic washes…

Moving toward more abstract

Around five years ago to three years ago: love of red, mandalas, and tape…

Ending with my most recent work

Two years ago to the present, black and white checks, mark-making, and number portraits…

Overstimming and indulging in artistic headbanging

July 23, 2015
Canyon Walls - oil pastel on paper from my sketchbook

Canyon Walls – oil pastel on paper from my sketchbook

Do you remember the old movie about the newly-created robot who constantly said, “Need input, Stephanie, need input”? (Short Circuit, I think). I believe that we, as humans, will always seek more input—but when do we contemplate the input we have already accumulated? Or are we just on a path of overstimulation so that we are just caught up in stuff streaming by, and we don’t attempt to make any sense of it? Like playing video games on our iPads or phones for hours, following Facebook, or watching TV that begins to substitute for real life.

So where or how does that reflect the making of art? I wonder whether, as artists, we begin to apply that same propensity for distraction to artmaking (too many art self-help books?).

We forget to go back to the core—our internal, basic reason for making this stuff in the first place. So my suggestion is to tune out so you can tune in…to your own underlying interests. Explore them and develop them into something that satisfies on a core level. Limit the number of new techniques, new products, and exposure to other artists and see what comes up (or out).

Free Flight

Free Flight

18 x 25, mixed media on paper

The artist block bandaid

July 3, 2015
Oil pastel from artist's sketchbook

Oil pastel from my sketchbook–just playing with patterns and boxes

I don’t think you can stick other artists’ solutions for artist block, ennui, lack of creative juice on to your own artist’s skin like bandaids. Your strategies have to become your own. But others’ ideas and suggestions can create a pathway to get out of the lost territory when you are running in circles or at a dead stop, disoriented. Try some writing (yup—not “arting”). Finding some words to describe where you’re at might stimulate some ideas of where you want to go in your art practice. Writing can be a break-out, a great “unplug.”

If you’re not into writing sentences, try using some mind mapping software (lots of free choices online). You can create a “map” of your ideas and thoughts that becomes a graphic representation. Word associations, ideas that spawn new threads—all of them can be included on a mind map chart. It is a very quick way to brainstorm your way out of a corner!

Quick mind map exploring a series on treesHere’s a quickie mind map I did in just a few minutes with MindMup to outline some ideas I have for an ongoing series on trees–one that I have been working on, here and there, for several years. This software allows you to insert images into each node, which is great for visual artists! …one little drawback if you want to use this software for free; you can only store your map online. I used Google Drive since I store a bunch of other stuff that way. There are lots of other free options to try.

Break the rules?

April 9, 2015

Woven triangles

“Woven Triangles” – oil pastel from my sketchbook

I have always wondered about the rules for making art. Here are some I’ve been taught (and used):

  • Use energetic, thick/thin, broken lines to suggest strong emotion; light, elusive lines to suggest delicacy and tentativeness.
  • Use complementary hues in unequal amounts (a main color and an accent) to make colors “pop” on a canvas.
  • Create a focal point in a painting so that somebody viewing it knows what’s important and doesn’t get confused about where to look.
  • Create a path (e.g., zigzag, diagonal, cruceiform) through the composition so viewers can get “in” and “out.”
  • Vary the size and kinds of shapes, along with the treatment of their edges, to create more visual interest.
  • etc.

As useful as rules can be, it’s always tempting, and equally useful, to break them. That process of considering and breaking rules can result in new challenges and in new interpretations of why and how to make art. What would happen if you followed anti-rules for awhile?

No expectations

March 8, 2015

Doodling in black and whiteI started with no expectations, and I got so caught up in playing with black and white (my last post) that I’m still at it—a good reason to look through old work or your sketchbook to revisit ideas. At the very least, more exploring might be in order.

One of the things I like about dividing space on paper with tape is that it is rich with possibilities for interpretation. I’m drawn to Diebenkorn’s  Ocean Park series, and these little black/white vignettes that I make suggest architecture or the reduction of buildings to mere intersections of their components, much like Diebenkorn’s paintings and drawings reduce the landscape to its basic geometry…not that these aspire to Diebenkorn heights.

Work from Richard Diebenkorn

Two works from Richard Diebenkorn: Ocean Park and an untitled Ocean Park drawing

I started with paper (300 lb. watercolor paper, around 8 x 9 inches) that had several coats of white gesso, followed by taped off sections that I covered with black gesso. To that I added more tape to create divisions, then white and gray gesso. I like the randomness of taping without a template or plan. It creates wonderful surprises.

Beginning with tape...

Once I pull off the tape, I sand the surface so it adds a bit of erosion or wear. I’m going to finish with some collage elements and then mount these on panels. I like the starkness of the gray/black/white palette and the way the shapes divide up the space.

Black and white studies, painted with gesso


Re-investing in an idea

February 20, 2015

Sketching some ideas about triangles

Sketching some ideas about triangles


Lots of ideas are floating around (a plug here for storing ideas in a sketchbook to be retrieved when the doldrums hit), but nothing is really getting me going. So I think it’s a good idea to do something that I like just to play, to get myself back into “artmaking headspace.”

Normally I work in layers with organic shapes, but I painted three geometric pieces awhile back when I was stuck and wanted to do something different. Here’s one of the three:

"Red" black/white/gray gesso, acrylic on paper 9x32

“Red”; black/white/gray gesso; acrylic on paper; 9×32


…fun to tape off sections and just start building patterns by painting with gray, black, or white gesso. The red acrylic was a little accent that I added last. Since I had some small squares of the same paper, I used basically the same process to play around, but with more random alignment of shapes within each small square:

Two studies based on earlier series; black/white/gray gesso on paper; each piece is 7.5×7.5 


Sanded surface of small study, to create more textural interest

Sanded surface of small study, to create more textural interest

These looked more interesting to me than the first set…so I took the idea a bit further and started sanding the surface after painting so it would not be so tidy. Here’s are two of the small squares, one with the addition of a collage piece:

I’ll work on these some more and see where they go…

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