the White Canvas.
No I havn’t started on a minimalist series…but after a question from a student I have been thoughtful about my inspiration & creative process.
It can be pretty daunting – staring at that blank space. Wondering if your idea, skills, technique and doodlings can justify the demise of that virginal surface. Wondering if your vision will become the potential masterpiece you envisage. The one you see in your head. Kind of. Sometimes. There is no guarantee. “White: a blank page or canvas. His favorite – so many possibilities.” Stephen Sondheim on George Seurat.
Best advice?…just start. Make a mark. Make a mess. Dent the new car and get it over with. We tend to get very precious about a clean canvas. It holds us back and makes us hesitate. I find it helps to have several standing by – so that this painting is only part of a larger series. Like groups of product displayed in a store – multiples create a sense of economy. it doesn’t feel quite so special or precious.
A student recently asked “do you ever get well into a big painting and finally realize it is just not working – and scrap the whole thing?” I had to think seriously about it. I can’t think that I have ever done that. Had to question why – why not? Am I so arrogant to imagine that everything I do is worthy of keeping, showing, selling? It was kind of disturbing. But then I thought about my own creative process.
I think of the creative process as a series of choices. The artist is inspired by something. They have supplies, tools, materials on hand. The final composition or format, scale or perspective is is a matter of choices along the way. Bright colors – muted colors. Keep it simple – make it detailed. The hardest part sometimes is knowing/choosing when to stop. The habits of paint application that we develop, the marks that we feel comfortable making are unique – but we choose to revise or accentuate certain aspects.
This ongoing, endless choosing becomes a painting “practice”. A signature treatment of paint, color or subject view. Our “style” is the culmination of all those choices becoming a constant. A recognizable, original combination of elements – repeated over and over. I can paint a flowerpot or a catherdral…and viewers know that it is my work. My mark making has a strong, recognizable thing about it. Never ceases to amaze me.
The other amazing thing…put a dozen artists in a room, looking at the same subject, giving them all the same materials…and no two results will be the same. All based on the choices they made. Sometimes conscious decisions – sometimes intuitive. I believe most intuituve choices are usually a result of practice & habits. They have done it so many times they don’t even realize that it is a practiced choice they constantly make.
The most creative expressive moments happen there. When you feel so confortable with your materials & precess, the works just seems to flow out of your hand. There are works that I have done that I hardly recall making. I was in that “zone”.
You have to have some confidence in your choices to EVER put brush to painting – but the better you know your subject & materials (testing, experimenting, reviewing results) the more spontaneous and direct your choices can be – made in the moment.
Sometimes the materials themselves choose another direction for me. Layers of glazes that glow, dark backgrounds underlying opaque strokes and stippled textures. I believe this is where some abstract painters go. In love with the surface, the mark making and process – without the constraints of a representational subject.
Must try that some time ;-)
For now I am so enamoured with the world at large.
The light, the color, the shapes – and all the spaces in between.