Beginnings and Endings


Graffitix, 9 x 9″ acrylics, ink

“Genius begins great works; labor alone finishes them.”

– Joseph Joubert

Do you feel excited when finishing a painting? Do you feel like you are in the grip of a creative impulse? How would you compare your feelings, emotions, state of mind at the end of the painting process to what they are when you start a piece?

If you are like me, they tend to be very different. When you start a piece, something has probably inspired you to take a particular direction. There are many possibilities ahead of you, nothing is beyond your reach. You are in the full embrace of your creative potential. By the time you are nearing the end of a piece, so many choices have been made, almost all of the possibilities eliminated. Perhaps the original inspiration has been lost along the way. Maybe you are already thinking about the next piece and don’t feel very motivated to put more time into this one, even though you feel it needs … something else.

It is hard work to finish a piece. Whatever experience you’ve had getting to this point is with you and that may be tinged with disappointment, bewilderment or frustration. And then there is the figuring out of when to stop – it’s so easy to stop short of what is necessary or to continue on well past that point.

As Joubert says, this is where the hard work occurs, often without benefit of the support of the creative spark that got you started. But we must cross that finish line each and every time, if only to be able to start the next piece. There’s always another painting waiting for us.

Anxiously Awaiting You


Urban Sunrise, 9 x 9″ Acrylics & Ink

“But the artist who is more interested in creating deeply than in ridding herself of anxiety will refuse to know too soon.”

– Eric Maisel

In his fascinating book, Fearless Creating, Eric Maisel talks about the necessity for the artist to invite in and deal appropriately with anxiety. While not dealing properly with anxiety at any stage of the creative process can create a block, refusing to allow anxiety in at all dries up the creative juices. You probably know this double-edged sword well – if everything feels too comfortable and familiar, you likely aren’t feeling at your creative peak.

One of the ways that we control our anxiety is through knowledge – when I’m trying to explore new territory with my art, there is a definite feeling of anxiety caused by not knowing what I’m doing. It’s easy to fall back on familiar techniques, styles, mediums, etc. Sometimes at the end of a session I’m confronted by work that isn’t at all what I intended to do and looks alarmingly reminiscent of past work. I fall into the trap of wanting to know too soon what I am doing in order to relieve the anxiety inherent in not knowing.

Albert Camus said in his last published lecture, Create Dangerously:

“On the edge of where the great artist moves forward, every step is an adventure,
an extreme risk. In that risk, however, and only there, lies the freedom of art.”

I’m often aware of the delicious tension I feel inside between the anxiety that pushes my creativity and the anxiety that stalls my creativity. I’m constantly doing things to tap into the former while also avoiding the latter. The space between these two states is where the freedom Camus talks about exists. It’s where I feel the most alive and energized and where I do my best work.

Your Artistic Path


Crimson Angel, 9 x 11″ Acrylic

“If the path before you is clear, you’re probably on someone else’s.”

– Joseph Campbell

How oddly reassuring.

As artists we all struggle with knowing if we’re on the right path. There are usually obstacles looming ahead of us on that path – bumps we stumble over, forks we are stymied by, hills we tire of climbing, forests which block the light of day so we cannot see.

Surely we must eventually reach a point on the path where it is suddenly clear sailing. And, indeed, when someone else looks at our path, they often claim to be able to reach higher ground, from which they can see where our path is leading us with great clarity. They are eager to describe where we should go. I certainly have done so for others.

We can become frustrated with our path and impatient to have it cleared ahead of us. But we have to find our own way – what makes it our path, and thus our art, are the very difficulties we encounter and engage with.

So the next time I run into something on the artistic path that I don’t understand I will know that the next steps I take are surely my own and are taking me where only I can go.

In Defense of Hope


Tropical Deconstruction, 6 x 6″ monoprint

“As artists our job is to keep the faith and help humankind to remember beauty and thus the promise of happiness. Our work defends hope, the most precious homeland for any soul.”

– Todd Plough

I love everything about this quote.

It says that what artists do matters. That notion may be hard to accept, may seem arrogant or self-indulgent. If we don’t believe that what we do matters, however, it is hard to keep the creative juices flowing. It is important to accept that our work matters, not just to us, but to others.

This job we have that matters is to help others “remember beauty”, a simple phrase that reveals that it is not easy to remember beauty all the time, especially in these days of uncertainty. But beauty is one of the harbingers of happiness. When we see something beautiful it inspires happiness in us. Creating beautiful things and sharing them with others keeps the “promise of happiness” alive for them.

Our work defends hope by offering others opportunities to observe beauty and to experience the happiness that arises. As we struggle to understand the meaning of or motivation for our artistic activities, the simple nobility of this offering to others ensures that what we do does matter.

Art – It’s Not What You Think


“The thing made is a work of art made by art, but not itself art. The art remains in the artist and is the knowledge by which things are made.”

Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy

It’s an intriguing thought to view art as not the work itself but the means by which the work is created. Art becomes something much more complex and interesting – the various internal forces within you that enable you to produce the “work of art”. Even “work of art”  takes on a new meaning – the piece created is the work of the art within you.

This makes the answer to “what is art?” take on a much more personal meaning – instead of looking outward and saying this piece is art and that piece is not, we instead turn inward and look for the measure of the art there. Art becomes much more than technique, composition or style – it is the unique combination of experience, intention, insight and creativity that only you have. Art becomes inseparably intertwined with the life force within you.

“The art remains in the artist” – I can think of no better companion.

What Isn’t There…


“Don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there.”

– Miles Davis

It’s all too easy to play what’s there – to take another photograph, paint a painting, write a story, compose a song, much like the ones you’ve done before. There are lots of reasons to do so – creating a consistent body of work, improving one’s skills through practice, recreating a past success, fear of making a mess.

It takes lots of imagination, courage and discipline to “play what’s not there”. To take the next step and create something new is exciting, seductive, frustrating, uncomfortable – and ultimately very rewarding.

I’ve been focusing lately on some abstract acrylic paintings – my intention to stick with non-representational work makes it a little more difficult to “play what’s there” since I’m not trying to make it look like anything else. During the period when I was doing landscapes in pastels, I found I was focusing on improving technique and much less on being creative. The explicit nature of the subject matter weighed me down. My focus was more outward.

When painting non-representationally I find myself listening to the pieces more. I start a piece and put it aside, come back and sit with it, trying to understand where it wants to go next. Since there are no external landmarks to direct me, the marks I’ve made so far must be my guides. I enjoy these private conversations immensely.

Some new work…

I’m going to start posting the occasional abstract painting on the blog. Currently my artistic focus is on the figurative photography and monoprinting I’ve been regularly posting. In addition, I’ve been working periodically on some abstract works using Sumi ink, watercolor, acrylic, stamps and pastel. I must admit that I find this work challenging and most of what I end up with doesn’t work for me. Some of this is poor technique and some of it is that it is just darn hard to compose an abstract piece that hangs together. And then there’s the age old question of when to stop. I tend to end up with no paper white left, which almost always means I did way too much.

The good news is that some of the pieces that “don’t work” end up being integrated into the figurative photography where the demands on the painting are perhaps less as it becomes an element that simply has to work with something else.

I think ultimately if I had my druthers, I would concentrate on this type of work but, so far, my success rate with it is not there. So, more hard work trying to get a little more consistent. The usual remedy for an artist when they are struggling.

By the way, just out of curiosity I looked up where the word “druthers” comes from – looks like it is a contraction of the phrase “would rather”. Well, I would rather do this type of art!