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.

We’re all in this together…

“The creative act is not formed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act.”

Marcel Duchamp

This quote I ran across reminded me of the recent discussion we’ve had here about showing your work to others or not.

I know that I am always fascinated to see how different people can look at the same piece and have such different reactions and experiences. It’s not just whether they like it or not, but why they do or don’t, what they see in a piece, what it makes them feel or think about, what experiences they’ve had that it reminds them of. I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of being completely surprised at how someone reacts to one of our pieces and that invariably at least slightly changes how we perceive it.

When people react so differently to the same piece the difference obviously is in them. So it makes me wonder exactly what inherent quality or value is in the work without being observed by others. There is, of course, my relationship to the piece. But as it is shared with others, it is evolving, projecting it’s “inner qualifications” into the world, becoming something different than it would have been tucked away in my drawer.

I’ll keep repeating this to myself as I welcome hundreds of people to my studio next month for our Open Studio event…


“Don’t wait for inspiration. It comes while one is working.”

– Henri Mattise

What is inspiration?
How do we find it?
How does it differ from impulse?
Is it necessary to be inspired to make good art?
Is it something that we can create or do we have to wait for it?

Artists want to feel inspired. We don’t always feel we are. Maybe most of the time we feel we aren’t. We look for the telltale signs – we’re excited about something, we feel the need to create, our attention is focused, there is a “quickening of all man’s faculties” (Puccini).

Many of the great artists I’ve read about second the sentiment Matisse expresses above – you have to keep going, keep working, even when you do not feel inspired. Somehow that process invites inspiration, or at least allows it to occur. I find that the more I expose myself to art, whether by doing it or seeing it, the more the opportunity for inspiration occurs. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed, humbled or intimidated by the excellence of others, but eventually those contracted emotions subside and I can step into the creative stream whose shore I’ve been standing on.

Inspiration can be initiated from something outside of us, or from inside. My favorite work has been done when I felt inspired – I can’t think of much I like that was done when I was in the inspirational doldrums. Sometimes what I create when inspired doesn’t satisfy me either. I usually don’t doubt the inspiration but rather my ability to process it properly. This is a frustrating feeling, as it feels like an opportunity lost.

Sometimes in retrospect I realize I wasn’t really inspired but rather was acting on impulse. Some new idea intrigued me and I went with it, but these impulses usually die out quickly. It’s clear that it wasn’t true inspiration, it didn’t have “legs” and my poor results weren’t due to lack of technique or execution.

I think true inspiration is a particularly individual event. It’s one which is a result of our efforts and some good luck and, when it occurs, is a current that we should ride for as long as we can. It’s one of the ways in which we can truly feel alive. The chance to feel inspired may be one of the main reasons we seek to create art.

The Dark Side of Art

“I like the idea of blank spaces and that they get filled. I also like blank spaces that are allowed to be. Some kind of creative tension arises from the nothingness.”

– Sandra Geller

In my figurative work I like to use black empty space as a counterpoint for the human form. Some have remarked that they don’t care for the large negative spaces, but I like the way these figures seem to emerge, chiseled from the dark. If the figure is in repose, as in this case, a feeling of stillness results for me. If the figure is in movement, the contrast of the light and color against the black exaggerates the dynamics of the motion. These are the two extremes my photographic work attempts to convey – stillness or dynamic motion. The in-between is of less interest to me. Black is the perfect partner for each.

How have you used black in your paintings or photography and why?