Gettin’ in the Groove
These studio updates are a new addition to the blog. They are an opportunity for me to share a little with you about my personal practice as an artist: what I’m working on in the studio, surprises, discoveries, etc.
September was a difficult busy month. I was faced with the challenge of getting back into a routine after a summer on the move. Did my mind and body ever resist! Staring at the blank canvas, I felt the equivalent of writer’s block: I had bunch of different ideas but no clue where to start. That inner frenzy threatened to result in procrastination.
What was really driven home for me this autumn was the idea of taking action. I had to throw myself into making my artwork. There was no perfect plan. Just starting is what mattered. Once I had made a move, I had something to respond to, and the painting could evolve from there, slowly, imperfectly, but far better than doing nothing. I had to take the pressure off myself to make a ‘good’ painting and see the act of painting itself, merely putting marks on the canvas, as a success. What a relief it was to shift my perspective!
I did a few abstract mixed media collages on paper, working rapidly and intuitively, to get back into the habit of thinking visually.
From there, I started with a vague idea of doing a figurative painting, not from observation but from imagination and sketches, evoking some sense of the unconscious or a deep, dream-like space. At first the figures were fairly defined, but as the painting progressed, I became interested in pushing the body to the point where it starts to break down and become ambiguous, almost unidentifiable. Letting go of a ‘plan’ and the need to control the painting allowed me to get involved in it in another way: I become curious to see how the painting would grow and change.
I’m still working on resolving it to a finished state, but it has opened up new avenues of exploration for me.
I’ve also been working on figure painting studies from life (the model). Lately, I’ve felt the urge to break away from the way I’ve been painting the figure up until now. I’m becoming less concerned with detail and more interested in suggestion, as well as with loose, bold brushstrokes. It’s hard to avoid falling back into my old habits, the familiar ‘path of least’ resistance. I’ve mostly been unsuccessful. I know that it’s just a question of practice. I have to let go of the outcome and fully embrace the idea of making mistakes (which happen no matter what anyway).
I know for sure that the same methods will always give the same results. That’s why I’ve had an idea for a challenge for next month: deliberately set out to make a bad painting and see what happens. Are you up for it?
I did a quick expressionist self-portrait in acrylic paint that was satisfying, not so much in the result, as in the fact that I resisted the temptation to do anything more than was necessary. I was pleased with the quick freshness of the approach. It said everything it needed to with an economy of brushstrokes.
My other focus outside the art studio has been on improving my mind-body health. Artists often neglect things like exercise and fresh air. There have been times when I’ve been so intently working in the studio that I forget to drink or repress the need to pee for hours. I’m trying to be more mindful of my body’s signals. I’ve incorporated morning walks or jogs into my routine. It was really hard at first, but I’ve found that this helps to ground me and make me more focused during the day. I’m now working on building the habit of doing yoga once or twice a week.
I’ve also been listening to more music in the studio to keep me in the groove. I used to listen to audiobooks and podcasts quite a bit, which I still do occasionally, but I’ve found they can be distracting. Sometimes I need to switch off my rational mind. With the colder weather and shorter days, I’ve found that music keeps me energized and gives a boost to my mood. I’m presently on the lookout for songs, artists or albums to help me create an awesome playlist, so please send me your suggestions.
Artist I’ve been looking at lately: Cecily Brown, Peter Doig, Grace Hartigan.
What I’m listening to: Simon & Garfunkel, Leonard Cohen, Emily Haines & the Soft Skeleton.
Making my studio cozy: A kettle and a box of ginger tea.
What about you?
Signing off for now…