Friday, November 7, 2014

Stuck and don't know what to work on next?

November 7th, newsletter excerpt:

This week’s topic because it touches on something that probably most artists deal with at some point – the uncertainty of what to work on next.

Jackie, from somewhere out in internet land, wrote me an email detailing her situation. Here is an excerpt that reveals where she is at right now:

“Back in September I got real excited about setting aside time for my art. You wrote about this in the newsletter and I decided to go for it. So Wednesday night is my night. At first everything was terrific. I told people that Wednesday night was my art night and I scheduled it in. I looked forward to Wednesdays a lot.

The first few weeks I was busy settling in, organizing my work space, getting my stuff out from storage. Everything felt great. That didn’t last. My problem is I don’t know what to draw. I come up blank every week.

At first, I just avoided this by sorting and organizing some more. I have a very tidy work space now.
I picked up a book at the library and it freaked me out. I realized I really don’t know much about composition. I bought an art magazine and now I am even more confused. When I look at the art, I just can’t relate. The subject matter is either bizarre or so loaded with hidden meaning that I just don’t get it.

 I used to really like drawing and want to get back into it but I am completely stuck. I don’t have any idea on how to come up with art like I saw in the magazine. I know I need to practice my skills but I just don’t know what to draw. Maybe I don’t think like real artists do.”

Gosh we are so hard on ourselves aren’t we? Don’t you just want to give this woman a hug?! Consider yourself hugged Jackie. Seriously, receive a large dose of compassion here.

So maybe you are a bit like Jackie. You have hit a wall or you are feeling confused and maybe even a little down because you are sure you are not made of the stuff that ‘real’ artists are. Can I just say that we have all been there? Because we have. Welcome to the club! :-)

So first up, be really kind to yourself. Brew up your favourite tea and take a few deep breaths. Put on some lovely music. Everything is going to be okay...

Next, pat yourself on the back for giving this art thing a go. Jackie deserves lots of hefty pats as she not only made a terrific plan back in September, she executed it and she is still hanging in there despite hitting a serious rough patch. Here we are in November and rather than throw in the towel, Jackie is reaching out for some help.

I can often predict when a person is going to reach their art making goals simply by assessing their determination. One woman described it to me as being too stubborn to give up. Call it whatever you want, determination, perseverance or stubbornness, if you want it bad and you are willing to keep at it, you will be amazed at what is possible. I believe Jackie is someone who is going to make it!

So, what to draw??? Jackie, draw anything! Seriously, it is that simple. Get out of your head. Stop over thinking this. Stop putting so much pressure on yourself. Composition is something that you can worry about down the road. In the mean time just get back in the saddle and pick up your pencils. (I can tell you that you will naturally get better at composing pictures as you hone your drawing skills and you create drawings. It will come, just be patient. And the book knowledge that is scaring you will be there when you are ready to tackle it.)

The important thing here is that you spend your Wednesday nights re-connecting with what you find joyful in art making. Let’s get you back into drawing.

Subject matter – To get your feet wet, why not work fairly small, quick and simple?

I repeat, simple. Keep this simple.

Go to your kitchen, grab anything, an onion, a banana, an apple, a head of garlic, the salt and pepper shakers, a coffee mug, grab a fork.

How about a cherry and a spoon? :-)

Grab the candle and candle holder off of the dining room table. How about the cat’s favourite squeaky toy?

Want to draw fur? No problem, snap a pic of the cat’s leg and go practice fur and a paw (you don’t need to do the whole cat right now if you don’t want to).

Go to your closet and grab your favourite high heeled pumps or if you hate high heels, grab your running shoes instead or your favourite boots. Draw your watch, draw a lamp.

Grab a few marbles from the children’s play area (Ever notice how many coloured pencil artists draw marbles? Oodles do.) Grab some building blocks or some other toys.

Want to practice fabric folds? Go grab a bath towel and hang it from a hook or the back of a chair. Go for a walk and find a couple of leaves to draw.

If you think I am kidding with this list, I am not. This is how I started drawing. One Christmas holiday I drew the candle and candle holder that sat on my coffee table. I really enjoyed the experience. Of course I used my eraser lots but at the end of the evening it actually looked like a candle in a candle holder. The next morning I drew my favourite coffee mug. The next morning, another mug...if I can do this, anyone can!

Allow me to state the obvious here: There is beauty in simplicity and in the stuff of everyday life.

I suggest simply drawing what is in your home.

Don’t fret about the conceptual art that seems bizarre or not relatable to you. Forget about it. Human expression runs the entire spectrum from hyper realism to the surreal and everything beautiful and twisted in between. A lot of the art that gets into art magazines and wins in competitions is hard to imagine in a ‘regular’ home. Don’t let that be your only standard of greatness or relevance.

Let loose and have fun. Try it all. Perhaps the only way to know you don’t want to draw animals is to spend a night trying to draw the cat. If you are too locked into perfectionism, work in a sketch book at first.

The goal is to get drawing. You are not trying to create finished pieces for a solo show in six months. (and if you are reading this and your goal is to get finished pieces ready for an upcoming show, well ignore that bit, keep doing your thing :-))

Over the centuries many artists have painted everyday subject matter. I personally love Flemish still lifes from the 16th and 17th centuries which depict items such as pewter beer tankards, cheese, fruit and bread.

 Below I include a banner from one of Mary Pratt’s retrospective exhibitions this year, this one at the McMichael Collection. At the beginning of her career she was a busy wife and mother of four children. Over the next fifty years, she became one of Canada’s most distinguished painters. She has carved out an incredible art career all while painting subject matter from her everyday life – cold cream on her face, jars of preserves, basting a turkey, bathing a baby, the supper dishes on the table.

Mary Pratt - January 18  to April 27, 2014 McMihcael Canadian Art Collection

Why not grab the cold cream and take a selfie? Get out your paints or pencils and make some art. Now I didn’t say depicting cold cream over top of skin was going to be easy! Ha. If your skills are rusty or you are a beginner, it might be best to stick to the jam jars. :-)

Thanks Jackie for a super question. I hope my advice to just draw anything and everything helps. Please take time to celebrate what IS working. You set an intention, you are keeping to your schedule and you are showing up. All of this is huge by the way. You just need to give yourself permission to not make high-falutin’, highbrow art.

You can so do this. Congratulations on your determination! :-) Let me know how things go!


Miguel Carvajal said...

Thank you for this post. I am exactly in the same place as Jackie is. Last September I had eye cataract surgery and I could not draw or paint for 6 weeks. While I recovered, I had a million ideas about projects I was going to do as soon as I got my full vision back. I finally got my new eyeglasses and... nothing. For the past few days I sit at my drawing table and nothing seems to motivate me to draw or paint. I have organized all my art supplies and books, and I have re-read a few of them, but still I just don't feel inspired to draw anything. After reading your blog post, I feel there is hope and light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. Now I feel I can grab my sketching pad and my pencils and get started again. Thank you again!

Jennifer Rose Phillip said...

Good on this person not giving up asking for help :) art is hard, a lot harder than people think but it doesn't need to be hard all the time. I agree, draw simple everyday things to try to help. and stop pressuring yourself, we are always so hard on ourselves. I hear almost daily in class that people don't like their work, that it is crap, when the complete opposite is true.

Teresa Mallen said...

Miguel, thank you very much for taking the time to write. I am very moved by your situation and I so delighted that my advice to Jackie was helpful to you. You can do this, of that I have no doubt.

Jackie has written to say that she has had a successful Wednesday night of drawing so may that be further inspiration to you. She started off by sketching a toilet bowl brush! :-)

Please let me know if there is anything more I can do to help you.

Teresa Mallen said...

Jennifer Rose, you have nailed a frequent frustration of mine - when people judge their work so harshly. It is a wonder we ever attempt anything! Congrats on having such a great attitude about it all. And thanks for the comment! :-)