Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Giving Myself Permission to Paint in a Series

Until last week, I was stuck on the same painting for months. My art coach Pattie encouraged me to start a fresh painting, which ended up being this fireworks painting I shared on Instagram a few days ago.

It's still a work in progress, but it was so good to start something new. I think my creativity was starting to grow a little stagnant as I faced one creative block after another, afraid to move forward. Have you ever felt that way?

So, I took her advice, and I bought a brand spankin' new canvas. It sat in the package for a couple weeks, and I finally took it out of the plastic wrapping and gessoed it. Then I proceeded to ignore it for two more weeks as I continued obsessing over my painting that seemed to be taking eons to finish.

I knew early on that I wanted to focus on fireworks, and that I wanted to begin with ink as my first layer. After many days (wasted time?), I came across an inspiring quote by Alan Watts:

 You're not something that is a sort of puppet on the end of the process. You are still the process. You are the big bang, the original force of the universe, coming on as whoever you are. 
Alan Watts compares the Big Bang to a bottle of ink breaking against the wall, and we are complicated human beings found on the fringes of that beautiful ink blot, still in process. As the thunder banged and crashed above my head, I took a risk and laid my ink-splattered canvas on my deck in the rain. I had to trust the process.

This year has been about finding my rhythm, especially in creative work. For many years, I mostly worked on short-term projects, often completing a spontaneous painting or collage in 1-3 sessions. Now I'm taking more time, and the intuitive paintings have a lot of complexity, at least in my process of discovery. Sometimes the painting begins to get a little too dense, like the core of a star . I study so many concepts, different artists, techniques, etc., and then create a little universe in one painting. It's too much.

One piece of advice Pattie has given me numerous times is to try not say everything on one canvas. Share one little piece of that, very simply. And then share another. And another. Don't overwhelm the viewer with too much information.

Now I know this is true, and I've had a few seasons where I was able to let go and produce a lot of stuff, just experimenting and not worrying about creating a masterpiece or sharing some grand message with the world.

But lately I've been holding back. What am I afraid of? Mostly, I'm afraid of wasting a good canvas or materials, which can be expensive. I'm afraid I won't achieve perfection, which could lead to criticism from others (but in reality, is mostly my inner critic speaking).

My four-month painting has surely gone through many changes, and each layer reflects something changing in my spiritual and emotional journey. I've traveled to the Orion Nebula, visited the Egyptian pyramids and now I'm underwater. (You know, maybe that's why this painting is taking so long. All those light years to travel, rented camels and those scuba lessons. It really adds up.) Yet I wonder how this journey would have looked if I allowed each phase or turning point to be reflected on a different canvas. I would have a series of works, and each painting would show a facet of truth connected to the whole.

Exploring the Orion Nebuala

Swimming with Emerging Jellyfish (Yes, same painting)

I'm not saying that a painting can't have many layers, and that layers can't be covered up before revealing the finished composition. Sometimes artwork can be like a film or animation, which many frames per second making up the action. And unless you have access "behind the scenes", you might not know all the creative effort that was put into the final product. I am fortunate to have photos of each stage, so I can see the progress over time.

Speaking of film, I thought of an old sequel recently I watched back in the 80's starring George Burns called Oh God Book II. Here's the synopsis via Wikipedia:

In this sequel, God asks the help of 11-year-old Tracy Richards (Louanne Sirota) to help promote Himself. Tracy creates the slogan "Think God" and soon has her friends spreading the message by posters, graffiti and other ways. But Tracy's parents and psychiatrists think the young girl is just insane. God is the only one that can straighten out the situation. One of the memorable scenes showed God riding a motorcycle, with Tracy riding in the sidecar, where there were scenes that showed nobody on the motorcycle, which baffled the two policemen.

Why did this quirky little film come to mind? I remember after watching this movie, I pretended like I was little Tracy Richards, who was about my age at the time, and I gathered up a big stack of printer paper my stepdad brought home from work for me. I started making my own posters that said "Think God", and I'm pretty sure I was going to try to display them on telephone poles and little shops in my neighborhood. But when my stepdad saw the paper used up with this awkward little phrase on them, he asked me why I had wasted all the paper. Being a highly-sensitive child, I think I was a little stunned, and I don't think I said anything. He wasn't being rude, but probably thought I'd use the paper for more elaborate drawings and not just a simple catchphrase. He didn't really get the reference. But the word WASTE is what stuck in my head. I think I ended up throwing the posters away, or tearing them up, feeling dejected. My stepdad, who champions me in many of my creative pursuits, probably never knew that bothered me so much.

How many times do we keep a new art supply in the box because we are afraid to ruin it or use it up too quickly? I know many artists can relate to this. Maybe we are afraid of wasting these precious materials, or that our results won't measure up. And isn't wasting paper bad for the environment? Don't we also teach kids not to waste their food because "there are starving children in Africa?" But these kinds of warnings, while often well-meaning with the best of intentions, sometimes hamper the creative process. Hamper literally means to hinder, shackle, entangle or restrain. I don't know about you, but I'm ready to let loss some of these shackles and break free of entanglements and creative restraints.

The funny thing about the creative process is that it creates an awful amount of "waste." Think of all the paper Walt Disney and his team of animators "wasted" to produce those delightful animated films? Including all those individual frames of animation, the concept drawings, and even the heaps of crumpled paper they used up in their attempt to achieve technical excellence.

I wanted to be a Disney animator when I was in high school.

I can even look at nature and wonder why there is so much "waste". Why does a carp lay a million eggs a year? Why are there so many stars and galaxies? Isn't that a waste of space? (smile). Yet if the God Almighty sees this as a good use of time and materials, then by golly, so do I. It's in that extravagance and waste that life is sustained, and even enriched.

So as I untangle myself from this creative impediment, I also decided to take a page from one of my favorite mixed media artists, Kelly Rae Roberts...or rather, a permission slip! Kelly urges artists dealing with fears and doubts of their own creative worth to give themselves permission to do the thing they are afraid to do. So if I'm afraid of waste, which hinders my creative flow and productivity, then:

I give myself permission to create with abandon. I give myself permission to make mistakes. I give myself permission to waste as much paper and canvas and paint and pencils as I need to to stay on this creative path. 

I give myself permission to work in a SERIES. 

Hmmm, maybe even a sequel:

 "That's right, I made another movie. You know me, I can't stop creating." ~ Oh God, Book II

Still in Process, 

Sandra xo