Thursday, May 31, 2012

Norman Rockwell

Going along with my previous post regarding getting out of the artist "Funk", one of the ways I've found to jolt myself out of it is by taking one of my many art books off the shelf and allow myself to get lost within its pages.

Today I decided to pull out one of my many Norman Rockwell books. What an inspiration for capturing scenes of everyday life and those special moments that tug at our hearts. About a year or so ago I read an autobiography of Rockwell, titled Norman Rockwell my adventures as an illustrator. I could not put the book down, it was very humorous in the way that he wrote it and much like his paintings, you felt as if you wanted to be a part of his world. Although some have criticised Rockwell for not being a "real" painter and only an illustrator, I believe he was a great communicator, inventor, story teller,  visionary and yes a great painter.  Really someone who could capture a feeling, idea, an aspect of humanity and communicate it so clearly and beautifully.

                                                    Norman Rockwell Behind the Camera

I enjoyed reading about his process of paintings and seeing some of the photos he worked from in some of these books. If he needed an image of say a child running for example, he would prop their feet up with books to look as though he or she was running. If it was a girl he would tie her braids up to look as if they were blowing in the wind. Then he would put himself in that position and animate the action himself so that his little model could see and feel at ease about posing in such a ridiculous pose. I learned a lot from reading his biography especially since I work with children so much.

                                             Norman Rockwel my adventures as an illustrator

When he found a great character to use as one of his models he would use them over and over again until they moved out of town or the Evening Post would nag at  him "enough is enough", and then he would disguise that favorite model somehow to keep using them. the secrets out, I've done that myself as well.

Another favorite subject of his was none other then man's best friend, the dog. I guess it adds a certain nostalgia to the paintings, it confirms our need for companionship as humans and just adds to the universal truths Rockwell so often painted. I've not added the trusted dog yet to any of my work but I'm sure it will come about sooner or later.

I love paintings that evoke some sort of emotion or feeling within, something that I can relate to on a deeper level. It may speak to the reality of life, family, friends, good times, bad times, it speaks to the core of who I am.  I can connect with the piece and therefore I am a part of it and I believe the artist has communicated something profound,  not just a surface level but a much deeper level at the core of every human being.  Many artists have done this in a variety of ways, some, dare I say in a much more illustrative way as in Rockwell's work and others in a more painterly way as maybe Sorolla and others like him. I think in either way, if you are able to  speak to the viewer at this deep level you are an artist, a visual communicator and that I believe is a blessed, and amazing gift.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Still in the funk

Having had to prepare for a show once a year for the past few year, I've noticed a few things about the creative process that I'd like to share with you.

I'm remembering some time ago when I was not yet in any galleries, just studying like crazy, that the painting process was rather simple. That is, when I was talking classes and going to open studios  it was always rather laid out for me in terms of what I was going to paint that day. The class began, the model showed up and you just started painting. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't quit that simple, you had the teacher's instructions on what you should be learning, your own thoughtfulness before painting and asking yourself all of those previous questions I mentioned in my last post, but there is something decidedly different when you are no longer in a class or just painting in open studios. You begin to find your voice, your purpose as a painter, things become more personal and intuitive. Its no longer just about getting in front of the model, still life or landscape and applying some lesson you had just learned, instead, It becomes more about what I am connecting to when I look at the model, landscape... etc. and putting that on the canvas. Going a step further, when you are setting up your own set ups, choosing your own location to paint at, or choosing whether or not to snap that photo to paint from later, you are starting to pull from your own experiences and drawing upon the core of who you are. I don't know if that makes any sense, but i have noticed this in my own work and especially when I have been working hard to prepare works for a show, it can be exciting and also emotionally draining. My work becomes very personal to me. Coming up with the idea of what to paint and the process of creating that painting, there are so many emotions I go through that when the piece if finally done, I am exhausted and delighted at the same.

I have found also, that once I have finished work for a show or event, it takes me some time to get back in the groove again. I remember other artists used to tell me this when I was still a full time student and I could not quit understand it. Now having painted for more then one show, I fully understand the ups and downs, the high intensity and lazer focused attitude leading up to a show and then the very low,  mountain peak to valley below feeling so many artists go through.  I like to call it being in the funk. It is that creative low, meandering around with no direction, like a fish out of water.  It is not a fun place to be but is definitly a part of the creative process. I think it comes from the deep emotional connection we have as artists to our work, its so personal, we dig down to find that creativity and we critique ourselves so severely sometimes that once we have completed our goal and made it to the top of that mountain there is sure to follow that downward slop of relief, delight, joy, sadness, excitement  and pure exhaustion to say the least. I've tried many things to get out of this funk, the faster the better of course. I give myself freedom to experiment, paint something I wouldn't normally paint, revisit ideas for paintings that I previously abandoned, go paint with friends, visit the art museums and galleries, pay closer attention to life happening around me to stir up the creative juices, read a good book, talk art with friends, talk life with friends.. etc, but I have to say really the best way to get out of the funk is to JUST PAINT.

You have to pick up the brush and go for it. Sometimes those first one or two attempts fail misserably but again its part of the process. Get those bad ones out of the way so the paint can start flowing again and ideas emerge from what we might consider a bad painting and all of a sudden your back in the groove.

So just a word of encouragement to myself and anyone who might find themselves in a creative funk from time to time. Just pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again :)

Sunday, May 06, 2012

The creative journey and the heart of gratitude

The journey of creating a painting can sometimes be a simple one but more often it is a path of decision making and emotional highs and lows that inevitably follow in the process of working things out.  My decision making process will often start with  questions. Questions like, is my idea worth pursuing, what size should it be, how should I approach this painting, do I need to do studies before beginning, do I have enough reference material or do I need to hire more models,  can I see the finished piece in my head or am I just not that excited about it? What is the main point of the idea, what am I saying in this piece, is it about a simple yet profound beauty or are there a few layers of communication going on? These are just a few of the many questions I ask myself.  I need to have clear and often visual answers to these questions before I really begin. Once I start painting, well then there are a million more questions that I need to answer along the way, some come from the painting itself and some come from a much deeper place of self criticism and negative head talk whose only remedy is that of the Holy Spirits truth talk to my soul. I know many understand this negative attitude of self defeat all too well. Thoughts like, I'm not good enough, this painting looks terrible and ugly, I'm not as good as so and so and therefore I should just quit, nothing is working out.... and we can go on and on having our own little self pity party. The problem is, nothing good can come from those lies. So the painting can sit there unfinished and untouched for days while we stare at it paralized by our own fear of failure and perfectionism. The remedy, I believe, is to stop comparing ourselves to others and give thanks for what we have been given, maintain a teachable heart to grow and learn and more practically speaking, put some paint on the brush and go for it. Thankfully once this negative attitude is overcome, for the moment, paint can begin to flow and the painting comes to life and something beautiful drips from our brush again. Hours, days sometimes weeks later, whoa la the painting is complete and we then have the occasion to smile and wonder, how in the world did we do that. Then once again, give thanks to our own creator for giving us a portion of his creativity to reflect his beauty in paint.  With a heart of gratitude, no telling what might come bursting off that canvas.