Sunday, June 5, 2022

Art for Art's Sake

 This is what art is for me...

"Being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost."    

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, social theorist and author of Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention

Ever since I was a child, I got lost in my art, lost in the world of imagination. Yes, occasionally, it got me into trouble--not lots of trouble, more of a frustration for my parents and teachers. If I wasn't daydreaming, I was doodling or writing. Even as I write this my heart goes aflutter with a peaceful, airy feeling. 

Unfortunately, life usually had to come in with a big BANG. That's why I consider myself so lucky today. I can work on my art with abandon and even teach the same subject endlessly. Being semi-retired is certainly a bonus as well, even though I probably produce more work than ever. 

So what does that have to do with you and your art. In one word, RELAX. Instead of approaching each project with the thought of it being your masterpiece, why not just approach it with "let's have some fun." As I expressed in my article on creating sloppy copies before settling on the "real" thing, I'm here today to encourage you to let go and enjoy.

When we were kids, we did not have preconceived notions on what is good or bad art. That came later, when we were around 11 or 12. Suddenly the gooey paint brush had to create something realistic or it was no good. That's when our internal critic was born. Oh hurray.

I still fall into that trap. For instance, I am currently working on a lesson plan for drawing with ballpoint pens. If you go online, you will find incredible portraits done by people with ballpoint pens. I am astounded looking at these works. Here are couple of artists:

PASSENGER, 2018, 86x106 cm  Oscar Ukonu

Absolutely stunning work. Some artists who do this type of photo realism actually project the photograph onto the paper and create from there. Photo realism has been around since the 1960s and has depended upon photos with amazing art results. See Deborah and Zoe Gustlin’s article on the subject. Even Norman Rockwell projected his photos to create his delightful paintings for the Saturday Evening Post.

Obviously, it is totally unfair for you to compare yourself to these artists, as they may be using tools that are not at your disposal. But more importantly, I submit, we shouldn’t be comparing ourselves with any other artist. Instead, I think it’s important that we concentrate on our own style, our own skills.

Yes, we can learn from others and it’s good to adapt ourselves to improve, but comparing oneself to another can be inhibiting. And the worst thing we can do as artists is to create an environment that can be negative—always wishing and hoping. That’s when the internal critic pops in and tries to convince us that we are just imposters, not very good. Can you imagine what the world would be like if Monet, Pissarro, even Van Gogh crushed under that negative thinking.

So this brings me back to art and fun. After spending over 40 years in the advertising and public relations business, I’ve had enough of creating art and words for someone else. It’s time to make art and word for myself. It’s time to relish in the absolute, glorious fun it takes to create something from within. Thus, I challenge you, wipe out the critic in your head and move forward. There’s nothing gained without risk, and besides, like I've heard, "It's only a piece of paper."

What's happening in the studio. The next session will be a bit different than most. I will be talking about three aqua-based  media: acrylic, watercolor and gouache. We will be exploring how to use them all with some basic techniques as well as learning to mix only three colors. I invite you to attend. It's all live online on either Tuesdays or Wednesdays. See below for more details.

Monday, April 25, 2022

Sloppy Copy in Art

When my son was in grade school learning to write, he was taught to create a sloppy copy first--what we call a draft copy. It was a great way to teach kids how to get the words on paper and tell the story. I watched as kids poured words onto their pages as if they were using paint and brush. So many had no fear, which taught me a lesson. 

For years I wrote copy for ads, press releases, radio commercials, brochures and the like. Sometimes it was tough, like pulling teeth. While not as difficult, I still feel the same way sometimes with my drawing and painting. No matter what I do, I find myself not exactly getting the essence of what I want to express. My go-to action is to step away for a while. Put the project aside and concentrate on something else. Invariably, I usually come back with a refreshed approach and bam! I get it from the start (BTW, the same happens with my writing). 

But what happens when taking a break doesn't work. Then what? Well, I start a bit differently. Now, I'm going back to what the great artists have always done. I'm making sloppy copies or preliminary drawings. I also call it visual thinking. Einstein said it perfectly:

“…Words or the language, as they are written or spoken, do not seem to play any role in my mechanism of thought. The psychical entities which seem to serve as elements in thought are certain signs and more or less clear images which can be “voluntarily” reproduced and combined…but taken from a psychological viewpoint, this combinatory play seems to be the essential feature in productive thought — before there is any connection with logical construction in words or other kinds of signs which can be communicated to others.” —Albert Einstein

Notice these sketchbook entries by Michelangelo and da Vinci. They both are working out some sort of issue, using visuals instead of words.


da Vinci

I actually started this process several years ago when traveling. I was in Barcelona and purchased a small  3.5 x 5 blank book in a souvenir shop. Normally when on the road, I would take a photo, create a three-minute (or less) drawing, and I later develop it into a more complete sketch in my traveling journal. 

Instead during this trip to Spain, I created sketches with abandon. I just got the "facts" down, and worried little about what was right or wrong. It was freeing. All done in graphite pencil, the subjects were lively, contemporaneous and honest.

Since then, I purchased small books for my students when we went on different trips. And I believe  a lot of them found it freeing as well. Recently, a student told me she occasionally looks at her book from the trip to Canada.  Here a some samples from my "sloppy copy" Canadian book.

Playing with people

Giant fiddle

Now several years later, I have expanded this process to include my studio. For years, I would select a subject, and after gathering my supplies, start immediately. Since I work mostly in drawing and acrylic painting materials, I don't really have to do much planning. If there's something I don't like, I can either paint over it or just erase (even with ink, I can use gouache to correct my mistakes). However, recently I've been trying to pre-draw or create sloppy copies, sketching my thoughts of what the subject looks like with key elements of color, placement, values and so on. 

This isn't a new idea. Most of my teachers pushed the thumbnail sketch, defined by Merriam Webster as:

Thumbnail sketches are small sketches used to plan out your painting before you begin. They're typically only 2–3 inches in size, so they can be quickly drawn and easily changed if needed. This makes them very helpful for artists who want to simplify or update their compositions.

But I'm actually talking about taking this one more stop further. How many times have you encountered a project that you think may be too over the top for you. So you may reject it--"too hard for me, I want this to be fun". 

I'll give you an example of a class I just taught. It was a flower petal with a rain drop on it. Of course anyone can draw the flower petal and be done with it. But the rain drop? That's a bit tricky. But what if I told you that you can use a separate piece of paper and simply draw the drop, over and over again until you felt you got it. You're creating a sloppy copy haven. It doesn't matter how many times you have to draw the same thing. You are just learning, creating on the go. No judgement. No rules. No critic. You are playing, experimenting. Hopefully having fun at the same time.

Of course, being a bit anal, I have now started a sketchbook that includes my trials and experiments--not to punish myself by preserving my imperfections--but to help me that next time I want to create the same. I'm also filling the book with painting formulas, ideas for future works and well, whatever I want. It's not only a good record, it's also fun to do. So far, a lot of my stuff is from demonstrations done in class, which is perfectly fine. 

Experimenting with paper

From a recent flowers class

While I always advocated "just getting the words on paper and revise later, " I'm glad I've finally started doing the same with my art work. The best part is the internal critic seems to have vanished.

What's new in the studio?

One more thing. I used to have this flyer on my bulletin board in my office when I was in advertising. It's amazing how many people want to change your writing! This kept me sane for over 20 years!