Monday, February 1, 2016

February newsletter: fighting the muggly-uglies

In one of my recent classes, a discussion cropped up about that point in a painting or drawing where everything looks awful. No matter how hard you try, things just aren't falling into place. I call this the muggly-ugly stage. Granted, it doesn't happen with every project, but it does pop up enough to make you wonder if this ever happens to anyone else. Well, the answer is yes. If the arts were simple, everyone would do it. The hard work comes from being able to overcome the challenges that we meet, one of which is how to fight the muggly-uglies.

One of my favorite artists is Paul Cézanne. He was a slow, methodical painter, like me. In fact, he was so slow that sometimes his fruit would rot before he finished his painting. Then he would make models to represent the fruit. My kind of painter!!! I also admire him because he was honest about his struggle with painting, not that others haven't complained, but for some reason his frustration speaks to me. He met up with the muggly-uglies at times and one of his suggestions was,

True, that is one way to solve your problem when you run into difficulties, but I do have a few more suggestions. Let's face it, most projects can be saved. Here's how:

Give yourself a break. When faced with difficulties, simply get up and take a walk, make yourself a cup of tea or coffee, call a friend or pay a bill. In other words, stop what you're doing and occupy your mind with something else. Have you ever tried to come up with a name or word and it's just not forthcoming? Then, you get yourself busy with something and voila! it comes to you. I'm not sure there's a name for this phenomenon (if not, there should be), but it's totally amazing. That's what you want to do when you take a break--have a moment to think about something else. When you return to your painting or drawing, you may feel afresh to start again.

Go to a nearby mirror. Here's a trick I learned from my former drawing instructor. To get another look at your painting or drawing, go to a mirror, place your project to the side of your face and peer into the looking-glass. Very often the mirror becomes what's called a third eye. Interestingly, you can often see what's going wrong.

Get some distance. Usually when we are working on a project, we're just too close to it to see if indeed it's bad or good. I can't tell you how many times, I have students in my classes or workshops who are struggling with their work and from my viewpoint everything is going along swimmingly. So I take their piece (with permission) and hold it up for them to see. Almost every time, the student will suddenly be surprised (and relieved) to see that the work isn't that bad after all.

Sometimes I think our opinions, when we're struggling to get the object down on paper or canvas, is highly emotional. We're just too close to the project. That's true for lots of issues in our life, not just painting and if we give ourselves some distance, our perspective changes. So take my advice, prop your project up on a wall or easel and step away from it--perhaps a foot or so. You may find the piece isn't as bad as you thought. If it is, then follow the next step.

Put it away. Similar to taking a break, another option is to stop for the day. I've used this method time and time again. It works. Back in my advertising days, I had to write a lot of ad copy. Sometimes as I planted words on the page, I'd be saying to myself, "This stinks!" That's when I knew I had to put the project in the desk drawer and work on it the next day.

Many of us think that when we're creating, there's little going on with our "critical thinking." After all, we're being expressive! But this portion of our mind helps us decide where the lines go, where the shadow should be, what values or colors are to be used. We're making decisions the entire time we are working and sometimes I think we just get stuck. We painlessly "stub our toe," and we need to stop because all our decisions seem to be wrong. In other words, we need to disengage. Cézanne was correct when he said, 

And frankly there are times when the eye and mind aren't working well together. That's when we must put our work away and call it quits for the day.

Lean on a pal. I've been drawing on a daily basis for over 16 years. It's very seldom that I miss a day--perhaps because of illness or traveling. So you'd think I wouldn't have the muggly-uglies, but I do! When this happens, I'll stop and ask my husband for any suggestions. He's that third eye I was talking about. Most of the time, there really isn't anything wrong. I just need to take a break. But other times, he does see something that I was blinded to. Although a word of warning is needed here--pick someone you know will be honest. Your frustration will only increase if you choose someone who is not trustworthy.

Consider your state of mind. Frequently, drawing and/or painting will send me into a fabulous place, I call the zone. That's where all my troubles seem to melt away. I love it. But when I'm truly troubled, there's no amount of art that will help. At that moment, I just have to give up in order to face the underlining issue. I usually call a friend. They can be cheaper than a therapist.

Last but not least: know that everyone experiences this! I seriously don't know any artist (or writer) who doesn't go through the muggly-uglies. It's part of the creative process. It's what others call the hills and the valleys of life.

We all work from a passionate soul and we need to care for it, meaning don't beat yourself up when you meet the muggly-uglies. Try the options above or of course, you can throw the piece away or turn the page in your sketchbook and try again. If it's good enough for Cezanne to do, it's good enough for us. And speaking of this great artist, here's my favorite quote:

Please note: The above post is for the artist who is not faced with incredible deadlines, such as a graphic artists or one who has taken on a commission. In that case, I still recommend giving yourself some distance and taking frequent breaks.

What's Coming Up!

New studio classes begin the first week of March. 

Beginning Acrylics Tuesday mornings
10 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
Most supplies provided
$90 per six-week term

The Morning Draw  Wednesday mornings
10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
$90 per six-week term

Fun with Acrylics Thursday evenings
6:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
$90 per six-week term

Two travel sketching trips for 2016

Sketching the English Village
May 8-15

Sketching the Fall Colors
Boston to Quebec Cruise
September 9-16

1 comment:

  1. Hello! I am a new admirer of yours brought over from YouTube. I have been enjoying your blog immensely. Oh, how I wish I could have gone to England with you! And I've always liked Margritte without any real depth of knowledge about him. I really enjoyed his work so much more after reading your piece about him. Is writing about art one of your many skills, too? Wait, it is because I just read your excellent writing. What I meant to ask is do you write to get published? Not many people are capable but you certainly are and so I wondered if you did. Hopefully, that makes some kind of sense :) I hang my head that I had not noticed that these were paintings in front of the door and window! So much more interesting! And a ballerina in his lap! Face Palm! Ah well, that's why reading about art is so interesting! Which brings me to why I'm writing. Who says the quote about fruit up above? It really strikes me and makes me smile :). Thank you, Beth Arcuri