Most artists of all walks have some means by which they are able to trick their creative sub-conscious into “putting out” -a ritual that ensures they start working; a routine that affords the security to “let go”; a talisman whose presence allays the superstition; or a method to break the writer’s block or to get back in front of the easel.I'm no different (even if more boring than some!) and here's what I do...
I have somehow developed a routine which seems to prevent me from painting before 11 am – I do all the chores in the morning, which may include a long walk, checking the emails, doing the washing, writing, business items. The walks are great for fitness and focusing my mind on what needs to be done in the day, but I find it hard to just allow what I am seeing to wash over me and incite a visual reverie or excite creativity. To do this, a walk must be done later in the day.
I try to get to my studio by 11 am most days, including weekends -though sometimes this feels too hard and draining and counter productive. On those days, I just give myself time out. However, I would make the studio at least 5 days a week, most weeks of the year. As the fantastic Australian author, Tim Winton, put it at an author’s talk for “Dirt Music” that I attended – “The best way to get inspiration is in front of my typewriter.”
Usually the first thing I do when I am in the studio is turn on my music –it lets me know I have started the day. This music is a terrific cross section of soft Jazz, Blues, Classical and the best of current music loaded into my ipod and updated regularly by my music-obsessed partner (for which I am ever grateful– there is often new stuff I would never have the time to search out, let alone download). Bjork, Santana and Radiohead may be used to get the creative juices going and a bit of energy; while Beck, Miles Davis, Van Morrison, (as well as anything with “Café” attached to the title) plays when I am in the Zone.
This is when I spend time looking at the previous day’s work- with new eyes, it seems I can judge the work better than when tired and leaving at 7pm the night before. I find if I spend long enough looking, the pictures talk to me. I can’t wait to get the paints out of their take away containers (see my June blog on Cleaning 101). Next thing I know, I am just adjusting that colour here, that stroke there – and painting before I know it.
This is also why I, like a number of artists I know, like to start at least three paintings at a time – there is, therefore, always at least one painting that requires attention the next day, some problem needing a solution. After this process has started, another painting may suddenly scream at me about what needs to be done, or I can commence (knowing it doesn’t have to work straight away) another painting which will join the earlier ones in the “unfinished category”, allowing the next day’s start.
I usually take lunch with me - an economic necessity – and eat it while working, especially if I am feeling a rhythm going. However, if the work is a consistent struggle, I am better to get out of the studio so I can see what I have done with fresh eyes when re-entering (I often find this hard to do but am trying to discipline myself to do it, anyway).
It is usually hunger or extreme physical tiredness (such that that I truly cannot see the painting in front of me) that tells me when I need to finish up…. Or, on really bad days, a total frustration with what’s on the canvas that I know I am not going to improve by anything I do tonight.
What I have come to realise is that it doesn't matter what you do, only that you notice what you do when you have a successful day, and foster those activities that allow your work to proceed.
Image Above: Between the trees, Oil on ply 120 x 90 cm by Gabrielle Jones
What works for you? What do you do to make the magic happen? Post your comment here.