I finished an amazing summer art retreat this past month at Art Makers Denver (AMD).
Every year, AMD invites artists to CU Denver's School of Architecture to teach and share their process with our local Denver artist community. Through AMD, I've taken classes with Elizabeth St. Hilaire, Yukimi Annand and Jennifer Mercede.
This year I signed up for an Expressive Drawing class with Anita Lehman. This is my second time being in Anita's class and I enjoyed being fully immersed in making art and being able to talk and share with other artists. We had a great group of women with varying levels of art experience and backgrounds. I had a great time meeting new people and learning about what they love to make.
Now that I'm back home, here are a few things I want to carry forward in my future work.
1. Set up the design field.
The design field represents the area where you will be working on your piece. A boundary gives you the freedom to fully experiment within its limits. Boundaries make the space inside special and important. What will you keep in focus and what will be out of the frame?
2. Embrace the sketch.
While some artists build layers one on top of the other on the same canvas, I like working through a series of small thumbnails and sketches before committing to the final painting. Working small, cheap and fast makes me more willing to try something new and out of the ordinary because the stakes are low. I have little to lose.
3. Gather the evidence.
One of the major benefits of making a series of sketches is that you are able to gather a large body of evidence that shows what works and what doesn't work. Instead of trying to imagine how something will look, you can try it at a small scale and see it in real life. Each sketch is an opportunity to discover what you want to say and how you want to say it.
4. Choose your own adventure.
Understanding the elements of art and the principles of design is more than memorizing definitions in an art glossary. It's about empowering yourself to make choices about how to use these elements and principles to create meaning for your work. Instead of trying to follow someone else's technique, what elements do you tend to use the most often? Which design principles could you use to solve this problem?
5. There are no answers in photos.
Photo references are so seductive. While they may be a good place start a painting, at some point you will need to put the photo face down and deal with the painting in front of you. Learning to trust yourself to continue painting without your photo reference takes strength. Don't give up.
6. Be present. Stay curious.
Keep track of your mental and emotional states as you work. Painting can trigger your unconscious thoughts and buried feelings. Your negative self-talk comes from a place that is trying to protect you from the unknown and the fear of failure. Reassure and soothe yourself - it's just paint. And keep going.
You don't have to paint and pray.
For a long time I thought that I had to struggle with my painting and wrestle it to fit my original idea. I would inevitably get stuck in the messy middle of a painting. I knew enough to know that something was wrong but I didn't have a clue about how to find it or fix it. I would try one thing after another, blindly hoping it would get better. And after a few more abortive attempts, I would just set it aside and give up.
Now that I know that every painting can go through this phase, I'm grateful for the tips and tools I learned from Anita to help me find my way through it. I need to redesign the way I paint so I have the opportunity to fail at my idea multiple times with little to no consequences. I'm the kind of person that needs to work through a lot of average ideas before I settle into my good ones. I want to stay open to new for a little longer. Working through a series of sketches and multiple paintings can help me stay curious and active even when I get stuck.
I think this way of working requires a lot of patience. I could see myself getting bored with the same image over multiple sketches, but maybe that boredom is a sign that the initial image wasn't what I really wanted in the first place. There is no reason to rush. Give yourself the time to think and to create the work that I will really enjoy and be proud to share. You deserve it.