The Illustration Friday word of the week is ocean.
Twelve years ago, I took a long break from making literal, well-planned images and experimented with abstract painting. I fully indulged my love of color, layering and texture, and put aside for a while the need to make something identifiable. To say that it was freeing would be putting it mildly, but it was nerve-wracking as well. It was surprisingly uncomfortable to answer the usual conversational question, “What do you paint…?” I had not realized until then how important it was to me to know what I was painting and where I fit as an artist.
I thought about my discomfort, but continued to paint abstracts. I realized that I had grown tired of making ‘serious’ and meaningful art that could be explained and talked about at length, and that I did not enjoy having to ‘usher people into the experience,’ as one of my gallery-owner friends likes to put it. I was now looking for a way to make imagery that people would respond to on a visceral level, images that would inspire a viewer to make up her own story.
After a few years, imagery crept back in. (This painting is one of those.) I discovered that I still enjoyed making recognizable images, but was now also searching for a way to leave the Mystery in a representational painting…and a way to still leave lots of room for a viewer to respond in her own way.
This deep, mysterious ocean of Creativity…I suspect it will be a life-long journey of discovering how to let that move through my pencil and brush, unfettered by mental idea of how it should look. “Getting out of the way” is how it feels. Perhaps it is the right balance of “surrender and grabbing hold” as Matthew Wood (Seven Herbs: Plants As Teachers) puts it. I’m reaching for an even deeper way to start with an idea or story, but allow the imagery to come to life in its own way…an intuitive approach to creating. But it’s also my way of combining art and spirituality, exploring the mystery of everything that is, in fact, spirit and matter.
I’ve found some very helpful books that talk about this delicate, passionate process of dancing with creativity, as well as what gets in the way of that. Maybe you’ll find some inspiration and food for contemplation here too…
Life, Paint and Passion: Reclaiming the Magic of Spontaneous Expression by Michele Cassou and Stewart Cubley, Trust the Process: An Artist’s Guide to Letting Go by Shaun McNiff, Fearless Creating: A Step-By-Step Guide to Starting and Completing Your Work of Art by Eric Maisel, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg (written for writers, but every bit as applicable to creativity in other mediums), Break Writer’s Block Now! (also very helpful to artists) by Richard Munster, Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland, The War of Art: Break Through the Block and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield, The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron and Point Zero: Creativity Without Limits by Michele Cassou
“Ocean” (oil on canvas)