The Laws of Nature

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Creative Process Loop

Chapter 1 of Wendy Richmond's book Art Without Compromise is divided into seven sections, and I'd like to review each section individually to glean the most from it. The first section is entitled "Cultivating Creativity." Here, the author rehashes some ideas about authenticity that we've discussed in earlier blogs. However, here she examines it in the context of planning less and exploring more when creating a work of art. She provides some interesting examples to help us understand this:

First, Richmond relates her own creative process. Typically, she enters the studio with a plan or concept for her work and strays from it as she lets the materials lead her in unexpected directions. Although she doesn't use the term, this seems to me to be intuition. By the time she leaves the studio, her work is very different from what she had expected it to be at the start, which makes it more authentic.

The second example reinforces the first. Richmond cites an event described in a book by Bayles and Orland, where a ceramics teacher divides her class into two groups at the beginning of the semester. One group is told that they'll be graded on the quality of their work by the semester's end, and the other group is told that they'll be graded on the quantity of work they produce. As it turned out at the end of the semester, the group with the highest quality of work was the group who had produced the largest quantity. That group was constantly learning and improving while the other group invested their time theorizing about perfection and didn't progress in their actual work. So, she concludes, producing a large volume of work is a way for the artist to reach the desired destination.

I agree. As you know, I am a careful planner, but my plans can only take me so far. I must make unexpected changes to my work as I paint if I want it to turn out well. And, I've also found that quantity - completing lots of paintings - is essential to finding "my voice" and producing a few that are "good." The more I paint the better the results. It's like practicing scales on the piano in order to perform a sonata.

Richmond encourages the artist to "cultivate a state of not knowing." She believes that artists have an obligation to enter unknown territory. It is through exploring new techniques, materials, and concepts that we cultivate creativity and bring authenticity to our work. The "unexpected" yields innovative solutions.

Key to this is "removing editors," as the author puts it. The editors are those who offer their opinions about our work. By listening to them too much, we don't listen enough to the work itself. As she states, "One of the greatest values in the process of art making is the dialogue that goes on within the work itself." Richmond cites Michelangelo's process when he was sculpting The Dying Slave. He claimed to simply "free" the figure from the block of marble that contained it. So, she concludes, finding authenticity in your work involves getting rid of the crusted layers of opinions, styles, and accomplishments (yours and others). The conversations, the influence, and the momentum are within the work: one step leads to another; one mark informs the next.

This is great advice. Although I believe that it's necessary to plan the general design and values of a painting in advance, it is important to establish a dialogue with the work itself as it's being created. Right now, I'm developing a new series of paintings in watercolor. Every day I paint a new "study" to experiment with ideas and techniques that eventually will become incorporated into a single larger-scale painting, and then another and another. I still don't know what the end product will be, because I'm in the midst of a dialogue. Below, are two of the seven studies I painted this week that will be incorporated into the larger work. In case they aren't recognizable to you, the paintings feature kelp that the tide has left behind on a rocky coast.

Next post: "The Creative Process Loop."
Your thoughts?


M said...

Yes, yes, and yes. A great post Kathy. I'm probably excited because the ideas expressed are ones I wholeheartedly support.

About five years ago I changed how I went about creating work. I do basic planning re:composition (all aspects) and write what I want to accomplish with the work (content). Then I let go. When I started using mixed media in my work, the license to experiment brought me a long way in discovering what kind of artist I am. It's very interesting that I am a total pre-planner in every aspect of my life, but I can just let myself go in art and embrace new things.

When I attend a workshop I never go for quality. I allow myself to create many small experimental works and as a result get many surprises that I would never have gotten if I obsessing about my best work.

As for removing editors, I agree with this to a point. I've tried never to let other people's comments affect my work. I take what they say into consideration, but filter it through my original intent for the work. I feel I'm my own best critic because I'm the only one who truly knows what I want from the work. Sometimes in a critique situation it is good for the artist to "order" the critique by asking questions rather than listening to responses.
Looking forward to the next installment.

M said...

Forgot to say how much I connect with your two new works.

Myrna Wacknov said...

This post really hit home! This is how I work and it is great to have someone put it into words so beautifully.

I look forward to your new series. This looks like a promising start.

Eva said...

Illuminating post. First I want to say how much I like the interesting textures and layers you've created in your paintings.Fascinating!

I'm creating a series of abstract art lessons for my grandson which will be presented as videos. I find myself spending more time planning and writing rather than doing the video demos.At this rate I'll never be finished and he'll get tired of waiting.

As for critics, I've had more than my share.I find myself wanting revenge!...When I'm asked to critique, I usually ask what they think the problem is and why. Most of the time the artist knows the answer and it saves me from making a judgment I should not make in the first place. After all it is their creation. Find the good, it's usually there.

Dean Grey said...


These paintings are considered just a "study"?

I'm jealous!


Unknown said...

Wow, first of all I immediately recognized the contrast of wet and shiny surfaces with the rough and rocky to be related to the beach or sea.

Like everyone else, I can really relate to your awesome post. In my self portrait, it started as the body resembling the yolk of an egg. I wasn't happy about the look. Then after a phone call from the ex, I took out my anger with those purple and yellow stripes. The result was nothing I imagined. I didn't know if I liked it but because of the time line I submitted it anyway. I need to listen to my "intuition" more.

Unknown said...

Hi Margaret - your comment inspires me! You perfectly described how I feel about my own process. Thank you.

Hi Myrna - thank you! The message in this book is timely for me as well since I'm struggling to take a leap in my work. I'm anxious to begin reading the next section and find more gems.

Hi Eva - how wonderful that you can provide your grandson with lesson! I can see where planning them is time-consuming, but well worth it. He's lucky! Your approach to the critique is a postitive one, and probably very helpful. There's a fine line between critiquing someone's work just to be critical, and in a way that's helpful and constructive.

Hi Dean - you made me smile! I'm really struggling with finding a new direction and these studies make me feel like I'm skirting around the fringe. Time to get to the heart of it!

Hi Sheila - yes! Listen to your "gut." Your latest painting is visceral and emotive and demonstrates how our deepest emotions inspire us toward originality. You have overcome serious adversity and I admire your courage and fortitude! Please know that your artist friends value and support your efforts. Hug.

-Don said...

First of all, I wish your studies were a tad larger so I could study them more fully. They are gorgeous. I got lost in your use of the purple shadows in the yellow/green of the bottom piece. Once again, you've teased me enough to want MORE! Great job!

Now, for this wonderful accompanying post. I can relate to everything Ms. Richmond wrote about and you elaborated on. The more I do, the better my work becomes. The less I listen to others, the more my work speaks for itself. The more I explore, the more I find. The more I do all of those things, the more fun I have. The more fun I have, the more I do... and the circle continues...

I can't wait for the next installment...


Unknown said...

Hi Don - thank you! I'll be posting these again (larger) with the final painting whenever that happens :) Soon, I hope. And, I love your circular description. Absolutely perfect!! Thanks.

hw (hallie) farber said...

I have always felt that, somehow, I put my mind "in neutral" before sculpting or painting (don't know how I arrive at that place). I found the quantity vs. quality event really interesting.

I agree with Dean Grey--your "studies" are just beautiful.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful studies!!! And such an inspiring post. Thank you! So much food for thought lately- wonderful.

Carolyn Abrams said...

Hi Kathy, i really like your choice of color palette in these new works. very intriguing. Would you mind sharing your choice process on this?

This book hits home for me also as i have been working that way for a while. I think we all find our own way of creating and then go for it but find it hard to verbalize. Wendy Richmond has done it so well.

Unknown said...

Hi Hallie - it seems that "neutral" isn't on my gear shift! Wish I knew how you achieve it. Thanks!

Hi Pam - thanks so much!

Hi Carolyn - I have to admit that, at this moment, my color palette is being driven by some remarkable mineral pigments that I just purchased and my desire to see how they work together. I'll be more deliberate when I unite the two studies with some others to create a single work. I guess I should also admit to being a bit of an intuitive painter when it comes to color, lately. Right now, I'm just having fun!

Anonymous said...

Hi Kathy, It's interesting, trying to find the balance between planning and letting go. I think I'm working a little tighter, this after having worked more intuitively and having problems. I think with more experience, I'll have the confidence to work more intuitively again. I do allow myself to deviate.

Wonderful posting and great comments!

Stan Kurth said...

This is right in line with how I paint. Once I've brought my vague ideas and notions into the studio and put down some lines or color, the painting pretty much directs me, and that ensuing dialogue is critical to the success of the work. I do believe there are certain editors that will have something important to say about our work, i.e., jurors. I'm looking forward to the next post.

Unknown said...

Hi Peggy - I struggle with that balance as well. Perhaps it's only natural, since "balance" always requires deliberate attention.

Hi Stan - I was thinking about your work when I wrote this post because it did seem to me that this is how you work. The results you get are magnificent!

Nancy Goldman said...

I love your "studies". The colors are so rich and beautiful. I really enjoyed your first post on the book. The experiment with "quality" vs "quantity" hit home.
I started doing a 'painting a week' about a year and a half ago and when I did, a close friend of mine ( a non-artist) was worried that the quality of work would go down because I would have to finish a painting each week. I tried to explain to her that the quality should improve because any skill is improved with practice. I can see a great improvement in the past 18 months and now I push myself to try new things more since I know that if this week's painting isn't my favorite, there is always next week.
I'm looking forward to the next chapter.

Unknown said...

Hi Nancy - it's wonderful to know of your experience, which supports the idea that constant production of work is essential to producing quality. Thank you!

Dan Kent said...

I love your watercolors! Wow. And only studies, too (he said wistfully)..

I read the book "Art & Fear" by Bayles and Orland. I love it. It was part of what got me back into art after twenty-five years. And my favorite example in the book is the one Richmond cited, and it is what I live by. This is why I sketch all the time. Now I have to paint all of the time, too (he again said wistfully, as he looked forward to another 40 hour work week).

Unknown said...

Hi Dan - I haven't read that book yet, but it's on my "list." Thanks so much for the supportive words!