Bringing Art Making Into Your Life
Making art isn’t always easy. Sometimes it involves a mighty battle against your personal art demons. Not physically, but emotionally. Making art can be hard work. I don’t mean digging trenches hard work but it’s not a dawdle. Usually I am not in a long flowing dress on a riverbank, with my dinky wooden easel and all the time in the world.
Last week I wrote about the ways we avoid making art and some of the reasons we do, and I mentioned that my art making bestie had suggested we enter a big drawing competition held every year in Sydney. I talked about how I was having to battle my personal art demons in order to get the piece done. I rang her to talk about how it was going and we started to talk about how hard it can be in the middle of a piece.
My friend said she often thinks of a botanical artist gently drawing her plants, and says that for her making art is just not like that. Its is NOT romantic. It’s a bit of a struggle. Looking at her art you just wouldn’t know this. She paints mostly in a semi realistic style, with energy and life, capturing the humour of her subject or the rawness. But she says she often gets to a part where she thinks, ‘Oh crap, This is fucked up’.
I call this bit the ‘Mud’. It’s the point of an art work where you have gone past the sketching/planning or blocking in phase, it’s looking good, but you reach a part where you have to be brave. You aren’t sure if the next thing you do is going to work, but you have to get past this bit in order for it to reach its potential. Then you DO the thing and think, ‘oh dear that really looks shit now’. My friend who has drawn a large self-portrait for the drawing competition, said this moment came when she had finished her sketch and was going to apply ink. Ink really doesn’t come off paper once its on, so you are committed. She had a moment with her art demons where she thought, it’s looking pretty good do I really want to ink it? [ I mean she is not in Photoshop here, she is on a 2m by 2m piece of paper, using ink: there is no ‘undo’.] So she applies the ink and at first thinks ‘oh what have I done’ but because she is experienced she doesn’t give up in this ‘Mud’ phase, she keeps going and ends up super happy with herself and her artwork.
Of course sometimes this means we also do screw up art works that were going along perfectly fine. But if you don’t push past the easy part into the tricky phase where bravery is required you will get stuck in a kind of caterpillar phase forever in your art making.
‘Fear of screwing it up’ isn’t the only art demon we have to fight. There is also boredom. I often choose to make art works that are very detailed, and then I have a million little details that need completing. I haven’t really thought about why I do this, but probably I just really enjoy the texture and the little intricate bits. I mean they are the bits I am enjoying in real life so they are the bits I want to put in my art. Recently I made a dagger stabbed in a ball of wool from clay. Carving the pattern of the wool and lining it all up, was driving me crazy and I felt like stopping when it was only partly done, but then I knew I wouldn’t be happy with it. So instead I sat there for freakin hours, carving away. I’m sitting there thinking, grumbling to myself saying ‘why did i choose this idea?- never again.’ But once it was finished a few days later I start carving a rope out of clay! Doing it again.
Above: my dagger stabbed into a ball of wool. I haven’t given it a title yet, but its part of my detective series. The clay I was using is porcelain paperclay which is a bit of a menace to use too.
There is also the ‘my style isn’t cool enough art demon’. This one is where you decide that your own style is WRONG and that you should be able to work in a different way, more like so and so. You wrestle with this one in what may be the biggest battle of them all and decide hopefully that you are an individual and that your art is individual too. Sometimes it is healthy to stand back and look at your work and say, ‘I think this area is under-developed.’ I mean I have been talking about the fussy detail I put in my work, and I do have a tendency to work far too tight and controlled, but in my work my faults and strengths may actually be the same thing. Perhaps instead of saying ditch the fussy details I will win the battle by saying develop my looseness and energy.
And if you are interested in how my own entry is going? Well I would say art demons 1, me 1 at this point. I am currently in the ‘Mud’ phase. Happily did my undersketch, very happy with how it looked after I had inked all the lines in and then realised I should block the background in a soft grey.
Above: sections of my drawing in the ‘Mud’ phase. I’m pretty sure I can drag the whole thing out of the mud to match the vision I have for it.
Problem is, I am not really using a full watercolour paper so I can’t drench it all in water before I apply the grey so I know it will look patchy. But it needs it… but it will be patchy… and might obscure the nice line work I have done…. I ask my husband [ another artist], just to waste more time and he agrees it needs it… I apply the grey.. AND IT’S PATCHY and looks a bit shit…. I’ve ruined it…. wait I think it will be ok…. yes, it just needs a bit more…….keep going.