Photo Credit: Jennie
"An ancient tenet in Chinese painting holds
that the Master paints not the created thing, but
the forces that created it. Likewise, the best writing
about art depicts not the finished piece, but the
processes that created it."
David Bayles & Ted Orland,
Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards
of Artmaking, The Image Continuum Press, 1993,
Beginning at the Beginning
January messages are saturated with hopes, new beginnings and
promises to improve. In 2010, I will try to be more (careful
with money, organized, productive, confident, balanced, successful
maintaining a healthy weight) or less (anxious, sensitive, obsessed,
depressed, short-tempered, afraid of heights). Well, I murmur
a silent "good luck" in accomplishing this litany
Instead, I will focus on writing about new beginnings that
may end up as art, about rituals that I practice when I walk
through my studio door. People have asked if I paint seven days
a week. No, and I am not sure if I would want to be in the studio
that much. Yes, I would like to be in there more than I currently
am. In 2009, commitments to projects, big and small, required
large amounts of time.
Like many artists I know, I make a planned commitment to be
in my studio. That means no meetings, no letters to write, no
poem to write, no museum to visit, no phone calls to make or
take, no everyday interruptions and "have-to-do's"
can interfere with my hallowed block of time. Other artists
may have strategies to cope with real life while they
are making art, but I am not one of them.
When studio days arrive, I wake up already in a good mood.
Breakfast clean-up finds me emotionally, if not physically,
in my studio. As Little Red Riding Hood sings in Into the
Woods, I am "excited and scared." I have no idea
what will happen. And that's what keeps me going back.
These are some rituals that engage me in artmaking:
- Before I go in the studio, I select
a support from the collection stored in the cellar. Will
it be a fresh canvas or board? Will I paint over an existing
piece? Will it be square or rectangular?
- Once I am in the studio, I uncover my
storage units. This act that reveals a world of materials
with which to work. Drawers are filled with acrylic paints,
oil paints, oil sticks, pastels, oil pastels, Conté
crayons, pencils, charcoal, markers, pens, inks, mediums,
soaps, cleaners, solvents, all manner of containers, implements
to cut, scratch, and mold wet paint. That's just what's
on the right-hand side of my easel! Never mind the boxes
of museum brochures, journals, and old shirts on the left.
Or the wicker basket full of rags behind me.
- I take my time deciding what medium
to begin with, knowing that I may not stick with it. My
underpainting may be in acrylic, but oil paints or collage
may be next steps. I have about 100 acrylic colors, so
setting them out in groups on top of the storage units
is an important part of the ritual. Color, even in the
tubes, excites me.
- I unfold my cloth brush holder. Oil
paint brushes are not compatible with acrylic, so I have
two sets of brushes to use. Jars with large brushes and
about twenty palette knives are on the window sill.
- Next, I select an art book from the
hundreds in four bookcases lining the walls. I sit and
look. I smell the paper. I run my fingers across the shapes
and colors. Or I may peruse one of my postcard collection
books. Or I may grab my sketch book and draw. This is
my final move from the verbal to the visual world.
- I have written before about my next
step: selecting music is as crucial as an part of my artmaking
process as complete silence is to my writing.
- Now comes my choice of an acrylic ground
color to cover my support. It says something about my
mood when I mix the color on the palette paper. Will my
mood change as I begin to work? Probably, and in the end
there may not one sparkle of ground color showing through.
- I put on latex gloves and begin.
P.S. Regarding the opening quotation, I would ask Bayles and
Orland to defend and define "best" - best for whom?
Their use of the word almost made me reject it as an opening
quotation. I would substitute the word "helpful" or
"enlightening" because it describes why I write Judy's
Journal. Although it may not be the lofty "best writing
about art," writing gives me a chance to reflect on my
process and therefore learn from it. Hopefully, you have connected
to some aspects of my journey. Happy New Year.