Just as writers may experience fear when they face a blank
sheet of paper, painters can feel the same emotion when facing
an unpainted "support" --- a canvas, board, paper
or any paintable surface. "Support" seems to be an
ironic term when I look at that white, empty area. Artists must
devise their own system of "supports" or strategies
in order to move into the work. In last month's journal, I shared
approaches I use to begin writing; this month, I offer some
ways I use to begin painting.
1. The opening quotation from Hans Hofmann speaks to our need
to let go of "the masterpiece" that we think will
be required every time we set out to make a piece of art. We
need to lower our standards, and just make the art. My favorite
quotation is a variation on Hofmann's advice-it's Paul Cezanne's
"Paint, don't think." I talk to myself when I work,
and if you walked by my studio, you might hear me chanting:
"Paint, don't think," especially at the early stages
of a piece.
2. Music is as essential as paint. It puts me in a place where
I need to be emotionally. Virtually every artist I have talked
with feels this way about having music when they are working.
Classical, blues, rock and roll, opera. You might try experimenting
with unfamiliar music, just to see if it has an effect on your
3. Choose a color and cover your entire support with it. Forget
about the right color. There are no right colors. Whatever color
I choose puts me in a mood, and along with the music, I am good
to go. If my Muse is stuck in traffic, I can start without her.
4. Grab a sketch book and draw. Whatever comes out of your
fingers is fine. When I use this strategy, I know that it won't
have anything to do with what I am about to paint, but it gets
me warmed up. It's about energy and rhythm and activating those
parts of my brain.
5. Sketch from photographs of your own paintings. Play games
with color. Grab some colored pencils. Use colors that are opposites
from your originals to fill in areas. Load your palette with
those colors and paint. If you tend to use the same colors when
you paint, this may be a revelation.
6. Begin a monochromatic painting using big brushes or rags
. Add other colors later.
7. Collect museum and exhibition postcards. Fill photo albums
with them, and begin your time in the studio by just looking,
and looking, and looking. Hold the album upside down, sideways
and right side up. Absorb color, composition, and design.
8. An old stand-by for getting my visual juices flowing is
simply to look at art books. Just browsing through one book
is usually enough to make me get up and go to my easel.
What strategies help get you started on making art? Email me:
December's journal will be devoted to poetry. If you have any
questions or ideas about poetry that you would like me to think
about in the meantime, please let me know!