How do you respond to setbacks or frustration with your work? For artists this question is especially important. Most artists work alone and must keep creating new work. This can create pressure especially when this involves personal expectations.
For example, which of these people remind you of someone?
They say that there are three chronic types of fear: the fear of failure, fear of success and fear of change. Which one do you relate to?
Studies suggest that the greatest fear out of these three is the fear of change. I have to agree based on my limited experience. But I believe that this fear also has the greatest potential for helping us grow. There is no better time to start than right now. Ready?
Be careful what you wish for. It may come true, but not quite as you hoped for. This ancient moral is explored in the spooky story, The Monkey's Paw by W.W. Jacobs. Even if Halloween is not your thing you may enjoy this fun, but chilling tale. I certainly had fun putting a reading together for my Artist's Journey Podcast. So turn the lights down and listen to this classic story.
In this podcast episode I want to explore how attitude influences out creative process. How can we get more control over creating positive work when our moods and attitudes are easily influenced? It is not always easy. Especially for artists. You can listen to the episode below. Plus there is a full transcript if you prefer to read.
Are you starting to lose momentum? Do you start off in January with a plan and get stuck during February. Try again in March and find you are running on empty the next month or so? This is a familiar pattern for me. Perhaps you can relate? This is a pattern that affects everybody. Even retirees find themselves burned out and need to renew their energy reserves. How can you eliminate this destructive pattern so that you have quality time for work and play?
Light. What would we do without it? Our little blue planet depends on it. At least life on the planet does. And somewhere in the entire hierarchy of beings dwell the artists. Those peculiar people who seek out light in all its forms for their works of art. Sunrise, sunset and in all weather conditions light in its abundance or elusiveness continues to mesmerize the landscape artist. Seems a pity not to do a good job with it then.
The Grahamstown National Arts Festival kicks off at the end of June each year. It is a wonderful occasion that stands out in South Africa as a beacon for the arts. Eleven days of celebrating of all that is artsy-fartsy in this small cathedral city. I love it. I went to university there and I have not missed a festival since. But are festivals like this still relevant and sustainable?
Do you remember the TV series Cosmos hosted by Carl Sagan? It is a wonderful series and Carl Sagan remains peerless in communicating the mystery of all things universal. Episode 8 stands out in my memory. The part where Sagan illustrates some of the weird things that will happen if you could travel near to the speed of light.
An Italian teenager decides to go for a scooter ride. Before he sets off he says goodbye to his young friend, Vincenzo, who is sitting on a bench in the village square. Our scooter rider does even better than Valentino Rossi and manages to travel near to the speed of light. All sorts of strange things happen at such speeds as described by Albert Einstein in his Theories of Relativity. When the rider returns after about fifteen minutes of travel he finds the village square deserted. Except for a very old man sitting on the bench. Yes, the old man happens to be Vincenzo, the formerly young friend waiting in the square. The teenage rider has not aged, but his friend is now a geriatric. Ouch!
Moral of the story? If you want to cheat time find a way to travel near to the speed of light. But you may not like the consequences. Short of light speed we all need to find another way to occupy our limited time on this isolated planet. I like the idea that if you keep moving you are able to make the best of your time. This got me thinking about creativity and artists. Do we have a special opportunity to get more out of time?
Playing in Life's Second Half:
I am sure if you are north of forty years old you have noticed how time seems to move quicker. As a child an hour could feel like days. Especially on a Sunday afternoon! Now the hours fly by in seconds. I cannot help but notice that I am now playing in the second half of life’s game. And it is in the second half of any game where greatness can be achieved. Think of any sport and there will be many examples of great feats of achievement in the last moments of the game. Why not in life too?
Artist's Unique Opportunity:
Artists have a unique opportunity to make the most of time. I speak of art in the broadest sense. Everyone who puts their heart into their work goes beyond mere step-by-step performance. These people transform their work into art. Some stand out as shining beacons over time. Da Vinci, Picasso, Einstein and many more. Immortal in their achievements.
How We Can Transform Time:
What about the rest of us who do not rise to these illustrious heights? No problem. We must remember that the object of life is not fame or fortune. It is rather about making the most of our talents in the time we have been given. Create, share and contribute something positive to the world. All of these actions create positive energy. Ripples that keep going. You may never know it, but your creative actions may influence greatness in someone else. Plus you feel better and more energised and the cycle continues. You have transformed your time into something meaningful.
Yes there are ups and downs, but as they say, it is the trend that counts over time. If the trend is up then you can safely say that your life has been pretty good. Like Sinatra says, as long as your regrets are too few to mention.
So how to go about the daily grind with a creative attitude? Not everybody finds this easy to do. Especially when life has been dishing out some tough moments. Here are a few bare-knuckle thoughts:
1. Be Aware of Your Thoughts and Words: Possibly the most important thing any of us can do is to become aware of our own thoughts and words. How we think about others and ourselves determines our attitude to life. So often we blame others, but never consider our own part. Or we say negative things to ourselves and to others. Those words are powerful. So begin by stepping back and observing what you say and do. For example if you catch yourself losing your temper try and stop the flow of anger and think about what triggers you. Is it worth the drama?
2. Be Aware of Others Who Negatively Influence You: This can be friends, family or the media. Ask yourself who brings you down or depletes your energy? It is time to take responsibility for your creative energy and attitude. Avoid the negative people or media that bring you down. Start today by ditching the newspaper that makes you boil with indignation every time you read it.
3. Identify Your Passion: This topic may sound a little trite these days. Follow your passion is a cliche, but simply try to identify what you love doing. That activity that engages your mind and body fully so that time seems to fly by. You emerge calmer and happier. Plus there is something positive to show for it. A piece of art, a chapter in a book, a new bookshelf, a loaf of bread, a new tune on your guitar and so on. These are your passion activities and you need to nurture them.
4. Drop Your Baggage: This links up with item 1. But it includes taking responsibility for yourself. Have you listened to someone you know carry on about something that happened long ago? They blame a parent, boss, partner or circumstance. No matter that the event took place thirty years ago. Some folks just cannot leave it alone. They nurture the negative energy. The result is an excuse for not trying anything worthwhile. And true failure only happens when you do not try at all. Plus it is so boring to listen to that sort of stuff! So drop the baggage so that you can move on and do something that gives you joy. That helps you grow and find the peace you deserve. Then you can use time properly.
5. Make a Start: Are you too busy? Too scared? Too lazy? What is really keeping you from starting your creative work? Ask yourself these provocative questions, because honesty is critical. No more deluding yourself with excuses. Get tough and get started. Yes you may have to sacrifice something like binge watching on Netflix. If it is using your time then you need to make sure it is truly worthwhile. If your deceptive mind yells out: I don’t have time! Then add these two words: ...to waste! You do not have time to waste. Momentum is key. Begin and the work becomes easier and you get results.
Measure your Time:
I have developed an idea that each painting produced is a marker. It marks a moment in time used well. I can look at the painting and know that my energy and hands created something. My precious time was not wasted. Whether the painting is sold or not is irrelevant. I know that I was doing something meaningful. This also helps me to be aware of time. When goofing off I know that time is being wasted. So I know that I must cut out the waste and get back to my art. Having fun is not goofing off either. I am not talking about living a dull working life. We need to know the difference between living fully and wasting time.
The Clock Keeps Ticking:
Time machines may exist one day when we can travel close to light speed. But then again maybe not. For now all we can do is make the most of the time we have right now. Starting today. Know that as an artist you have a duty. To Create Art. In this way you contribute to the world today and perhaps leave your mark on the world tomorrow.
Do you want to rekindle your creative talent? Perhaps you have retired and used to paint long ago. But getting started seems silly or difficult? Leave a comment or Contact me and I will see if I can help.
Who does not love painting water scenes, the sea and yachts? Most landscape artists love the idea of painting these scenes, but are intimidated by the prospect. After all water is moving and full of shifting shapes, colour and light. And as for yachts. Unless you are familiar with them painting the boats is also tricky.
Water in the Impressionist Style
In this lesson on How to Loosen Up Your Painting I am showing members how to paint water in a loose and vibrant style. Our source of inspiration is none other than Claude Monet, the master of impressionism. Monet loved painting water as well as the yachts and boats on the sea and rivers. He was inspired by Turner as well and visited England to paint there too.
Yachts are Complicated Subjects
Well that's true if you are learning to sail them, but we are only going to paint them. The loose style means painting shapes of colour and value. I will show you how to simplify this potentially complicated subject into the essential mood of the scene.
Interested in Learning More?
Join me and access all the past lessons and upcoming lessons. There are over five hours of video lessons and demonstration of many different subjects. All have a focus on one or two aspects of loose painting. As you progress you will develop your own loose style of impressionist painting. No more tight and frustrating paintings with that overworked look. See an immediate improvement in your painting with these tips and methods.
Learn more about this opportunity here.
View a sample of the lessons in the video below:
Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living. He was referring to a life governed by rules and routines imposed by others. Such a life is not freedom, but rather unconscious at best. Oppression at worst. When I begin quoting philosophers I know it is that time of year again. The Old Year ushering in the new. Socrates gave his life for that quote so the least we can do is reflect upon our own lives for a moment.
Reflection is Not Easy
As an artist I have a sense of trepidation doing this. Was the past year a success? Did my art improve? Have I lost the spark to create? Will next year improve or should I get a real job? Just kidding about the real job bit!
So there are a few hard truths to face. Which is good because this gives life meaning. And something to do while we wait for the next Gilmore Girls series. That is my wife's comment by the way.
The Number One Artist's Issue?
Anyway to be serious for a moment I have heard from many people over the year. Read their comments on blogs and social media and so forth. The number one issue is not how to improve one’s skill. It is how to get back to creativity. How to return to painting, for example. Sounds so simple, but there is a ton of baggage wrapped up in this idea.
What Me Worry?
I am not a psychologist, but as a husband, parent and artist I do have a little experience in life's curve balls. But the one that gets me is why are we so worried about what other people will think of us? At our age we should be brimming with confidence. Who cares if my drawing is dodgy? Or my painting comes with artist's license? It will improve as I get my mojo back. In the meantime I am having fun and relaxing.
What is Art Anyway?
The great artist and teacher Robert Henri said: "I don't believe any real artist cares whether what he does is art or not. Who, after all, knows what art is?"
Many people start retirement and think about returning to art. Or starting for the first time. I think first timers have an easier decision actually. It is the former artists who struggle the most. Art is a talent, but you learn your skill with practice. Or lose it through lack of practice.
The Set-Up for Failure
The scenario often follows this route. Retired artist wants to start painting again. Goes to the art store and purchases new supplies. Lovely easel, canvasses and other expensive items. Returns home and assembles studio. Begins painting straight away. Artist is shocked to discover that the painting is not good. A bit embarrassed by this the artist closes the studio door. Best not to show this off. Resolves to try again next time. Studio materials gather dust. There is not enough time anyway.
What is the Art Spirit?
The art spirit is for me, the ageless and limitless source of creativity within us. A child feels this instinctively without ego or conditions. As adults we stifle this spirit for material reasons or our ego inhibits us. Life happens, but creativity is life too. How can we justify burying our creative spirit for a moment longer?
If you want to explore this concept further I recommend that you read the book, The Art Spirit by Robert Henri.
There is Time
The trite excuse is that there is no time. I used this one too. Everyone has and it stinks. Back in school if I told the teacher that I did not have time to do my homework there were consequences. Not good ones. Too bad if I had sport commitments and other things going on. I had to make time. Now adults use this excuse all the time. Often at their own expense.
When I look back a few years ago I am shocked by the time wasted. Television alone stole chunks of my life. Until I cut the cable and released two hours a day. That is at least a painting per day right there. Imagine if a sold half of those paintings? That is potentially fourteen paintings a month!
The Real Price
So let us agree that we can find time. That we can keep our egos in check. Is art not too whimsical for us? Is it important? Let Robert Henri answer this:
"Art cannot be separated from life. It is the expression of the greatest need of which life is capable, and we value art not because of the skilled product, but because of its revelation of a life's experience."
If you want to paint again, but somehow find a way to avoid it then consider this. You have a life of experiences to pour into your art. All the material is there waiting. All you need to do is begin. The wonderful part is that every painting is also a new beginning filled with potential. Why let this experience pass by?
Now is the Moment
I wonder if Socrates ever imagined that his words would be read over two thousand years later? Doubtful. But life's universal truths remain constant. If you find yourself doubting your artistic desires then stop second guessing. Instead begin to create again. Make art knowing that you are fulfilling an essential human need for expression.
The art spirit rewards you generously. More confidence as your skills grow. Relaxation. Freedom from anxiety when you are creating in the zone. Freedom from boredom, distraction and the daily drama of life. Not to mention less "retail therapy" which can lead to more problems. A home filled with your art is also something to treasure.
I hope that you find that moment in the next few days. The moment when you begin to make your art again. The moment when you change your routines a little and invite your art spirit back into your life. Socrates and Robert Henri would be proud of you.
Looking for guidance? I have a series of courses available at my Online Art Academy. Plus a special offer on my flagship course Learn to Paint with Impact included in this link.
PS: Have a look at my upcoming "Loosen Up Your Painting Workshop" It could be just the thing to plan into your painting year.
Are you inspired to begin your art? What are your creative goals? Tell us about how you got back into creating art again.
(Article first appeared in Sixty and Me)
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