Composition Talk: The Golden Ratio & The Rule of Thirds

Understanding composition fundamentals is so very important, but how many of us really do understand it and/or how to use it effectively? We all know when something doesn’t look ‘right’, but how do we figure out why and how do we fix it? The following is an excerpt from a talk on composition that I give to all of my workshops. It’s a bit technical, a bit boring maybe, but knowing these simple rules may be helpful to you when something not ‘right’ befalls you in the studio. Read on…this is going to be fun!

Understanding composition fundamentals is so very important, but how many of us really do understand it and/or how to use it effectively? We all know when something doesn’t look ‘right’, but how do we figure out why and how do we fix it? The following is an excerpt from a talk on composition that I give to all of my workshops. It’s a bit technical, a bit boring maybe, but knowing these simple rules may be helpful to you when something not ‘right’ befalls you in the studio. Read on…this is going to be fun!

There is a reason why some compositions look better than others and that is because the relationships between the colors and forms in the work are proportionate and likely somehow follow one of the following rules: The Golden Ratio and/or The Rule of Thirds.

First, let’s take a look at the Golden Ratio, also known as the Golden Mean and Golden Rectangle. The idea was started by the ancient Greeks, who believed that all things, both tangible and intangible, have a perfect state of being that define them and felt that one should always strive toward achieving this ideal state. Greek mathematicians, after repeatedly seeing similar proportions in nature and geometry, developed a mathematical formula for what they considered an ideal rectangle: a rectangle whose sides are at a 1:1.62 ratio. –Nelson. Ever wonder why the Mona Lisa is so pleasing to the eye when she’s actually not conventionally beautiful? It’s because she’s perfectly proportionate from the tip of her nose to her knees..see how she fits perfectly into the Golden Rectangle in the image below. This same idea goes for buildings and rooms, furniture and other forms of design. The closer to the Golden Mean they are, the more comfortable they will feel and the better they will look to us as humans. This is because our bodies are also proportionate and also fit the Golden Ratio, we are all familiar with the image below which illustrates these proportions. If you’re really bored and want to test this out, consider your comfort level in the room you’re in right now and rate it on a scale of 1-10. Now measure the room and see how close it comes to the Golden Mean. Interesting, huh? Now try it with one of your paintings that just isn’t working and see what happens.

Next up is the Rule of Thirds, which states that if you divide any composition into thirds, vertically and horizontally, then place the essential elements of your image either along these lines or at the intersections of them, you’ll achieve a more pleasing arrangement. Edmund Dulac was a stickler for this Rule and it’s perfectly illustrated in his painting below of the Little Mermaid. Here Dulac has placed the column, figures and the horizon line perfectly along a line of thirds. The empty space leads the eye to the action in the composition, therefore creating a more interesting composition. These images were borrowed from the informative Art With Nelson.

Now, watch what happens when the rule is ignored and the action is centralized…kinda boring… and why is that? The column now dominates the image, which takes away from the figures, the source of the action in the image. The viewer’s eye goes directly to the strong column shape and there is no empty space calmly leading the eye into the image.  In any painting, one design element must be more dominant than the others, which creates an imbalance, thus creating tension and attracting the viewer’s eye. When the canvas is segmented in half, there is no imbalance or tension, which makes for a not so interesting composition. Imbalance and tension can also be applied to many compositional elements of your painting including value, color and contrast. I’ll talk about this a bit more in my next post, which will also include a nod to mathematician, Fibonacci.

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A word of caution…don’t go crazy trying to make your composition fit exactly into these Rules. For example, you can apply the Rule of Thirds to any grid as long as you keep the major design elements on the segments and/or at intersections. The same goes for the Golden Ratio. These tools are not to be used as starting points necessarily, but as check points when we are trying to figure out what’s gone wrong. If you spend too much time thinking about these things when beginning a painting you won’t have any fun and your painting will feel stiff, technical and sad. Click on the images below for some proportionate famous and not so famous works of art and photography.

 

 

3 Essential Art Evaluation Questions

In this article, I introduce three simple questions that encourage artists to delve deeper and therefore allow for the exchange of new ideas regarding how and why we look at, respond to and appreciate art. Once I began introducing these questions to my group critiques, participants were also able to apply them to their personal work. I’m happy to share them with you so that you can do the same.

How do you evaluate your art or the art of others’? What makes a good work of art? Do you only know you ‘like’ or dislike something about it? What is that something? Certainly there are many other questions that come to mind when looking at art and those answers will always include some measure of subjectivity, which is always welcome and makes for a lively discussion. Its the usual questions regarding design fundamentals and what is ‘liked’ about the work that usually does not make for interesting discourse. Please note, I’m not bashing the consideration of design fundamentals-they should, and always enter the conversation. However, it’s the discussion of ONLY these things that makes for a very technical conversation and one that really doesn’t cut to core regarding what makes us RESPOND to a work of art. When I was teaching at Tyler, I found critique questions that attempt to push beyond design fundamentals to be too esoteric and often led to discussions that were not helpful in actually growing the work. To begin the discussion and to simplify things a bit I came up with three simple questions that would allow each student to delve deeper and therefore allow for the exchange of new ideas regarding how and why we look at, respond to and appreciate art. Once I began proposing these questions in my critiques, students were also able to apply them to their own work and I’m happy to share them with you so that you can do the same. After each question listed below, I have included a list of characteristics that I notice I consistently respond to in a work. I have also included a few examples below of my answers to these questions in reference to specific works from my recent art travels.

  1. What attracts you to this work? What makes you cross the room to take a closer look? Detail, use of color, drama, movement, materials, pattern, ornament, gesture, visual poetry, repetition, raw emotion, deconstruction, drawing and line.
  2. Once you cross the room to view it, does it hold you there? What is it about the work that keeps you looking? Mystery, poetry, finding hidden treasures, a puzzle, a story, innovative use of materials or structure, surfaces, layers, not necessarily having all of the information slapping me in the face, good design, process, skillful craftsmanship and execution, immersive-ness, hauntingly dark, strange anomolies.
  3. Does the work introduce a thought, concept, idea and/or make you think on a higher level? Anything that speaks to dreams, time, memory, connection, open-endedness, explanations of personal struggle, redemption, vindication, love, loss, good/evil, hope, life lessons, experience, transcendence, inspiration, imagination.

Examples

  1. Ryoko Aoki Installation at the Armory, NYC

I was attracted to this installation because of my love of anything textile and embroidery, the placement of the pieces with lots of white space around them and the geometries of the forms having a conversation that invited me to listen. Getting in close,  I was loving the pattern, exquisite craftsmanship and detail, references to drawing and home, handwork, domesticity. Despite the crowd, there was a calm, delicate, quietness that hovered over the whole installation and as I continued to study each grouping, the room slowed and got quieter. I walked around the table a number of times and fell deeper in love with where this piece took me each time.

2. Patrick Jacobs, Pink Forest at the Armory, NYC

If you follow me on Instagram, you know I love me some pink! So of course, I was attracted to this loveliness as well as the combination of interesting materials. Similar to displays at a natural history museum, the installation was inset so the viewer could stand close enough to touch it and almost feel a part of it. I spent a lot of time getting to know this world, I was transfixed by the details and kept finding hidden treasures within this strange forest. It was interesting to discover that the piece is composed primarily of man-made materials made to look natural, which brought ideas of our fading environment to the surface. My mind started to drift as I stared into the seemingly distant center and then the questions….It looks like a landscape I would see everyday, but what is that strange landform in the center? What made this world turn this strange color? Is it toxic? Will it make me sick to stand in front of it? Because of its friendly pink color and serene forest scene, it would appear calming but the longer I stood there and the more questions that came to mind about it, the more off putting it became. I loved that I couldn’t solve this mystery and that it took hold of my imagination.

3. Gustavo Diaz, cut paper sculpture at the Armory, NYC

I was delighted to discover these wonderful cut paper pieces, the tiny details and the unique nature of the work beckoned me to take a closer look. The pieces are interesting from every angle so that keeps the viewer interested in looking-enjoying the many layered details, trying to figure out how these pieces were constructed and how they are staying together being so ridiculously delicate as they are. These piece brought to life a few of the cities described in one of my favorite books, Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino and just like the cities in the book, I wondered what it would be like to live in one of these cut paper pieces. I began to imagine tiny people, vehicles, trees, grass, etc. populating the cities. Even so, there is something about these cities that is unfathomable, uninhabitable, peculiar, not quite right..and that’s what kept me looking even longer.

4. Tomas Saraceno, Entangled Orbits at the Baltimore Museum of Art

Probably my most favorite work of the year so far, this piece attracted me because of its drama. Set in an extremely dark room that forced me to immediately turn a corner upon entering, I was a bit disoriented and it took my eyes a moment to adjust-there is no hint to what one is going to see here. Within a vitrine in the middle of the room, the only lights were highlighting these amazing spider webs!! I ran over and stared, were they real? I’m a bit squeamish of spiders and for a second I wondered if there were a number of them in there, but I looked a little closer to realize that the webs were made from wire. Again, thoughts of man replicating nature and doing it quite well made me both sad and intrigued. I stayed in the dark, quiet room checking it from every angle, immersed in the craftsmanship, process and patience it must have taken to create this amazing spectacle.

I hope this article was helpful to you. As always, I look forward to your comments, questions and suggestions-the comments section is located at the upper left sidebar of this post. Please let me know if you’ve applied these questions when out gallery or museum hopping this week or if you’ve developed your own series of evaluation questions. I’m also interested in what characteristics you can add to the lists above. What characteristics most make you respond to a work? I’m most interested to hear whether or not these questions have helped you in your own studio or teaching practice. Let me know, I love hearing from you!

Stay tuned for my next post which was suggested to me by a reader. This post pares down my list of favorite encaustic colors to those I recommend for the beginner. It’s a helpful list whether you are a professional artist or a beginner-you might just be surprised at what few paint colors you actually need in the studio.

 

 

 

 

5 Mark Making Exercises to Jump Start Your Art

Are you an artist who hates to draw? Making daily marks for 15-30 minutes a day will improve your creative work flow not only in the studio, but in all aspects of your life. These 5 easy exercises will help you get that pencil moving!

In the first part of my 2018 Resolutions post I encouraged you to draw at least 15-30 minutes a day and as a result of this prompt, I received many requests for suggestions on how to get started. Even if you think you can’t draw, think you don’t know how or just stubbornly refuse, these 5 exercises will help. But before I discuss the How, I would like to discuss the What and Why I feel you must draw everyday.

The What…let’s take the word ‘drawing’ out of this article for now because it tends to scare people. When I’m teaching, I use the words drawing and mark-making interchangeably because for my purposes they are the same thing with only very slight differences. Think of it this way…a mark communicates a word and a drawing expands that word into a sentence…a poem…a sonnet. As artists, whatever we do in the course of making work begins as a mark on a surface made by one human to be interpreted by another in an effort to communicate. Mark making is expressive, gestural, emotive and works of art that contain such marks are the ones I will cross the room to view-they literally speak to me without words, they communicate. No matter what kind of work you make or in what medium, understanding your mark, what it is and how to make it, will make you a better communicator through that work.

The Why…Critic Lance Esplund writes, “Line is a rich metaphor for the artist. It denotes not only boundary, edge or contour, but is an agent for location, energy, and growth. It is literally movement and change – life itself.” This quote speaks to lines specifically, but for the purposes of this article, we’ll think of marks and lines as one in the same. The mark adds the lifeblood to the work that sets it apart from anyone else’s. Your personal mark or gesture is literally as unique as your signature and practicing making marks everyday is the only way to find that mark. As I mention in my Resolutions post, when you practice moving those parts of your body and brain required to make a drawing, everything else in your art making process flows much more smoothly. How many times have you entered the studio cold and stiff from not working and end up puttering around wasting time? Or picked up a paintbrush, but just couldn’t make the paint say what you wanted? The more marks you make and the more frequently you make them, they become indelibly written on your brain, your movements in the studio become more practiced and you will approach the work with confidence and knowing. I’m not saying that drawing everyday will rid you of all the struggles us artists face in the studio, but I absolutely guarantee that it will get you moving faster and in the right direction toward your goals.

The How…Now for the fun part. Your daily drawings can be made with any media on any substrate and inspired by any subject. I like to give myself ‘projects’ in which I work on a series of drawings inspired by one thing with the same media for one month. This offers me a chance to work out every angle of a certain subject and/or experiment with new media. At the end of the month, I also have a series of drawings that may be strong enough to show. Visit this post to read about one of these drawing series’ of mine. You can choose to work with monthly projects or you can draw something different everyday, the point is to make marks daily for 15-30 minutes. For those of you who think you’re too busy to spare this time, I suggest in my resolutions post that you always have a sketchbook and drawing tools with you in your bag because you may have more time than you think…on the bus/train, waiting at the doctors office, waiting in line at the food store. It’s almost depressing how much time we spend waiting so why not do something constructive while you’re at it. Last, don’t forget to set that timer! I’m a stickler about setting the timer for daily exercises like this and I explain a bit about why in this post. In a near future post I’ll talk about restrictions and why they are so important in art making. For now, understand that the timer will create a time-space for you to focus only on what you’re doing. For that short time, you don’t have to think about or do anything else but that draw.

The following drawing ideas are tried and true-a few have been used in art schools for centuries and a few I’ve modified and used over and over in my workshops. Once you start, your creative brain will begin to flow with many of your own ideas. At the end of this article I share some drawings from my workshop participants as well as some other artist’s works whose marks and processes I find inspiring. If you see your drawing below, let me know and I’ll add your name!

The Ideas

  1. Blind Contour Drawings If you went to art school, you probably went blind making blind contour drawings-they are used so much as a learning tool and that is because they are so helpful. Start by staring at an object in front of you for one minute. Then close your eyes and imagine the object in your minds eye…try to see its color, its form, its texture, it’s scale. Then open your eyes and look at the object in front of you. How does it look? Try to spend two minutes (or longer) just looking at the object, examining it in great detail. Then close your eyes and draw it continuously, keeping your eyes closed for a full two minutes. Don’t lift the pencil or open your eyes until your full two minutes are up. If you ‘finish’ drawing your object under two minutes just draw it again. If you find you can’t help yourself from cheating, wear a blindfold. Do this with the same object over and over, or try different objects in order to fill your 15-30 minutes. Another variation is to begin with the blind contour and then with your eyes open, ‘connect’ the sketchy lines you drew to make a new drawing.
  2. Opposites Make drawings in pairs which express opposite adjectives. For example, make a drawing which is noisy in as many ways as possible – your pencil should make a lot of noise as it vigorously scribbles and scratches across the page, and the finished drawing should be noisy in the way in which it communicates. Then take a breath and make a very quiet drawing. Your pencil should hardly touch the paper (imagine it’s the tip of a feather). Hold your pencil far away from the drawing end so you cannot apply too much pressure. Hush your pencil as you draw, and let the end result be a very shy drawing. Enjoy the differences between the two drawings – let your ideas bounce off each other. Push yourself to extremes of noisy and quiet.
  3. Words Choose 5 words randomly from the dictionary and either write them at the top of the page or begin with a drawing of the word itself. I use Design Language by Tim McCreight in my workshops because the words in it lend themselves to visual inspiration. Working on the same paper, spend one-2 minutes interpreting each word with marks. Let each word’s marks intertwine and overlap. Take this drawing a step further and add more marks, collage or stitch to make it a cohesive drawing.
  4. Music This idea comes from one of my favorite artists, Wassily Kandinsky, who believed that colors and marks in paintings created visual ‘chords’ which resonated in the viewer. A must read for any artist is Concerning the Spiritual in Art by Kandinsky in which he writes in depth about the essence of expressionism in painting. Create a playlist of 30 seconds of 20 different songs ranging in tempo, style, genre, etc. Using a large piece of paper on the floor or taped to the wall (must be positioned so that you can use your body expressively) and gather 5 different drawing tools near you so you can switch if you’d like. Turn on your playlist so the songs play successively with only 3-5 seconds between each. Respond to each song with marks and allow the marks to overlap and intertwine. At the end of the playlist, the drawing will likely look like a bunch of scribbles, so what you want to do next is isolate certain areas to use for inspiration. Cut a rectangle out of a piece of paper and float this frame over the drawing. As you do this, you’ll find so many great ideas for marks that you can trace and use in paintings. Another variation is cut up your large drawing and scatter the cut outs onto another large piece of paper. Experiment with with creating new distances between the cut outs, turn them upside down or rip them in half. Begin drawing new elements and shapes in between the old ones to create a new drawing. Forget your original drawing and think about new meanings which might be created, think about how the new drawing might be interpreted.
  5. Response This is my personal favorite method to begin a drawing and I have completed many series this way. ‘Response Drawing’ is a term I coined in one of my workshops and it just stuck. Response drawings are basically just as the words describe… it is a response to marks either you or someone else made intentionally, accidentally or found. Responding to marks that are not yours encourages you to expand your mark making vocabulary by making marks you aren’t normally inclined to make. There are many ways to begin a project like this but the basic premise is to begin with some kind of mark on a substrate-it could be a splash, a pour of paint, a burn, a footprint,  rust print, transfer print, a mistake. It could be something you found in the trash, a folded or cut piece of paper, crushed pencil shavings, anything! It could be a project between you and a friend in which one of you makes a mark and the other responds. This actually has a name -Exquisite Corpse- a term and game invented by surrealist creatives. I’ll be writing a more in depth post about Exquisite Corpse, but in the meantime you read about and see some examples of them here. However your first mark is generated, the next step is simply to respond to it in any way you want. The image at the top of this page is from a series of drawings from 2005 called ‘Flesh’ in which I started with tracing paper that had been burned and splashed with watercolor and I then responded with organic forms drawn in graphite and colored pencil. See more from this series in the images below.

If this post was helpful to you, please let me know, I invite your comments questions and suggestions in the comments section now located in the upper left sidebar of this post.

In my next post, I’ll share with you my acrylic/gouache series of layered drawings. I’ll discuss my approach and process for these drawings and how this whole series began by drawing only 15 minutes a day.

Image Links (read left to right from top row)

  1. Workshop student exquisite corpse.
  2. Lorraine Glessner Flesh series response drawing.
  3. Jeri Ledbetter, artist, see her work here and here.
  4. Lorraine Glessner, found ledger sketchbook response drawing.
  5. Workshop student exquisite corpse.
  6. Emma McNally makes drawings responding to unlikely sounds like white noise and city sounds. See her work here.
  7. James Watkinson responds to aged paper and stains of old book covers with detailed narrative drawings. See his work here.
  8. Ayanna Jolivet Mccloud’s experiments with a china marker, making as many different marks as she can. See her work here.
  9. Workshop student music response drawing.
  10. Workshop student scattered elements response drawing.
  11. Workshop student music response drawing.
  12. Workshop student music response drawing. I love how the strong shadows and deep wrinkles of the paper contribute to the drama of this drawing.
  13. Lorraine Glessner Flesh series response drawing.
  14. Workshop student found object mark response drawing.
  15. Workshop student music response drawing.
  16. Workshop student architectural sketch response drawing.
  17. Lorraine Glessner Flesh series response drawing.
  18. Workshop student mixed media drawings collage.
  19. Workshop student mixed media drawings collage.
  20. Workshop student found object mark response drawing.
  21. Workshop student mixed media drawings collage.
  22. Workshop student scattered elements response drawing.

 

My Encaustic Fairy Tale: 3 Lessons Learned

3 Lessons I Learned as an Artist by Lorraine Glessner

While writing my last blog post chronicling my early journey with encaustic, I realized that I learned many valuable lessons through it all. Three lessons stood out as being most important while at the same time being those lessons that I’m constantly re-learning as I go.

When I’m teaching, I always begin each day with a quote that works to set the tone for that day and almost always it’s a quote from Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland. If you haven’t read it, go get it NOW, read it once and then turn around and read it again. I quote from it often because I read it often, roughly once a year since it was first introduced to me in graduate school. My copy is highlighted almost all the way through because each time I read it I find another valuable snippet that seems to speak directly to me and the struggles I may be going through at the time. All of the quotes from this book were used to write this post unless otherwise noted .

  1. Experiment often with current and new materials, make lots of samples, document and save them. What you need to know about the next piece is contained in the last piece. the place to learn about your materials is the last use of your materials. The place to learn about your execution is in your execution. The best information about what you love is in your last contact with what you love. Put simply, your work is your guide.
    I can’t recall where I first heard the 40/60 principle or even if I’m getting the percentages right, but it’s something we all must strive to do. The principle works something like this…60% of your studio work should be spent making work you are known for and/or work you are ‘comfortable’ making using materials, processes and ideas you know well. The remaining 40% should be spent experimenting with new materials, processes and ideas which will generate new work. If you keep doing this, sooner or later the ‘new’ work begins to seep into the current body of work and eventually it becomes your current body of work. If you apply this principle, your work and you as an artist, will continuously evolve and grow. This sounds great, but many artists may find it difficult to work experimentation into their busy and sometimes, very limited, studio time. What I’ve done to keep experimentation alive in my studio is average my daily hours and experiment for a percentage of that time-usually about 30 minutes to an hour for every 6-8 hours. I call this work my warm-up drawing time and sometimes will work on the same drawing all week, applying new layers each day (see the featured image above). I have so much fun just playing around with materials in the studio that I’ve forgotten about. Many times, this experimentation has generated new bodies of work that I would have never conceived of without first experimenting.
    Vision is always ahead of execution, knowledge of materials is your contact with reality, and uncertainty is a virtue. I don’t mention this in my last post, but my first year of graduate school was very difficult for many reasons. My first review was at the end of my first semester and it was coming up fast, so fast that I was in fear of not having anything to show. One of my committee members suggested just having a wall of samples for my review. I had a few samples, but not nearly enough so I spent 3 straight weeks barely coming out of my studio to make hundreds of samples. Only having limited time as well as keeping in mind that these were just samples prevented me from being too precious and worrying about making a ‘finished’ work. Those three weeks were perhaps the most painful but most prolific of my total two year experience-more importantly I learned so much about what my materials could do and what I, as an artist, could do. I saved almost all of those samples and I still use most of them as teaching tools today, both in workshops and in my own studio.
  2. You don’t always have to know what you’re doing. This lesson could be read two-fold: a) You don’t always have to know HOW to do what you’re doing and b) You don’t always have to know what you’re going to make-what it’s going to look like.People who need certainty in their lives are less likely to make art that is risky, subversive, complicated, iffy, suggestive or spontaneous. What’s really needed is nothing more than a broad sense of what you are looking for, some strategy for how to find it and an overriding willingness to embrace mistakes and surprises along the way. Simply put, making art is chancy-it doesn’t mix well with predictability. Uncertainty is the essential, inevitable and all pervasive companion to your desire to make art. And tolerance for uncertainty is the prerequisite to succeeding.
    This is likely my favorite quote of all time and I read it in every workshop. It is absolutely essential to keep experimentation, the idea of imperfect perfection and  the element of chance in the work at all times. This doesn’t mean I’m encouraging you to make sloppy or ill-conceived work, rather, allow for a symbiosis to occur between you and your materials. Allow your materials to do what they do and you to push them gently in a certain direction. Full control and technical perfection is the death-knell for any work of art. It’s in the imperfections that true art is made and is the predominant concept behind the Japanese principle of Wabi-Sabi–an awesome subject for any artist to know, but far too complicated to explain here. The best book I have read on the subject is Wabi-Sabi: The Japanese Art of Impermanence by Andrew Juniper and Wabi-Sabi for Artist, Designers, Poets and Philosophers by Leonard Koren is also good.
    When I first started working in encaustic, there were no books to refer to, no workshops and barely any information online, so I was basically on my own. I used tools that I already had in the studio, combined encaustic with other materials, basically developed my own processes and ways of doing things with this medium. The result was that I developed a truly original body of encaustic work. I absolutely believe that if I had taken an encaustic workshop, I wouldn’t have developed this work or perhaps it would have come much later. On the other hand, taking an encaustic workshop would have saved me two years of improperly ventilating wax fumes as well as understanding the importance of fusing and the reasons why Damar resin is added to the beeswax. While it’s okay not to know too much, ALWAYS work safely and technically accurate with your materials. Once you know those things, have fun and let things happen!
    Last, a great story illustrating the woe in striving for perfection comes from Art & Fear….The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right, solely on the quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scale and weigh the work of the quantity group: fifty pounds of pots would get an ‘A’, 40, a ‘B’, etc. those being graded on quality needed to produce only one pot-albeit a perfect pot to get an A. Well, came grading time and curious fact emerged: the work of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the quantity group was busily churning out piles of work and learning from their mistakes, the quality group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end, had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay. Remember this story every time you strive for perfection and find yourself overworking a piece into oblivion.
  3. Don’t start working on a white background.  Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself. Things occur to you. If you’re sitting around trying to dream up a great art idea, you can sit there a long time before anything happens. But if you just get to work, something will occur to you and something else will occur to you and something else that you reject will push you in another direction. Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. You feel like you need this great idea before you can get down to work, and I find that’s almost never the case. –Chuck Close
    The fear of the white canvas isn’t new, we’ve all experienced it in one way or another and have developed our own methods of fighting it.I always tell my students that art begins in the head with an idea, flows through the heart, which makes it personal and out through the hand, which makes the actual work. Too much emphasis in any one of those places creates an imbalance in the process. Whenever I have developed a finished work in my head and then tried to make it, I almost always fail due to the frustration that it isn’t coming out ‘right’. The same thing happens when I try to plan too much before beginning a piece, I get mired in the planning stage and never actually DO anything. The best method for me and one that I suggest to students is to develop a step by step process that will generate a mark, then follow or respond to that mark. The less control you have over that initial mark, the better.
    Covering a board with a stained or rust printed fabric and then responding to those marks was the process I developed in grad school. This process enabled me to create subsequent marks to generate paintings I never would have had I started with a white board. It was also important that I didn’t have total control over the initial process itself-in a sense the process controlled me and that was just fine.
    To see some of the stained fabrics and paintings I created using them, go to my last blog post. I have also presented a talk on generating process and artists who use process in their work-for artist links and a presentation outline go to this blog post.

While we’re on the subject of mistakes, learning and re-learning, be sure not to miss my next blog post listing 10 mistakes I have made as an artist.