Sunday, June 9, 2013

Artist's Brain Jam

Today I need to blog about "Artist's Brain Jam" as opposed to "Artist's Block".
I think of artist's block as an experience of being in the doldrums, a place of 
no motion where the creative flow, like wind and water around a ship, is still and heavy.  Becalmed.  There is a feeling of not knowing what to do.

In contrast "Artist's Brain Jam" is when the flow of ideas, images, techniques, alluring supplies and materials, all completing for attention, swirl around me like a hurricane.  I find myself able to focus for fleeting moments on bright colors and shapes as they rocket past me.

How did I get to this state?  Part of it was feeling like I had a little more free time this summer and asking myself what I wanted to do with that time.  Hmmmm.  Learn to sew better and make some art quilts (got a new-to-me sewing machine); get an easel and go back to oil painting in the garage (bought a new-to-me studio easel); try some new mixed media techniques; take a couple online classes.  Oh, and unpack from my recent move, finish the three books I've started writing, finish designing and producing the online classes I want to teach on three different platforms.

Then I signed up for 21 Secrets. 21 mini-workshops, each with a different
artist/teacher teaching multiple mixed media art techniques.  Open until
the end of the year.  Oh, and, like a dieter left alone with a plate of
lovely cookies, I signed up for a class on Craftsy plus added 10 or so classes
to my wish list there.  Also signed up for Juliana Cole's League of Extraordinary Journalers, MaryBeth Shaw's Stencil Club as well as a Soul Collage workshop.
Plus somehow I joined a dozen or so artist's facebook groups.  Oh, and there were those courses with the amazing Joanne Sharpe as well as the astounding Jane LaFazio.  Might take that one course from Pam Carriker and Craftsy just emailed me to say they would like to offer a sale price on one of the courses on my wish list.

Know that Zen story of the centipede and toad?  I think I first read this
anonymously penned tale in Alan Watts book The Way of Zen.

The centipede was happy quite
Until a toad in fun
Said, 'Pray, which leg comes after which?'
This raised her mind to such a pitch,
She lay distracted in a ditch,
Considering how to run.

My brain feels like that now--flat on my back with legs and arms waving in a distracted way.  Gee, who did this to me?  Note to self: don't leave my
artist self alone with a credit card and the internet on payday.  All those
brightly colored candy jars are just too attractive to resist.

Of course some good will come from my personal indulgence. Probably a little nap will help with my overwhelm headache.  Here's something, although still on lesson one of Valerie Sjodin's Embellishing Edges and Text. My first page popped out from that workshop, below.

"One day you finally knew what you had to do and began."  Mary OliverPencil, Pitt Pen, brush markers and Gelly Roll metallic pensfrench curves to shape the right edge of the page.
Flowers perhaps inspired by my trip yesterday to "The Enchanted Gardens Tour of Northwest Denver".  But the face was a surprise.  I started with the shaped edge of this page and then worked along the upper, lower and left edge.  Next I added the quote, a find from my sketchbook.  The negative space suggested
a face.  She looks like a cartoon of a Flemish portrait, the queen of hearts
and my niece.  Makes me want to start painting a few Matisse style portraits,
something I did in art school.  For the last years I've been focused on
botanical imagery.  Good advice from Mary:  let yourself finally know how
to proceed (at home) rather than frantically traveling to foreign lands (or workshops) seeking wisdom and inspiration.  Trust that you will know.

Finally, I want to include the Chuck Close quotes below.

"Sign into the process and see where it takes you"
"Inspiration is for amateurs.  The rest of us just show up and get to work."
"All the best ideas come out of the process itself.  They come out of the work itself"
-Chuck Close
Inspired by the CBS interview of Chuck Close, part of their "Notes to Self Series".  So many great statements about how and why to engage in the artistic process. And one of the places that true to you ideas and inspiration comes from.  I've blogged about this video and these pages before, but needed to include these thoughts in this blog about being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of artistic ideas available to us online. Chuck reminds me to show up and engage in the process and see where it takes me. That the true learning and access to fresh ideas most often comes for the work itself.  

Don't need to buy a ton of shiny new art supplies or sign up for 30 classes.

Do check out an online class or two, but pace yourself.  And print out your
craft store coupon of the week and see what one item you can buy with it. 

I'm learning to practice moderation.  Let this be an artist's moral tale. Keep those feet on the ground. Take your creative self to the studio (however small or temporary it may be).  Look inside, not in an anxious way, but through turning your curiosity towards an exploration of what comes out of your artistic process itself.


  1. Been there, done that :) I totally get what you are saying. My brain is also a wee bit jammed at the moment. Keep breathing......

  2. Thanks for commenting MaryBeth! All I really need to do is breathe and follow my art.