Monday, May 21, 2012

Back into the Studio

On Friday I got back into my studio to paint for the first time since February 10th when I fell and broke my painting wrist.  Just getting into the studio was an intimidating task.  I know all of the old tricks that I tend to do when I am trying to get to work but feel I have nothing to say...or when I have been away from work for so long that I have lost confidence that I will ever paint again. I tend to organize the studio first. I put away all of the materials I took out west with me for my workshops, rearranged some old work that is in the shelving system, looked at the work I finished up until the time I broke my wrist.  I did that during the week.  But by Friday I had no more excuses.  So I finally talked myself into going in there about 10am, telling myself I'd just work over old pieces.

There is an excellent movie about Agnes Martin called With My Back to the World.  In this wonderfully meditative film,  Martin, like a wise Yoda, said that she waited for inspiration.  Inspiration came to her as a vision of a small painting that she felt she was to paint.  When she finished that painting, with all of it's exacting measurements, she would then simply wait for the next inspiration before she painted again.  Once she had to wait for 5 months for the next inspiration to come along.

That's not the way it is for most artists, from the reading I've done.  Most say to just get in there, start playing.  Just begin.  I have already been out of my studio for 4 months and I haven't had an inspiration yet.  A few ideas perhaps, but not a clear vision.  Agnes might think I hadn't waited long enough.

Shaun McNiff, in his book Trust the Process, says that " We do not have to know where we are going at the beginning of the creative act. Successful expression involves the ability to let materials and unplanned gestures lead the way.  The purpose of the work comes from the act of doing it. Ideas emerge through the movement of painting."

It helped me to begin by pulling out some old paintings, scraping them back a bit and working on them. Something easier about beginning again when the painting I'm working on is already a failure.  My thought was that I surely can't wreck a failure. It felt so good to be back to work.  New ideas.  New colours.

The American sculptor, Stephen DeStaebler said, "Artist's don't get down to work until the pain of working is exceeded by the pain of not working"


  1. The title of Shaun McNiff's book says it all!I'm excited to see what will emerge after this long incubation...all in it's own time of course!

  2. I can so relate to your comments about having nothing to say, and losing confidence. This seems to happen more frequent than I care for :). If I waited for inspiration, I don't think it would ever come. There is a story in "Free Play" about a teacher dividing his classroom in half. One half of the room were assigned to make one piece during the semester, while the other half were assigned to make as many pieces as they wished. The final result was anxiety for the one piece side and quality out of quantity for the other. Even when I do crappy work, there is always something to be learned and that brings on other ideas. I just have to remind myself that the world will not end when I make crappy work. Beneath the surface there are things percolating... I look forward to seeing your work...welcome back Janice!

  3. Thanks Chris,
    So great to be back in the studio again.
    I know that story too and often relate it in my classes...of course you teach what you need to learn! Thanks for sending it back to me to hear again.