Sunday, August 23, 2015

Mindful Play

Delicate Balance 16x16" Oil on paper ©2015 Janice Mason Steeves

I've always considered play to be the driving force that leads my work. It takes me into new territory, helps me break boundaries and express myself in different ways. Mindful play is the sort of play that It involves preparing ourselves in an inner way, calming our minds and bringing ourselves into the present moment. It also involves coming to the work with an understanding of structure. It's not thinking about design, it's more that we have incorporated that knowledge and then we let it go. In the same way, we can't pick up a saxophone and become jazz musicians by blowing random notes. Jazz has structure and skill behind it and the musician moves beyond it in order to fly.

My current work as in the photo above, began this past winter after an intense year of work in preparation for a major exhibition. After the work was completed, I needed to have a respite and simply play with paint on paper. There's a freedom in working on paper. I can experiment in a different way than I do on panels or on canvas. Even though I tell myself that there's no need to feel restrained when I paint on panel--that I can add endless layers of oil and cold wax--I still find myself painting in a more carefree manner on paper. This current work involves moving into a centered place in myself to begin with, rather like the Japanese enso (circle) painters who prepare themselves in their mind--calming and focusing-- before they make one tremendous spirited swoop with their brushes.

In my own process of mindful attention, I allow for mistakes and throw away those paintings that are overworked. It's very easy to overwork them. These recent paintings require a great deal of restraint. I'm never exactly sure when to stop but my eyes seem to know when I've gone too far. Where's that fine line between play and restraint? It's a delicate balance.

This process involves opening myself and staying in that place for a while, letting energy move through me like a conduit as I paint. I don't seem to be able to stay in that space a long time. I must be aware when it's present and when it leaves and try not to hold it longer than it wants to be there. I call it mindful play. Mindful painting.


Saturday, August 8, 2015

Can You Play?

Releasing Light 1:  oil on paper  16x16"  ©2015 Janice Mason Steeves

Each class I teach has it's own personality and demands different things from me. In the workshop I taught last week  my students were gradually moving forward in their work but seemed to be struggling. I spent the first few days teaching them techniques of working with cold wax and oil as well as the elements of design, encouraging them to make small quick paintings alongside the others that they were developing. The idea was to combine play and structure. Often students figure it all out on Day 3, but on the fourth day into this workshop, many were still stuck in the structure part. It was my job to find a new way to help them break through. Several people asked me if I'd demonstrate how to play.

I have always had respect for teachers who are able to paint in front of their classes but I am reluctant to do it, partly because I find it hard to be a performance artist, but also because I want the students to realize there are many ways of working and to find their own way.

I'm a private painter, needing the quiet solitude of my studio space in order to create. So when asked to demonstrate how I play..........well.... big intake of breath......that seemed to be the opposite of what play is for me. How do you do play when everyone is watching you? It's like singing at the top of your lungs in your car with the windows down when suddenly someone pulls up beside you.

So I tried. I can't say I was painting with reckless abandon though, as I sometimes do when I'm alone and between series' of paintings, searching for a new expression.

After my somewhat inhibited demonstration of "play," which they kindly said was helpful, I suggested that they work on two 8x10" pieces of paper (who cares about it I told them,  it's only paper), mix up their colours beforehand using three different values (so the decisions are made in advance) and work FAST--10 minutes per painting (to get their heads out of the way). I told them that they had spent the week learning about composition and the elements of design and internalized them and now it was time to let the rules go and play--they wouldn't forget what they had learned--they would now integrate it in a playful expression.

The work they produced in 20 min was terrific! Every single one had a breakthrough.

Play seems to be some mysterious entity that many of us have forgotten how to do.

Here are a few ways that I play:

-Make mistakes 

-Give yourself some limits:
             -Turn on a kitchen timer for 5 minutes and make a small painting in that time.
             -Use only 3 colours: light, medium, dark and mix them up beforehand.
             -Work on paper because it doesn't feel as precious as a wooden panel or a canvas
             -Work small because a small piece of paper feels like it's free.......almost.
-Surrender to the process-let go-who cares! 

"Dance like nobody's watching........." Mark Twain

Releasing Light : 5     Oil on paper 16x16" © 2015 Janice Mason Steeves