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


  1. Thanks for the great post, Janice. I'm bookmarking it so I turn can back to it in the future, when I'm stuck, which means it'll be referred to quite often!

  2. "The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct". Carl Jung....
    Janice, I have learned that my best work emerges when I am spontaneous and free and childlike....I totally agree with your post and bravo to you as an observant teacher for pushing your students into the "playground", and breaking through the intellectual boundaries and thus unleashing the pure essence of creativity....Donalda

  3. Fabulous post and a fun painting.