Monday, January 11, 2010

Domesticating the Block

When you're in the process of taking new direction with your work have you found yourself making many messes (small & large) before actually painting? Lately, I have spent many random studio days adjusting to internal and external blocks before getting down to actually painting today. As I follow the days leading up to now, it's been a lot of settling down with a new way of approaching my work. There's a lot more wait time and the physicality of the fast-paced working rhythm is now giving way to spaciousness. New ideas and becoming more patient are beginning to surface.

I started a small format series of paintings I'm calling the "Poly Chromatic Group". Above are the in-progress pieces and one of many methodical but messy studio sessions. (I'm slowly warming up to saying "yes" to selling a group of 25 pieces to a local modern/contemporary furniture store).

Normally my studio sessions are highly productive, knowing exactly what I'm doing and where I'm going. I have spent many days this new year continuing to be patient with myself working with the materials. It's all there (just no Wax). Everything I need. No running out for anything! Therefore, the lull in the pace feels like a block right now.

Since I no longer have my separate custom-built studio with all that great stuff that blows my skirt--- I really miss the view, sweeping, rearranging, shop vac-ing, and the meditative opportunity to paint 2 studio doors over and over. Whatever it takes to unblock, right? Always good to keep moving. Those familar movements trigger the start button. Now, the movements are small and it's just me and the table. How intimate is that? Downsizing adds a test to your committment to this life.

Studio time today began cruising when I started making firm decisions and sticking to them. It's a fine line between planning and then letting yourself go. I believe more happy accidents occur when you are in this zone. The more chances I took in paint mixing and handling, the happier I felt. The risk really isn't that great afterall because everything is in flux while you're making a painting. These blocks that arrest our progress come and go and I believe that creating good productive studio practices takes a long time.

I noticed a simultaneous start & stall period. Everything I like to do before starting is ready and then I stop. I should back up a bit here and confess something that speaks to this possible stall. Right around the holidays (stressful busy time) I felt compelled to 'just do it' and get in some studio time. I was rebelling against the feelings of obligation, torn between the good mother, awesome daughter, and fabulous friend in doing my holiday share. (familiar cycle every year -- trying to resist the holiday madness). So what did I do? I went absolutely wild and poured buckets of paint on 5 large museum quality, 2-3/8 deep canvases (36"x36")! Not 'just' paint but "Black" paint! (Oh boy -- painting alla gestalt ... I anxiously wait for my shrink to return from her extended vacation at the end of the month).

Well, each session took me a little further but I have to admit that at the end of each one, I felt very discouraged, blocked and unsatisfied. You know what it's like to be in the 'zone' and things are humming. And, you just want that (besides all the other sucesses)! Developing a way to work when you have to work is something I notice with successful painters. The ability to keep your mind focused and elminate the outside influences that interfere with painting is a discipline.

An upsetting incident with someone can ruminate in your mind but can you put that aside while you're in the studio? I've been putting this practice to use for a while now and find it a great help when you need it.

Wouldn't it be crazy/nice to imagine a crisis hot line when you need it -- just for painters? Maybe we wouldn't have to go through as much depression, doubt and angst. I know, it's not just about painting. There are many other issues we as artists struggle with. As my friend in art tells me, "You've got to be a Lifer"!

In order to be a 'lifer' in the arts, I hear the same response from all successful artists -- "keep showing up". Sometimes when you just want to crawl into a cave and hide, it's really the best time to stay "out". I know this sounds wrong and undermines your internal meter, but each time we take a new uncomfortable step outside the comfort zone, we begin to navigate new ground, and learn how to measure risk with gain. This is something I'm learning. Instead of retreating so far back, I'm beginning to tread longer in the unfamiliar spaces. This way, the needed return can manifest more easily and create less of a struggle.

The cycle is always our cycle. Even when it seems like we're stuck and can't see the next step, it always returns. And, it usually brings something new and exciting. Isn't that what keeps us going?

It would be vain to try to put into words that immeasurable
of bliss which comes over me directly (when) a new idea
awakens in
me and begins to assume a definite form.
I forget everything and
behave like a madman.

_Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky


  1. ugh, I have an art wall with local artists work in my warehouse. I dread hanging it so I typically get my mother to come in and do it for me. I'll walk by the paintings for days and try and avoid them. I know as soon as I start hanging the wall I'm going to be standing there for hours or days trying to get it right.

  2. Cyndy - Interesting that you're working through your creative blocks by actually painting on blocks. Thats really using and short circuiting the power of metaphor! - robert

  3. Robert - what a brilliant insight! love it!