This is the second of a series talking about my process of painting. How do I start, and how do I make decisions along the way? When, how and why I manipulate my source material, etc. In the next few days, I’m going to share everything from my process of idea creation to the prep, materials, step-by-step painting techniques, signing the dang thing, support/self care, and even the pricing. No taboo unmentionables. I’ll tell ya everything. I’ll be posting these as a sequential series in the coming days. Today I talk about the mental and physical preparation, and why it’s so important to me. Preparation Part of the preparation for any project is the mental state. Some creatives require a glass of wine, others coffee. Some work in the morning, others at night. Some need silence, others music. Some work out their plans and ideas at such nauseum that when called their friends put down the phone and walk away, others cut out their tongues (I find this works best when taken metaphorically). Everyone has their own preferred creative state, and I have mine. Conditions are rarely perfect, but to do my best work I need to be well fed and clear headed. I’d put “rested” on this list, but even though it isn’t ideal, apparently I chug along ok without sleep. What I don’t do well with is a mind that has been bombarded. Focus For me, painting requires a high level of mental focus. Anything that splits my thoughts or wears out my decider muscles will take away from my ability to focus, and that will take away from my ability to paint. You might laugh, but even basic decisions like what to make for lunch has some small cost, so when I get ready to paint I eat simple meals with a maximum of three ingredients – like crock pot rice and chicken, or a bag of carrots. I avoid having a lot of conversations that require responses or action or answers. To avoid mental exhaustion from overstimulation, I avoid crowds, loud noises and most music, visually stimulating environments, even physical stimulation like wind I find very tiring. I wear clothes that are baggy and comfortable, either grey or black, and I dress warmly. When I can, I avoid painting in situations where people can see me, because I’ll spend half my energy wondering what they see, instead of what I see. I cut myself off from everything non-essential, everything that doesn’t help me with my painting. A series of decisions Magic Palette Color Selector Painting is a series of decisions. What to paint and how to paint it is a choice. The materials, the compositional elements, the tools, the viscosity of the paint, how it’s mixed, the layers, the colors, the shapes…. Every. Effing. Move you make. Is a choice. Once you have the big stuff, then every single freaking brush stroke is a choice: one color out of thousands, a chosen placement, and then another one. Was that the right one? Or should I go back? Should this be a different shape? “Painting is easy, you just put the color where it goes.” I don’t know who to attribute this quote to. I resented it when I first heard it from a teacher, spoken when I could NOT put the color where it effing went thank you very little, …and now to everyone’s enjoyment, I repeat this very same unhelpful sentence in my own classes. Here, you just put the color where it goes. Got it now? Painting is not emotional Any emotional content seen by the viewer isn’t experienced while it was being painted. The act of painting is very unemotional for me. I’m not cut off, my mind is fully present and engaged. But though I am calm and concentrating, my thoughts aren’t complicated. Once I’m in the zone, all I’m thinking about are comparative values, comparative colors, comparative angles and shapes. If you could hear the thoughts in my head, you’d hear “lighter, darker, more yellow, more pink, up, over, down….” You’d also hear Herman Melville, because I always listen to audiobooks when I paint, and my current is Moby Dick. Moby Dick’s Captain Ahab by Mike Huddleston Note: Regarding the previous mention of overstimulation, I am very picky about my stories and how they are read. I choose stories are spoken in low even tones, and the stories tend to be long and dull. This gives me just enough stimulation to keep the chattering part of my brain – the jumpy anxious part that says unhelpfully mean and questioning things – quiet while I paint. British detective mysteries are great. The game is afoot! When I paint, I want to be calm, sober, focused, and curious to my tip-toes. When I say “curious” I mean the kind of curiosity that makes television detectives stop at nothing because they might find the answer to the puzzle at the next step. When there is something to a picture, something I know is there but I haven’t found yet, I can’t stop. I am not an obsessive art maker, I sleep fine and am perfectly cheerful if I don’t paint, but I am an obsessive thinker (and an obsessive writer….), and when there’s a puzzling mystery I can’t stop until I’ve solved or uncovered it. True Detective I am not obsessive about every puzzle, so to make myself paint, I have to find what I can obsess over. I have to find something that once I have the scent for it I won’t be able to stop until I’ve found it. I can make a long list of things that don’t interest me, a long list of perfectly interesting elements that I enjoy in other people’s paintings, but for some reason they just don’t hook me enough to go through the trouble to do the work myself. When I try to work with them anyway, and yes I do try to work with them anyway because they seem to be perfectly interesting things at the start, my paintings look as boring as I was bored to make them. If I don’t fall off my chair with boredom, if I don’t drop my brush and take a nap, my own lack of curiosity can be seen in the paint somehow. So I look for subjects and ideas that hook me, things I can’t let go of. I need to be an obsessive observer or I won’t do it at all. Art’s kinda demanding for me that way. It doesn’t come to get me, I have to go after it. Were you literary folk, you could compare this desire for obsession to Captain Ahab’s monomaniacal hunt for the white whale, but you’d be wrong, or at least I hope you’d be. Ahab has lost perspective, and he has lost control of his emotions. I specifically said when I paint I am calm and sober. If I paint like Ahab then the painting should be let go, because I have lost control of myself, I can’t see clearly, and nothing good can happen. No, when I am creating well I am a detective, with all eyes open. Moment to moment, whatever I do is the right thing to do, because it is my painting I realize logically that all paintings and drawings have more than one right answer, and I realize that every answer I give is the right answer because it’s my painting, but some part of my mind still believes I’m looking for something to be discovered, not created. I suppose I hold both to be true, and though the two philosophies are at odds, they are also effectively complementary. My next painting was in my last The trickiest thing of all is that the inspirations for my obsessive curiosity don’t stay the same from year to year, or even day to day. There is a thread that can be followed sometimes, but I don’t know what will happen with it next, and sometimes it disappears for a bit, and I think “geeze, I really am not much of a painter. I’d rather just stare out the window.” So I prepare for the next painting by watching for things that interest me. If I haven’t painted in a while it can be difficult. If I have been active, it’s usually something that was in my last painting. To be continued…. Hey procrastinators! Fall classes start next week. Register now!