I try to take clues from my surroundings. This isn’t always as easy as it sounds. In fact, it can be quite difficult. No matter what, everything that occurs in our mental space is colored by our experiences in life and we don’t often realize just how much our perception is manipulated by past experiences. Everything we see, everything we take in, is first filtered by our mental space. In order to perceive anything, our mind, our mental space must first process it. This includes our emotions. We feel but in order to know what we feel, we must first let our mind process those feelings.
I didn’t understand how true this was until this morning waking from a dream. A dream I so very much wanted to return to. It wasn’t an easy dream. In fact, it was colored with many difficult emotions. You might wonder why I would want to return to it. Who would want to purposefully return to experiencing difficult emotions. It was because there was truth in those emotions that in real life I avoided or refused to see.
This happens in my art too.
That is difficult for me to admit to but necessary. I’ve been struggling with my art lately. Struggling in the way of not knowing what I wanted to create. Taking classes is fine. The classes help me to try out different techniques. They help me decide if it is a technique I enjoy doing or not enjoy doing. That isn’t what I’m struggling with. What I’m struggling with is, what am I inspired to create?
I face this question every time I sit down to create something on my own without following a lesson. I think I fight against what I’m pulled towards. For some reason I have this mental block and if what I create isn’t unique in some way and yet still contain the elements I’m learning in class, then it isn’t art. I’m not sure I’m explaining that very well so I’ll try explaining a different way by maybe stepping through my mental process.
First, I’m doing lessons from Life Book 2018, sometimes I go back to my 2017 lessons for Life Book 2017 and Book of Days 2017 and do some classes there which I haven’t done yet, but for the most part, I’ve been focusing on Life Book 2018. I say this because when I approach a blank page to do my own ‘thing’, these lessons are foremost in my thoughts. Should I start my page by drawing a girl’s face? Should I just throw some paint on and try something abstract like I did a week or more ago? If I do either one of these how can I make it different, make it my own? At this point I get lost because I’m not sure what makes my art my own. I’m not sure what my own style is. I sometimes think about the art I did for Inktober 2017 when I focused on faces and loved the dark graphic nature of them with stark black and white. Could I incorporate that? Then I become even more lost because I honestly have problems trying to let go and just try things, just play with my mediums and tools.
Then I start wondering, are faces really my ‘thing’? I made faces something I wanted to focus on because I wanted to get better at creating them. I would love to be able to look at a photograph or a real person and be able to draw them accurately. This goes back to my high school days of feeling like I could only do realism because I could never draw anything from my imagination. I had to draw something from a reference. I’m not saying that is bad. I’m just saying I was envious of those people who could sit down to a blank sheet of paper and sketch something from their mind without any reference and make it recognizable. I still feel envious of them.
However, I have since learned, that once I learn the elements needed to create something, then it isn’t too difficult to draw it from memory. For instance, after watching videos on how to develop proper proportions when drawing a face and how to draw each of the parts, like eyes, nose and mouth, I can now draw a face without a reference. Getting a face to look like a reference photo is still difficult but I believe this will improve with practice. This however isn’t what I am setting out to do when I look at a blank art journal page. This isn’t practice. This is me wanting to create something which I hope will turn out beautiful or at least something I will like and yet have some sort of meaning to me.
I have tried different things to help me decide on a focal image for a page. I’ve tried collage, where I find something from my week or some period in my life to put down on the page. Doing this helped me realize I’m not into documenting my life that way or into that type of collage.
I have tried just throwing down paint without anything in mind just to see where it will go. Most times they come out dark, or muddy, probably because I don’t reference a color wheel. Sometimes the paints I choose don’t go down the way I thought they would on the paper I use. Doing this does help me to learn what works or doesn’t work on the paper I’m using. When they are too dark, or too muddy, I tend to be unhappy with the process and tend to abandon it for a while instead of trying it again. That was before I realized I need to be more aware of the choice of colors or letting colors dry between layers so they don’t create mud. But again, this method can work for backgrounds but doesn’t help me with a focal point for my page.
I’ve asked myself at times what do I want represented in my page? Most times my mind is blank and my emotions are confused when I ask this question. I’ve asked myself why can’t I think of something in response to this question? I’m not sure. When I reach what seems to be an impasse, I start to question my ability to be creative. Maybe I’m not creative. Maybe I have no imagination. I can’t seem to think of even simple things to create and put on the page. This isn’t just for the focal image but sometimes for doodles.
To try and get past this impasse, I might sit down with the thought of just doodling. I used to sit in office meetings and watch a woman doodle on her note taking paper. I was envious of her ability to just turn the ink in her pen into such interesting designs on a scrap piece of paper. I’ve never been one to just doodle. So…. I then think about selecting some tangle patterns and doing some Zentangle inspired art. The step-by-step tangle patterns is what helped me get back into creating art.
Tangle patterns, following the step-by-step instructions, appeals to my mathematical, or logical mind. However, randomly putting them into a design which is begun by creating a string in a given space, results more often than not into a pattern of chaos which my logical mind rejects. Even my creative mind has problems enjoying the randomness of it. My artist mind prefers patterns that form a cohesive pattern.
After exploring tangles, I moved on to learning how to create mandalas. I watched video after video, especially on how to create the grid that enables the creator to be more symmetrical when creating a mandala. I also learned how to draw a mandala from seed. I will be honest. I prefer using a ruler, compass and protractor. The mandala appeals to me so much that I return to it again and again and especially when I don’t know what to do or need a change from the lessons I’m working on. I like the preciseness of using ruler, compass and protractor. And… geometric shapes… yum.
Let me explain, why I’m writing all of this. I could just write this in my personal journal. It would do the same for me. Actually that might not be true. In my personal journal I’m writing to myself, in a blog I’m writing to other people. I want to make it understandable for other people when they read it. There is a completely different thought process here or when writing an email to someone than in my personal journal. So there is a reason behind writing here instead of in my journal, plus I thought maybe revealing my thought process would help a developing artist to know they aren’t alone if they struggle with something similar. Writing helps me to figure things out. It also helps me to get it out of the forever cycle that goes on inside of my head. Writing this has also helped me to realize I could possibly be fighting against my natural creative process.
These things have been on my mind this year. They are compounded with the fact that I have a tendency towards seeking perfectionism. I am learning ways to let go of that but the tendency towards perfectionism can kill or undermine that ability to play and have fun. Playing and having fun are difficult for me and not solely because of my need for perfectionism. They were trampled down when I was a child. Playing, having fun was something discouraged. I have to reach deep in order to overcome what I was taught as a child. I’m trying to find simple ways to do that right now and teach myself to explore and play with my art supplies. This is the result of one of those sessions, now that I think about it, I think I need to set this up as maybe a weekly practice, to do just one thing that is purely of this nature:
I first drew the mandala with pencil. I used Sakura Pigma Micron pen over the pencil lines I wanted to keep permanently. Then I erased the pencil. I then used my Elegant Writer to create darker lines and used a wet brush to make it bleed to create some shadows. The paper in my journal is not meant for wet medium. It is meant for drawing or writing, so using anything wet on it means the paper will buckle and I could risk it disintegrating, so I went light with the water and let the page dry before using anything wet again.
For the next layer, after the page was dry, I chose Inktense pencils, again activating them with my water brush and being careful to not use too much water. On this paper some of the Inktense didn’t blend or move very well. You can see this on the red Inktense on the background. They were dull and blotchy for the most part. I let this layer dry.
I needed to define the shapes more. I had become rather sloppy on the activation of the Inktense, so I wanted to firm up some of the lines while also trying to get the colors more vibrant. I remembered that my Inkjoy pens would bleed when I did my water test on them so I decided to make this flaw into an advantage. For each of the different areas I chose an Inkjoy pen color that would be closest to the color or complement it somehow.
For the yellow on the outside ring, I chose brown, and used a bit of water to make it bleed into the yellow. For the yellow on the inner pointed star shapes or triangular shapes I used a yellow green and again a bit of water. Blending the Inkjoys with water works WONDERFUL! I loved the effect and did it on the other areas, blending most of them with water. I did it in a way to leave the area along the line darker so it would have a gradient look. The last thing I did with the Inkjoys and water was to use orange around the outside of the mandala. This gave it a wonderful glowing appearance. I let this layer dry.
I wanted to add embellishments so using my Inkjoys again but without adding any water. I added in the green solid lines inside the star shape mimicking the pattern around by creating two thin lines and then a thicker line. I added some dots and then the yellow, orange and red sun patterns. Then I used a Tombow black marker to create the thicker and thinner black lines in the blue section around the outside of the mandala and considered it done.
I totally enjoyed just listening to what medium to use next while creating this mandala. If one didn’t work out the way I had hoped, then finding another medium that would enhance it or improve upon it worked well. Once I added the orange glow around the outside, I decided to leave the red alone. I like the random look of the red in the background. I used mediums together I never would have thought of if I hadn’t sat down to just ‘play’ and see what happens. I can’t say I was really free from worry or free from caring about whether it ended up badly, I just let myself accept that it might not turn out ‘perfect’ and see where that would take me.
I need to admit to myself that I try to force myself away from creating mandalas. That I think they aren’t worthwhile focal images. I look at the classes and see the artists/teachers drawing faces and I think I HAVE to draw a face. I see them putting words into abstract backgrounds and I think I HAVE to add words too.
I am wondering right now as I write this, what I would have created for my garden fairy if I had allowed myself to replace the idea of a fairy being a person or an image of a face, or an image of an elf and so on. Could I have created my page for this class using a mandala as the central focal point? Can I do this as well for the compassionate bear bonus lesson? Have I been fighting against my personal growth as an artist by avoiding what I am drawn towards creating?
When I created this page, the part that I loved best was when I added the spirals from stamps I had created and used the spiral stencil with the molding paste. AKA, mandalas.
Don’t get me wrong, I do not want to stop creating art with faces or other elements, I just need to find a way to use mandalas as a focal image if that is what I am called to do. Just because the instructor in a lesson is creating a whimsical girl, doesn’t mean I HAVE to do the same. Especially with the techniques Tam is teaching in Life Book and some of the other instructors are teaching. Life Book does include learning techniques and yes, learning how to create faces and other elements but mostly it is about using your art to process and let go or bring forward those things in life which you need to do something about.
I created a sketch of my compassionate bear from Tam’s bonus lesson for week 2 of Life Book 2018.
He’s cute. I like him. However… the question kept coming up in my thoughts, “Is this really what I want?” I thought about creating my dragon which hasn’t been easy to do. I don’t want to copy someone else’s design, and I don’t know how to create a whimsical character of a dragon. I’m working on it though. It will take some time and practice drawing in my sketch book before I’m ready to put it on watercolor paper to paint. In the meantime, I’ll paint my bear. I expect there will be changes to him before I do paint him. I’m not a heart type of girl, though I understand the symbolism of hearts and at times they do work with what I’m creating, just not sure I like it on my bear.
I am finding life interesting since I decided to honor my inner artist. Working and questioning my choices while using art to do so seems to ground me more. Art seems to invade all aspects of my life and my dreams which is nice.
Just the past couple days at work, I had thoughts that I should get into product package design because of the issues I see at work. I am exposed to thousands of products every day and often find issues that could be simply addressed.
For instance, certain cheese packaging has the barcode located where if the package shifts just a bit makes it impossible to scan. Packaging around individual mandarins makes it impossible to see the code because it is has an orange background around the code which is in clear packaging that lies over the orange of the mandarin. The code is impossible to see. Just a slight change in the coloring of the orange in the packaging would make the code stand out so the cashier can read it easily. There is a pet food package which puts the barcode at the top of the package. The default position for a package when a customer puts it on the belt is to stand it on its bottom and the cashier will normally just slide the package across the scanner in that position. With the barcode on the bottom or low on the side there is no need for the cashier to have to adjust the position of the package. With it on the top, it doesn’t scan the first time so the cashier tries again or has to look for where the barcode is and alter the position of the product. This might not sound like much of an issue but when a customer has over thirty or more products it interrupts the flow the cashier has for scanning products and getting the customer through the till in a timely manner.
These are things my artist eye catches and the new retailer employee in me would love to have changed. More often than not, it is obvious, those designing the product packaging have no idea the issues it causes cashiers. For large retailers, seconds to adjust packaging or to search for barcodes can cause delays and create lines at the till.
Before I got into retail, my understanding of how artists can make money was very limited. Now that I’m in retail and creating my own art, I see art everywhere. Any business that designs product packaging should have access to or hire an employee who has worked as a cashier. A cashier is intimately knowledgeable of the issues they face when scanning products or looking for the codes on products that need to be manually entered. I say this from personal knowledge. As an artist and a cashier, it is easy for me to imagine what small changes could be made to product packaging to make it easier for a cashier and I can visualize doing so with limited changes to the product.
I could not imagine sitting down as an artist and designing product packaging from scratch. I don’t have the skills in the various tools an artist would need to do that. But as a cashier and an artist it is easy to look at the package of a product and immediately visualize any issues the design could create for the retailer.
I know I’ve gone off on a rant but I think the rant was good. Though I subconsciously knew that artists had to be involved in packaging, it was something I didn’t think about. I knew they were in advertisement and usually companies dubbed it as marketing/advertisement and I just didn’t think about it in terms of product packaging. You see business logos and advertisements on signs and in commercials which just naturally overlaps with the product packaging. I’ve spent so much time lately on Facebook and reading blogs and other things about artists not able to sell their artwork that I didn’t think about how many artists there are in the world working in the background for all the various businesses. We aren’t all sitting at home in our own little studios creating our personal art. There are a huge number of us creating art for all the world to see to help businesses promote their services and/or their products.
I don’t know about anyone else but seeing it in this way shines a new light on the world as an artist. They are clues left by other artists letting us know, all things are possible if we just believe in ourselves.
Thanks for stopping by and reading. As an artist or someone recently creating art, what do you notice more of in the world that you didn’t see prior to creating art?