Thursday, October 23, 2008

Comfortable in Your Own Skin

Artistic stimulation comes from a variety of sources. Nature seems to be one of the constants for inspiration, so getting out in nature and observing the cycles and seasons of plant and animal life can be a rich source of creative material. Sometimes our search for our own unique visual voice and perspective is far less complicated than we make it.

Every morning the view of the horizon outside my front door creates a new and unique panorama as daylight replaces darkness. If I painted just this single view every day, I could create a unique and different painting every day for the rest of my life. Whether I painted the scene realistically or abstractly, the source of inspiration would be the same, a view from a doorway -- and it could become a purposeful, exciting and energetic life's work to translate that scene into two dimensional art. Making art is a form of translation, one that gives us total freedom to alter the source and express a visual idea exactly as we choose, regardless of what the reality of the object or scene is.

Many artists paint fall scenes and the Western New York State rolling hills and valleys near my home attract photographers and plein air painters. Local entrepreneurs sell pumpkins,canned concord grapes and tangy, sweet grape pies at makeshift roadside stands. There is a romantic allure to capturing the changing landscape of the world around us in representational art and it's a wonderful, engaging occupation. Someday I might even do it.
Instead, I spend my days immersed in images of letter forms incised onto wax tablets from ancient Rome, Phoenician scripts chiseled in stone, the quivering, dancing flourishes of Asian calligraphy and carefully penned cursive script from 1800's women's journals written with quill pens dipped in ink bottles. How and what we communicate in writing, both publicly and privately, officially and informally -- stimulate and inform me as I work. The sense of digging deeper always accompanies this searching, and with it a belief that I am following a pathway that will lead me to exciting new insights and ideas for expressing them visually.

It is not that I see these letter form compositions as the ultimate destination point in my artistic growth. So often as we grow as artists, we become attracted to a particular theme or subject, sometimes almost compulsively drawn to explore it. Rocks and cliffs have fascinated me for a number of years with their incredible variety of patterns and marks on their surfaces. A number of years ago I spent months trying to translate these patterns to fabric using paints and dyes. The endeavor taught me a lot about creating visual texture on a surface. While I still use the techniques -- and still love and collect rocks and stones where I go -- my attention has shifted. The intensity of the absorption remains constant however.

In my current language imagery phase, I seem drawn to observe language everywhere. Artists who use it in their work intrigue me. So do rough, hand lettered signs set at the side of the road, graffiti, city streets filled with diverse business signs, posters nailed to telephone poles.

Getting comfortable in your own skin means being willing to follow your artistic impulses and do the necessary digging and cultivating to bring whatever imagery that attracts you to use in your work to the surface. So often that internal editor or critic -- and sometimes an outer voice -- slams an interest before we really can even begin to develop ideas around a subject or concept. Quietly slipping past that moment of self-doubt and continuing to work steadily and quietly helps the imagery develop as we work.

When I first started the piece I'm currently working on, I had an image in my mind of huge calligraphic letter forms sprawled across a surface. When I tried this on the surface above, it didn't work. It could be the dark brown color of these letter forms is too strong a leap in value or that they are just too large and engulfing. Perhaps they need to be painted on a surface to give them the energy I'm desiring. I'll return to this idea again in the future and see if I can make it work, but for now I've taken these elements off the surface.

What happened on this first effort that I love and want to develop are the letter forms where the strong shifts in value create some portions that are defined and others seem to disappear. A WONDERFUL discovery, which I decide to explore more in the next revision.

This version works to emphasize the vertical rows of the letter forms, varying the sheers to emphasize the idea of receding and advancing as well as partial forms contrasting with complete ones. At this stage I like parts of the piece, but there is more editing and revising ahead. Once I am totally resolved about the composition, I'll fuss with the shapes and align them so they flow smoothly up and down the surface.

One idea that I am considering for when I return to this work tomorrow is how I might interrupt the vertical flow of shapes in one or more of the lines to add more interest to the composition or replace a more dominant element (in this case I removed smaller scale dark rust sheer letters to the right of the larges ones) with one that almost fades away totally into the ground.

Still, this one is close to being resolved as a composition and I'm pleased with its evolution. Since I have another ground fabric ready and waiting in the wings, I can move right on to another work that refines and moves these ideas forward.

Once we are comfortable in our skins as an artist, the inevitable problems and missteps in the creative process don't trigger a barrage of self-doubt about our artistic worth or talent. In this self-assured state, ideas can fail, works can be fatally flawed or even just ORDINARY, but because we trust that inner voice, our artistic voice will begin to shine through each work, and with each new work, it will shine a bit brighter...and truer...and more powerfully. The key is trust. In ourselves as creators, in our ability to work through design problems successfully and in the deep, universal archetypes of growth and change.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Jeanne,
    You and I are so frequently interpreting the same inspirational materials. I am currently gathering images of ancient texts for a series that I started years ago. I am making thermofax screens of them. Thanks for sharing your work and your process. It's motivating to read; especially because you are much more organized than I am! Thanks for the window into your process. Ilook forward to working with you when you come to our Illinois guild to teach!-Tracy