I started this blog to collect images of my art together in one place and perhaps to sell some of it! Of course, like most artists I have mixed feelings about selling. Creating art is such an intimate and sometimes fraught process that, as the cliché has it, accurately, parting with it can feel like selling your children or your body parts. Yet the whole point of art is to share it. That’s the joy and the pain of it. I’m hoping as I move closer to something like retirement from my day job (without giving up the art therapy group I run) that I’ll be able to devote more of my time to creating and selling art. (I’m writing these words in April, 2021). I like to work across mediums, from oil painting to drawing in charcoal and pastel, to watercolour and gouache painting and also printmaking of all kinds. Being so artistically polygamous, it’s hard to fit everything in.
I also created this blog to help other artists–and myself–by collecting together all the useful information about painting and drawing I come across. As someone who has wrestled with the art monster, I wanted to throw a lifeline to help others dip easily into resources. When one is lost in the sea of chaos that painting can become, it’s nice to feel one has a compass.
Anyone who wants to raise their level of creative achievement above the mediocre cannot avoid this necessary difficulty. But then again, nothing that is truly gratifying in life is easy. Immersion in a challenging task that, with striving, is within our reach, is one of the pursuits that give life meaning and depth. We once found tying our shoelaces difficult, when we were little. Learning to write legibly and to climb trees (back in the days before the culture of “safetyism” took over) were difficult and sometimes painful tasks that we mastered. I see art making as no different. It’s all about experimenting and learning; learning about the materials, approaches and skills that work best for you and playing with them (also known as practise–but it helps to have a playful approach).
We also need to find a way to get the necessary feedback to guide us in the right direction. It’s not just practise, as common wisdom would have it, but study plus practise plus feedback. Plus of course, passion. As my most recent painting teacher Pablo Tapia regularly asks his students: “Does it make your heart happy?”. It might be a good practice exercise in itself–but is it worth spending months producing a perfectly rendered, fully finished work depicting a church spire in perspective if you don’t actually like church spires? It’s easy to get lost down the rabbit hole of perfecting a style you don’t actually like. That’s why we need to come up for air regularly and also, not work in isolation. I don’t mean you have to work in the physical presence of other artists; you just need to avoid mental isolation. Look at other artists’ works. Look at art history. Look back on your own work. Which works do you actually like?
Growing up in a household where art materials were plentiful–thanks to my mother’s vocation as an artist and art teacher–I started drawing at the age of 2. I was lucky that my parents were somewhat bohemian and didn’t mind a bit of mess. Parents who are overly concerned with cleanliness must, over the centuries, have deterred so many budding artists! Sad.
My mother was not just an artist and art teacher but her ancestors were also artistic and musical by disposition (even if they sadly couldn’t practise their vocation for economic reasons). My father was a musician, from a family of musicians. So, there was plenty of artistic temperament to go around in my family. Too much in fact–3 of my father’s closest relatives sadly took their own lives–or “died by misadventure” as they called it back then. In at least 2 cases, it was music–or rather their frustration with it or attachment to expectations of success–that contributed to the complex brew of factors that drove them in that sad and misguided direction. Plus of course the criminal availability of dangerous prescription drugs such as barbiturates, which were responsible for the loss of so many talented people over the decades before their use was largely abandoned.
I’ve since realised how important it is to take a mindful approach to art making. The good news is that we don’t have to drive ourselves mad! It’s neither necessary nor helpful, despite the popular image of the crazed artist. The majority of artists have not been mad. Nor were those who had spells of madness likely to produce good art at such times. What we need is a good balance of passion and objectivity–a way to keep ourselves calm, rational and playful all at the same time
I’ve had a passion for all things art-related since childhood. (Of course, most kids have a passion for art but, tragically, get it squashed out of them by parents or teachers). Passion and determination–the latter of which could be read as a high tolerance for failure–helps drive us onwards through failure after failure. If we take an unrealistic approach, based on the myth of natural talent (“you should be able to draw or paint automatically”) or an Eeyore-ish* stance: “It’ll never work so why keep trying?!”, we’re shooting ourselves in the foot from the beginning.
In this life, however, we have time enough for only one obsession. As the ancient Chinese saying has it, if you try to chase 2 rabbits, you end up catching neither. After flirting with acting and writing in my youth, visual art was the pursuit that won out for me.
Along the way, I’ve had to make a living and was directed into nursing when I was 25. By that time, I was tired of being a starving artist. It turns out that being hungry and living in an attic is not so inspiring after all! Who knew? Another myth exploded.
More recently I’ve studied Counselling and Psychotherapy. I run art therapy groups which I greatly enjoy though it can be challenging trying to divert people away from self-defeating perfectionism. The inner critic is generally not constructive. When creating art, self-reflection and striving for self-improvement is fine; self-criticism, in the harsh sense of the word, not so much.
The famous Australian artist Brett Whitely called painting: “a difficult pleasure”. There have been times when I’ve had a love-hate relationship with it but in the end, I think the best way to keep going is to be motivated by a love of learning for its own sake, to quote Robert Greene from his excellent book: “Mastery”. It’s not something that can be driven by a desire for praise, approval or success, but is instead energised by that irresistible urge to create, to share the joy of creation and to perpetually learn more. And in art, there is always more to learn.
As the great Japanese artist Hokusai Katsushika put it:
“From the age of 6 I had a mania for drawing the shapes of things. When I was 50 I had published a universe of designs. But all I have done before the the age of 70 is not worth bothering with. At 75 I’ll have learned something of the pattern of nature, of animals, of plants, of trees, birds, fish and insects. When I am 80 you will see real progress. At 90 I shall have cut my way deeply into the mystery of life itself. At 100, I shall be a marvelous artist. At 110, everything I create; a dot, a line, will jump to life as never before. To all of you who are going to live as long as I do, I promise to keep my word. I am writing this in my old age. I used to call myself Hokusai, but today I sign my self ‘The Old Man Mad About Drawing.”
*Eeyore is a perpetually pessimistic character from the book: Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne. https://www.booktopia.com.au/winnie-the-pooh-the-complete-collection-of-stories-and-poems-a-a-milne/book/9781405284578.html?source=pla&gclid=CjwKCAjwgZuDBhBTEiwAXNofRJgnkqr82XNyp0bwmj4hJhgoFcKjpiA1AH30QXG0D_ApXBPDzu7NIhoC4tgQAvD_BwE