Of course first you have to get INTO the groove!
But after two weeks of crossing the country (California to Connecticut and back again) and another two weeks teaching in Mexico topped off by a weekend workshop teaching painting at Esalen Institute in Big Sur, I came home revved up and raring to go and somehow got into the groove more quickly than usual.
How did it happen? And how do I stay there? That’s the topic of today’s blog – staying in the groove once you get there. Because we all know how hard it is to get there in the first place.
Here are seven strategies I am employing – all tried and true. Even if only ONE works for you it will be worth your time reading about them.
First Habit: Work in multiples. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. If you have more than one of any motif in the works (I have 5 paintings going concurrently as we speak) you will stay out of the analytical mindset that can rob your work of creative fire.
Second Habit: Dedicate a consistent amount of time sequentially. Today I started a little late because I had a run in with a mouse in my coffee cup. Has that ever happened to you? This is a subject for another blog (which I’ll write one of these days once my heart stops pounding) but right now, my goal is to paint four hours a day five days a week.
For some that is too little, for some it is too much. After three months of intensive application of this method a few years ago, I discovered that this amount is just right for me. It allows me meandering time, gardening time, writing time, housekeeping time. If I go much longer my work begins to feel hackneyed, repetitive, and boring. If I stop short of four hours I end up with a feeling of a lot of work in without much to show for results – and that’s discouraging. Four hours, daily, is just about the right number (for me) and I stick to it because it works.
Try this: dedicate a certain amount of time daily for five days in a row and keep track of whether it is too much, too little, or just enough. Repeat the following week and adjust as needed. Pay attention to your output and quality of output. In a month, you will know a lot more about your ideal work habit than you do now. Note.The amount of time is up to you. It could be 10 minutes. The goal is setting a goal, being consistent, and paying attention. Then adapt as needed.
Third Habit: Consider your work – all work – a rough draft or “study” while you are painting it. Often in my workshops students ask me, “how do you change your painting style when you are actually painting a painting vs. painting a study.” To which I reply, “All my paintings are studies,” I say.
How does this help? It allows you to revise and to adjust as need be – and to do another one and another one – because your goal is always to learn. To learn how to see and render better – to create a better version of what is inside you to create. Each physical manifestation of your idea – an abstract, a landscape, a still life, a portrait – is just another step on the journey to being a better painter, a better interpreter.
If you look at your work this way, you will work better, create more, enjoy it more, suffer less, and your work will improve faster.
Fourth Habit: Work laterally. If the thing itself is overwhelming, approach from many different angles. Let’s say you’re working on a series of still lifes. Do a collage of the painting. Choose a color combination (say the orange of the orange and the blue of the blue teapot) and just play with those two colors on paper, abstractly, with no subject. Take 10 minutes to “free write” without self-interruption, self-censorship, or self-judgment. Start with a prompt like “I remember” or “I don’t remember” and then put the writing aside and go back to work. Set a timer for 10 minutes and prune the roses, read a poem, or put in a load of wash, and when the timer goes off go back to work. Meditate for one minute and then go back to work. All of these approaches are doing the work but doing it in a different way – allowing you to access your brain from different points, shifting from left brain thinking to right brain thinking.
Fifth Habit: Give yourself deadlines/time limits. The goal can be something as simple as “I will finish covering the canvas by the time the timer goes off.” Notice that it is not “I will produce a masterpiece by the time the timer goes off,” or even “I will finish the painting by the time the timer goes off.” Simply covering the canvas is enough – one coat of paint, an under-painting, even priming the canvas in a color may be what you do to accomplish this goal. But the painting will no longer be pristine, white, inviolate, untouched. It will be the beginning.
Sixth Habit: Get in the habit of beginning. Try starting earlier than your analytical brain is awake – before your first cup of coffee, even, before you have begun to second guess yourself. When your inner critic wakes up, start something else. This might confuse your inner critic who is busily trying to think up things to say about your first piece. Repeat as necessary.
Seventh Habit. Don’t compare. Don’t compare your work with other work you have done or others’ work that they have done. Most paintings in art books are the master works of Master Artists. Looking at others work is not a bad idea in and of itself as it can inspire and inform. But looking at other artists’ works while you are working on your own work is a bad idea if it makes you discouraged or gets you down. Know thyself. If you must compare, then set the timer and give yourself a limited amount of minutes to look at others’ works from the lens of how they do what they do. Thengo back and do what you do.
Well – there are more habits, and ideas, I’d love to share but my timer just went off and now its time to go back to the drawing board.
p.s. I’m teaching at Esalen Institute February 3-8 and 8-11 for two back to back Passion of Painting Workshops in 2013. The first workshop will focus on processes and techniques for creating paintings looking at landscape, abstraction, still life, and even the figure. The second workshop focuses on making art while building creative habits for an integrated life. I hope you can join me for one, the other, or both!
p.p.s. If you want to read more about ideas like these, check out The Most Valuable Lesson I Learned From Playing the Violin. My friend Kelly Medford shared it in her most recent blogpost and now I share it with you. Kelly is an American artist living and painting in Rome, Italy. Her posts are always inspiring as she is currently committed to a daily practice of plein air painting and daily posting. Adventures in Painting is a daily “wake up” call to do what you love to do – and pay attention to the things you notice along the way. For anyone who loves painting, loves Italy, and doesn’t mind living vicariously through an intrepid artist as she roams the countryside in search of her next subject.